When Kenneth Bruce, co-founder of Purplebricks, published an emotional post on social media this week, my first reaction was; what a strange thing to do.
Bruce was delivering a rallying call to Purplebricks’ partners and customers, saying despite the bad press, don’t let the b*ggers keep you down.
As I say, an odd choice to publish such a statement, especially alongside phrases like, ‘I know the industry don’t care for Michael (Bruce, co-founder) and myself or the great work Purplebricks has done in the UK…’
It seems that the fight to differentiate their model and business processes from the other online agents (read my piece about consolidation and collaboration in PropTech here) has become personal and possibly quite a difficult one for Mr Bruce and Purplebricks.
But, underneath the prickly rhetoric, lies an interesting and universal message...
Just because you are innovating, you are still going to come up against resistance. So, as Mr Bruce is essentially saying in his post, let them resist but never reside, push on through to the other side.
It’s a mantra that both sides of the property table, technological and traditional, might find helpful to embrace. From a post driven by what I believe must be prolonged frustration inside Purplebricks, comes this quiet message of hope.
To members of the PropTech community, it teaches us resilience in the face of reluctant agents and a suspicious public. Although these obstacles are becoming less and less frequent, they can still influence the fortunes of a startup.
If, for example, you are bringing a tech innovation to market which requires widespread support from the agent community, bureaucracy and malingering decision making can run down the clock and drain the funding pot. To those who find themselves in this position, it is vital to remain upbeat and gently repeat, don’t let this keep you down.
Technological adoption is inevitable. If the industry is reluctant to your product, and you are confident that your product is strong, that is by no means defeat. It just means a different approach is necessary. Ask questions, form relationships and discover why your product is stalling. Go away, make those tweaks and come back. If you don’t have the luxury of time and money, investors are incredibly receptive to PropTech at the moment, with a strong product you have a great chance of finding a lifeline. Even when it feels over, it rarely is.
And to members of the traditional property community, starting to feel beat by all of these digital products arriving, proudly proffering ideas that your role may soon be redundant, I say the same thing; don’t let them keep you down.
Instead, analyse the technology being put forward and find that which complements your business model and will enable you to perform your job more efficiently. As for that which you feel presents a threat, ignore it, forget about it.
I firmly believe that those innovations will quickly fade away; property is a people business. We are entrusted with people’s financial security, relied on to advise on the biggest of commitments, there to facilitate life-changing moments for home buyers. This is a truth that will not change. The best that technology can be is a seamless aide to greater outcomes; anything beyond that and it conflicts with the core values of property.
A quick example is viewings. The traditional methods are wildly inefficient and, entirely for logistical reasons, stand as a barrier before every agent trying to fulfill their true potential. That’s why virtual property viewings are an essential innovation. However, we are now learning that the very best VR tour solutions are those which include the agent on the tour, still present to advise and inform.
The buyer, in turn, is far more confident because they have not been left to their own, unguided, devices. The agents are not being cut, they have been given the gift of teleportation, able to jump a limitless distance, from one viewing to another, in a heartbeat.
A good time for hope
Steve Jobs comes to mind, a man who certainly came up against his fair share of reluctance. He has a famous quote, often referred to as, ‘Here’s to the crazy ones’:
“Here's to the crazy ones… the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently... you can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward... because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we are changing the world, but it still relates closely to the property industry. PropTech can change the industry by creating the very innovations that drive change; but it could be argued that the agents play an even more important role in industry change, for they are the ones governing which technology thrives and which dies; they are the gatekeepers deciding what comes in and what stays out. It is these decisions that have the ultimate influence over the industry; they are also the ones that require the highest levels of bravery to achieve.
Reluctance to change is often caused by a fear of it. This in itself is a hopeful concept because fears can be overcome by further understanding the reality of a situation. Further understanding comes from two directions at the same time; forced insight and passing time, at least one of which is inevitable.
So whichever camp you sit in, whatever direction you’re facing, there’s bound to be at least a few bad vibes coming your way. But there’s no need to take offence because, at the same time, and in exponential levels, the potential for hope is widening and becoming more inclusive.
It was never going to be easy, driving towards, and adapting to, an entirely new way of doing things, but, I would argue, it’s getting easier every day. There’s plenty of reasons for each and every one of us to be feeling optimistic. Well observed, Mr Bruce.