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By James Dearsley

Co-Founder, Unissu

TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

PropTech Today: another attempt at solving a problem that doesn't exist?

"New property website launches. Not immediately sure what it does differently, what its USP is or who will use it, but good luck to those behind it.” So started the Twitter thread that I read with interest on Monday evening from the often outspoken Henry Pryor.

One of the Twitter responses also got me interested as it is something I have heard levelled at PropTech before: “This thread encompasses a number of issues I’ve had with #proptech in the past and turned me into a sceptical b******”. This one was from Richard Lovell."

You can read the whole string here if you would like, but essentially the TLDR (too long, didn’t read acronym I have learnt recently) is that most people have absolutely no idea what the new ‘portal’ (?) from Twindig really does, who is behind it and what the USP is.

Let me start by saying it has been launched by Anthony Codling, a past analyst known for really slamming Purplebricks - as mentioned in much of the PR yesterday that was doing the rounds. It didn’t mention the huge buy recommendations Jefferies were doing on Countrywide at the same time, I have to say. A bone of contention for many agents at the time.

I have a lot of respect for Anthony. I wouldn’t have thought an analyst is naturally an entrepreneur at heart. I would have perceived an analyst to be steady, measured and consistent. An entrepreneur quite the opposite. 

It was mentioned Anthony walked away from his role as chief executive of Rummage4Property last year after realising he had a difference of opinion with its founder. That was one of two instances I know where Anthony has been entrepreneurial and set up or invested in a start-up business. 

For these reasons, I hold a grudging respect. Anyone wiling to set up on their own, accept the criticisms, the sleepless nights, the financial burden and general stress of running their own business, should be applauded. Having said that, I do have questions here.

The vision of Twindig, when you root around the website is, I think, best summarised by this statement: “That’s why we’re enabling owners to claim their homes and, through answers to a few simple questions, build a bigger picture of the UK property market and a valuable resource. A bigger picture makes for a clearer picture, so you can make clearer choices.”

Also, I think perhaps this one is also relevant: “Twindig is building a complete picture of the property market - one which includes an online profile for every single one of the UK’s 28 million homes. And that’s what sets us apart.”

Therefore, let me try to break it down to what I think they are trying to do. Build an online portal of properties that are ultimately claimed and augmented by the homeowner by adding details to it e.g. mortgage information, store all documents etc.

This is great, but it means there are 28 million customers you have to convince to do this. Even getting one million is going to be incredibly difficult to convince, even 100,000 or 10,000. 

This is why I think the USP is confused. To scale, Twindig needs agents to help connect these homes together. In doing so, an agent can get benefits. In this case: “to connect your brand with any property you’re currently selling or letting - as well homes you’ve sold or let in the past too. It’s just like putting a digital sale board on all your properties - a smarter way to serve your customers and raise your brand profile.” 

Is this actually worth it, I wonder?

How this then connects the actual owners to the property, I simply do not know. It would break all kinds of GDPR regulations if the agents actually wanted to do that in the first place. Why they would at this stage (or any stage for that matter) isn’t quite clear for me, I have to say. 

Therefore, I too have to conclude, I am not sure whether this is a portal (other press releases have Anthony quoting portals are ‘snakes’) or more of a home digital passport (companies like Chimni already exist and to be honest, I like the concept a lot and think there is a good future to digital home passports). 

Let me just assume for a minute that I am completely wrong. Anthony is indeed far cleverer than I. He will certainly have done his research. Let’s just assume Twindig is going after the portal market. It is more a B2C proposition, ultimately given this is about individual people ‘claiming’ their property after all (note: I claimed mine yesterday on the homepage - but didn’t get the verification e-mail so no idea what the next steps are). 

When you look at the scaling of a business, you often look at a metric called the CAC - customer acquisition cost - and B2C businesses are notoriously expensive with CAC because of the nature of the audience. Portals have a clear reason for people to register i.e. property porn. I am not sure the value proposition here to the audience is at all clear. 

Let me stop there. To be honest, this wasn’t going to be a column about my thoughts on Twindig, it was more going to pick up on the point made in that Twitter thread about how PropTech has turned Richard into “a sceptical b******”. 

Why was this the case? Because PropTech entrepreneurs are creating solutions for problems that don’t exist. 

I am not sure I agree with this and have been vocal before about that statement as it is often levied at entrepreneurs starting businesses, often because of pains they have felt in the industry when going through the process of buying or renting. 

Generally, however, these start ups are creating solutions for small problems. If that is the criticism then I think it's fair. You add all the small problems up and you have more answers. In isolation they may not look much but together you get a far better picture. 

This is why the collaboration narrative has been doing the rounds for years...

To conclude, PropTechs are generally solving problems but sometimes you simply can’t really figure out what those problems are. You just hope really clever people know what they are doing and can prove you wrong. 

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

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