DISCLAIMER: The author of this article retains no responsibility for any reader discomfort experienced when recalling the seemingly endless horrors of puberty.
I can’t take full credit for this phrase. My edited quote is taken from a quip by a professor at Duke University, in 2013, stating that Big Data was like teenage sex.
I came across it when I was researching my huge treasure trove of quotes for this conference season which is taking me to almost all continents in the next two months.
PropTech continues to explode around the world. I have nearly 2,000 quotes, statistics, and facts logged and referenced. I refer to them, pulling them out for inspiration at times of need.
As I read, I like to store all the good bits - whether from old fashioned books - using a rather modern scan reader - or straight from online research papers or articles.
It was only when I really considered Professor Dan’s original quote that I realised just how apt it was for PropTech right now. Let me complete the phrase that I am using this Autumn in my speeches...
“PropTech is like teenage sex. Everyone talks about it. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing it and everyone claims they are doing it, but, ultimately, nobody really knows what they are doing.”
I want to just dissect this a bit and then, rather graphically - I am sorry for this given the nature of the advice - I want to look at the advice I then give people during my speeches, regarding how best to adapt and learn.
PropTech is genuinely being discussed by everyone. There are people out there who love talking about it and there are people out there who hate talking about it. There are even people who get embarrassed and almost ashamed talking about it.
This, I often find, is dictated by how exposed they have been to the change; the most confident usually come from startups, and the shyer from large companies, relatively sheltered from the true concept of PropTech.
By this very nature, when the industry gets together, everyone has a story about everyone else.
“Did you hear this person tried this and it all backfired?” or “So-and-so experimented with this internally and they loved it so much they tried it again and again with lots of other people”.
Equally, you have some firms out there who seem totally confident of what they are doing. They have often sampled PropTech several times already. Some of those experiments have worked out, some have not. Either way, they know what they are doing and can tell everyone how they need to be doing it, too.
These PropTech stories are pretty similar to those we had had when we were teenagers, don’t you think? Even if you hate to admit it, it’s gossipy, giddy, and filled with equal parts wonder and fear of the as yet unknown.
Last week, in Australia, I led with this same quote. I dragged it out, teasing with the first line, “PropTech is like teenage sex”.
The audience didn’t quite know what to do at that point. But relaxed a little as I pointed to the fact that some may remember that time better than others.
Despite initial hesitation, as I continued along, I think most in the audience began to see how perfectly the analogy fits.
The big question is, how do you fumble through this time and come out unscathed, more experienced, without too many regrets about things you did and didn’t do?
Let me expand and, in advance, let me say I am sorry for this. So very sorry.
Firstly, send yourself back to your teenage years and try to remember how you first tried to negotiate...all of that. Ignore the noise.
Remember how everyone at school was already an expert on the matter when you’d never even tried it? And remember that day, probably in your 20s or 30s, when it finally dawned on you that they were all just bullsh*tting? It was a lie! It wasn’t true. But, by nature, we are keen to attest that we have accomplished that which society expects us to.
It’s exactly the same with technological innovation.
So, what did you do, when you thought that everyone else at school knew more than you did? You did some...research, didn’t you? Again, I’m sorry, but it’s important that you copy that process with PropTech, too.
I vividly remember trying to work out what the hell was going on, what the hell I was doing. In my day, there were certain magazines you could try and get your grubby hands on. Occasionally you’d succeed and get hold of some publication hoping to find some sort of insight, a few tips. And you can get your mind out of the gutter at this point, because I’m not talking about those magazines; nothing that blue.
I’m talking about those which were often aimed at the opposite sex, and a readership slightly above your own age. These glossies were like a window into the mind of the opposite sex, secrets otherwise impossible to learn. It was the only way to know if your current behavior and attire matched what your potential suitors were looking for.
I know what you’re thinking: Tell me, James, which teen girl magazine was it that advised you to wear pink and green trousers?
As I say, I recommend copying this self-motivated research process, reading as much as you can from the PropTech side and the property side. Insights will come from both sections of the marketplace.
Equally, insights will come from external markets, too. What Australia has taught me, more than anything, is that the consumer of PropTech is a vastly different creature in each country.
Here in the UK, we think about occupiers as a prime customer, but in Australia you have to consider the REIT first and foremost. This is just one example.
Learn from word-of-mouth
Once you’ve read all about it, speak to people.
I remember seeking advice from older peers, people who had obviously sought the forbidden fruit and succeeded. In my case, these were brothers of friends. But I make a classic and common error: I failed to speak to anyone of the opposite sex.
That decision seemed like a no-brainer at the time, but, in hindsight, it’s daft to ignore the voice, mindset, and opinion, of the person or people you hope to impress.
Don’t be the cool guy that stands alone in the night club and tries to attract people by simply looking amazing (I believe they call it ‘on fleek’ nowadays, and for me it was floppy hair and a tight white top - a combo which didn’t work).
In PropTech, people will very rarely come to you. You’ve got to go and speak to them. Be active. Take action. Learn what they want, learn their challenges, learn their likes and dislikes. Only then will you succeed.
Trial and error
Above all, experiment. Put yourself out there and see what happens, but never without being somewhat sensible. Some of the conversations may end very quickly with one side blatantly not liking the other: the required chemistry just isn’t there.
Some conversations may get to first base by the end of the night. But then you run the risk of taking whatever comes your way - it was fast approaching the end of the night and while everyone else was pairing off for a snog, you still had no-one to kiss.
There is little point pairing with someone just because they’re there and you’re desperate to catch up to where you think your peers are.
Another option, in many ways more sensible, is to take on a more daring strategy and talk to several potentially interesting parties at the same time. Heaven’s above, surely this couldn’t happen. The idea of approaching one girl was intimidating and life-consuming enough, but I certainly wish I knew then what I do now.
That’s because it’s clear to me now that this is the best idea going. Do it!, I scream to my younger self.
The question is whether you want to let each party know that you are having open discussions with others at the same time in the hope that one of them will be able to share utopia with you.
I cannot speak for teenage relations, I was never one to play the field so my knowledge is limited, but, when it comes to PropTech. I would always recommend being honest to each company about your potential relationship with another.
The idea of competition is changing with the Digital Transformation and those companies might even be able to collaborate to provide you with the solutions you need. Plus, it’s never a bad thing to be in-demand: your negotiation stance might be strengthened if they know you have options on the table (again, this is not, I repeat not, parenting advice).
No matter how many conversations you have or experiments you enter into, you need to know what you are doing and who you are playing with. And it’s always sensible to have a backup plan, too, some sort of fall-back protection.
This protection could come from another potential partner if you fall-out with your current one, but it could equally be a case of making sure your primary studies aren’t neglected during this highly charged, wildly exciting period.
In terms of PropTech, that means always protecting your core business values - the best PropTech solutions can bend to suit your company manifesto (maybe that’s cost-cutting, maybe customer-satisfaction). You should never have to compromise your beliefs to adopt technology. You must always hang on to that which makes you great, that which makes you an individual.
So, there you have it. I don’t recommend forwarding this to your kids because the analogy occasionally has to bend to suit the PropTech mould, but I hope you can see where I’m coming from.
But, basically, if you follow similar rules of engagement, PropTech can help your business be more fruitful than ever before.
*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter here.