In partnership with Westpac Group we’re excited to announce Josh Rowe and team from the Australian real estate pricing startup realAs are the winners of the inaugural round of the Westpac Innovation Challenge.
The Westpac Innovation Challenge launched on 17 September giving Australian start-ups the opportunity to develop new ideas to help the bank’s business customers.
realAs has won a $40,000 cash prize and a six-month placement in the BlueChilli accelerator program to further develop its business, helping home buyers and investors find out what price properties will really sell for via a smartphone app.
Speaking at the awarding of the prize, Westpac Head of Digital Business Banking, Kalpana Gee said, “This is exactly the kind of leading edge, future-ready idea we were looking for. It has the potential to completely change the way our commercial real estate customers do business.”
“We need to understand our customers’ businesses in order to continue improving the way we service them. By investing in the start-ups shaping and influencing our customers’ industries we are able to be there every step of the way as our customers are disrupted in this rapidly changing, digital economy.”
Westpac Group Head of Innovation, Ian Hill, praised the high standard of the five finalists’ innovative ideas.
“The response from the start-up community to our challenge has been phenomenal. We received more than 100 impressive applications. The top five finalists all have impressive ideas, but realAs really shone today.”
At BlueChilli, we’re proud to be associated with this initiative and excited about the opportunity to work with Australia’s first bank on advancing the development of new business services in the marketplace. In addition to the Westpac Innovation Challenge, Westpac has also opened a new innovation centre, the Hive, Kogarah, and runs a product team it calls The Garage for internal ‘skunkworks’ projects.
Throughout the program our startup advisor team including Colette Grgic, Marcus Marten-Coney and Alan Jones, as well as our CEO Seb Eckersley-Maslin have been working hard with an initial shortlist of 10 startups and harder still with the final five, helping them work through unresolved issues and questions in their product, marketing and business strategies, helping prepare them for the competition, and of course, coaching them for the all-important pitch. You can learn more about the five finalist startup teams below.
Round two of the Westpac Innovation Challenge will take place in 2015 and will be focused on solving business problems for other Westpac business customers from various industries.
About the finalists
Property Price Comparison
CEO: Josh Rowe
realAs is a free website and app that helps home buyers and investors find out what homes will really sell for.
Similar to its America counterparts Zillow and Trulia, the app provides accurate predictions of property sale prices alongside a forum where buyers can exchange information about individual homes. The biggest advantage of realAs is that its prediction accuracy is much higher than anything else available, both locally and internationally.
realAs has been operating since August this year and CEO Josh Rowe says already almost two-thirds of its predictions are within 5 per cent of the final sale price. 90% of its predictions are within 10%
“The best thing about realAs is that it’s community owned. It’s a tool made by buyers, for buyers,” Josh said.
The business was founded by David Morrell, who started the first buyers’ advocacy in Australia. He noticed that in the property marketplace the power was significantly stacked in the selling agent’s court and wanted to give buyers the ability to pay a fair price for their homes.
In Australia’s hot property market, creating an app that could leverage his expertise to help more than just his one-on-one clients was the next logical step, so the realAs team enlisted RMIT’s machine learning specialists to codify David’s 40 years of knowledge.
“Property buyers are in desperate need of this product, which is probably why we’re seeing such a rapid uptake in users,” Josh said.
“We’re getting around 10,000 unique monthly visitors to the site, and a massive 50% of those visitors download the app and subscribe to our updates.”
“We know we’re creating great value for them because 40% of the app users are using it almost daily – we once delayed our weekly update of new properties by 12 hours and were inundated with emails from users asking us when the new properties were going to be listed. We didn’t even publish our update times but they use it so often that they figured it out!”
You can take the app for a test drive at realAs.com
Mobile property marketing platform
Founder: Matt Pope
A big problem for real estate agents is knowing their potential buyers. Right now web analytics can help agents gauge interest and gather valuable data from a listed property’s online activity, but there is no data connecting the individuals who search, view and favourite properties online with those individuals who show up for viewings.
