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By James Dearsley

Co-Founder, Unissu

TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

PropTech Today: Is property management real estate's most undervalued area?

Last week, it was announced that Plentific, the London-based tenant experience, has raised $32 million in Series B funding.

Plentific’s model sees it deliver a more transparent and digital experience for tenants, while also reducing operation, repairs, and maintenance costs for the landlord or building manager.

Looking around the PropTech ecosystem, and then weighing that against the ultimate needs of real estate, something is becoming increasingly clear - right now, property management is the most undervalued area of real estate.

Way back when, on June 14 2014, to be precise, I interviewed the two co-founders of Plentific, then a very small, very early-stage startup.

For the benefit of everyone involved, not least myself, I’m not going to share the 53-minute video directly here, but I’m sure if you search YouTube hard enough, you’ll dig it up.

It was still early days for the European PropTech scene, very few people had even heard the term yet, even less were doing anything about it.

The guys from Plentific, however, were different. For one thing, they didn’t come from a property background; this interested me. These guys were mature, articulate, calculated and had an obvious vision in mind.

That was over five years ago, and they were early on in their journey. Since then, the company has pivoted, changed perspective and has just raised $32 million as a result.

Because of all this, and the great effort it has taken to get here, I think it’s going to be interesting to look more closely at how they have got to where they now are.

Cem Savas, Plentific’s co-founder and often the ‘front man’ of the company, had the following to say about this most recent funding round:

“In the UK alone, it costs approximately £7.1 billion to repair and maintain the country’s affordable housing stock of four million homes.”

“Plentific could deliver annual savings of up to £1.8 billion a year through a reduction in direct costs and operational overheads for the sector.”

“These savings could then be reinvested into improving the tenant experience and growing the number of homes available for social housing.”

This focus on affordable housing wasn’t always at the forefront of their minds.

At first, the company’s product aimed at completely digitising every step if the landlord-tenant relationship, leading to ‘better tenant sentiment and lower costs for landlords’.

But, in the years following my interview with them in 2014, the founders shifted their model slightly to focus on housing and property associations - smartly seeing the significant efficiency issues in this niche market, and thus the potential rewards for their business.

By the mid-point of this year, it was reportedly working with over 100,000 properties across both private and public portfolios.

Despite being known as the ‘Uber’ of repairs - a term I have to admit I struggle with; as I do with the “Amazon of” and, most painful of the lot, the “Tinder of” the property market - my initial opinion of Cem and Emre (Kazan, Co-founder) stands true, they are doing a great job.

The real challenge, however, lies ahead. Property management is one of the most hotly contested areas of PropTech. In the UK alone, there are almost 200 PropTech companies working in property and tenant management.

A further challenge lies ahead thanks to the company’s ambition:

Plentific says it is using the funds to “expand...presence in Europe, including in the commercial property sector, and to support plans to launch in the US next year.”

We have been here before. I have seen startups trying to adapt to global markets and suffer.

When speaking at a conference, I often suggest that restrictions to expansion follow the rule of three Ls: Language, Liberties and Legislation.

Plentific will face all of these as it looks to expand - especially if Europe is an aim. How does it deal with all three at the same time, not to mention Europe’s completely different attitude towards renting?

All markets, with perhaps the exception of Germany’s very buoyant rental market, are smaller than the UK. Most tenants will not have English as a first language.

All have individual laws governing tenant rights, access rights, not to mention the contractor networks they will need to organise and work with.

The UK will be a breeze compared to the European market.

Then there is the notion that they will crack the US and the commercial market. Both obvious moves, but neither easy ones to gain any purchase on.

However, there is one thing that will keep businesses like this going: funding. I suspect $32 million will keep it going for a while, but if its ambitions are as great as they seem, it’s not going to be nearly enough.

Plentific doesn’t look to be a company that is waiting to, one day, be bought out. It isn’t a company that is looking to be absorbed by an incumbent.

This looks to be an ambitious play at being a default provider to the future of the property management market. A firm that can actually make a difference in its domestic market but also go above its station and play abroad.

Less Gary Neville; more Gary Lineker.

The question is, can Plentific can do a full David Beckham and conquer the UK, Europe, and the US, one by one with unrivalled skill and handsomeness?

Only time will tell, but the ambition is definitely there. I applaud that even if nothing else results from it, for what have we got without some ambition?

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.

  • Andrew Stanton Estate Agency Insights Strategies

    With 40% of the rental market being housing associations, a very astute tweaking of the model, also I never knew that the top boys did not have a property background, maybe that is why they did not see the ‘barriers’. The point you make James about having success or at least massive funding to continue a success, and then going full throttle to dominate the world overnight is a sound one. As another proptech behmoth found to its cost when Purplebricks burnt through 90m in its last financial year, much of it lost on overseas expansion and then recapitulation. Do you think that sometimes big investment, is as much a problem as a help, because investors want returns, but sometimes tech companies are really good in a smaller niche and the model is not world defining. Good to hear they are in it for the longhaul, also the short incubation period shows that the proptech sector will be the dominant noise and deliverer of very real solutions in the industry.

  • James Dearsley

    Without a doubt. An entirely different skillset is needed when the big money lands in your bank account Andrew. Become less about running the day to day and more about the scaling of the operation more widely.

    A real test of leadership skills and versatility.

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    Hmmm, read the Glassdoor reviews and TrustPilot reviews on these guys. They have not built a culture that can actually deliver on the promises being currently made. This is indeed a huge market opportunity but unless you are planning to directly employ all of the contractors needed to hit the numbers now expected, you better make sure that this is a company people want to work with and for.

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