“It’s a huge opportunity to work on crossing this great divide that occurs between the online and offline components on every home buyer’s journey,” says CEO Matt Pope.
Sydney-based StickyBeak provides a solution that blends hardware and software to make for an easy tool for agents to use. It uses iBeacon location technology to deliver relevant content (including augmented reality content in the future) to potential home buyers as they visit a property. This information would only be available once inside the property, protecting the existing home owners from revealing too much sensitive information about their home online.
“Agents can add a lot of value during property viewings because they are the vendor’s representative, they know everything about the property and the highlights that make it special”, says Matt. “But often the agent is outnumbered and can’t connect with all the potential buyers in the short viewing window.”
By uploading the additional information onto the StickyBeak CMS portal, agents can ensure delivery of all the right information at specific points in the house, creating a tailored and more informed viewing experience to visitors who sign in to the app to access the content.
“We’ve developed an iBeacon that is about 30% smaller than any other beacon available. These small beacons (about the size of a soft drink bottle cap) can be placed discreetly in rooms around a property. Potential buyers will trigger the beacon when they enter a room and will receive rich and detailed content about the property on their mobile devices,” says Matt.
By adding value during the home viewing StickyBeak is closing the home buyer’s search loop, effectively connecting the dots for agents between their online and offline visitors.
Suburb sentiment comparison tool
Co-founder: Alex Levashov
When you’re looking to buy or rent a new place, there are lots of quantitative information available to base your decision on – information on median house prices, historical value fluctuations and financial predictions. But often times it’s the more qualitative and emotional aspects which guides that decision, and that is much harder to uncover. What if you could find out what the locals think about all those emotional aspects of a particular suburb at the click of a button? You soon could if the “Suburbarian” app is developed.
Suburbian will give potential buyers and renters information on practical aspects like not just how many schools there are in a suburb, but what people think about the schools, and also less tangible but very important lifestyle attributes like trendiness, culture and culture.
The tool works by analysing sentiment on social media platforms including Twitter and producing reports that give scores on popularity, sentiment ratings and descriptions for typical attributes. For example, South Melbourne is ranked 85 on popularity, sentiment is +6 positive and people regularly describe it as “sunny, trendy, expensive”. The app can even tell you if “expensive” relates to people’s views on property, the price of coffee or school fees in the suburb for example.
The brains behind Suburbarian, Alexander Levashov and Eugene Labunsky, have the right mix of digital innovation, software and data mining experience. Alex is a successful management and eCommerce consultant who is now turning his attention to at working with disruptive start-ups. Eugene is a software developer with a passion for using data analytics to improve customer experiences. The pair have worked together on other ventures before discovering an opportunity in real estate for their combined skills.
“Knowing what the locals and visitors think about the area you’re looking to buy in gives you a deeper understanding of that market and whether it’s the right place for you to live to suit your lifestyle.
“Property investors will love this tool thanks to the insights it provides on their target markets. They’ll be able to see what potential renters are saying about different neighbourhoods and use our tool to determine the right market for them.”
Alex and Eugene are based in Melbourne and Montenegro respectively.
Tenant and property manager communication app
Founders: Jimmy Tat and Gin Foo
Jimmy Tat is a Real Estate Specialist at Ray White Real Estate in Melbourne. Having experienced years of dealing with the inefficient process for communicating between tenants and landlords, Jimmy joined forces with his co-founder, Gin Foo, to start SNAP – a mobile app for tenants and landlords to have direct real time engagement with their property managers.
The app will allow tenants to log messages about urgent repairs and other property issues in under two minutes, and give landlords access to financial statements, inspection reports and log messages direct to their property managers. All parties stay in the loop and the consolidated platform enables seamless communication and resolution in record time.
According to the founders who have experience on both sides of the table, the number one complaint for both tenants and landlords is the time it takes property managers to communicate with them and respond to their request.
Jimmy sees the app providing huge value to real estate agents – by being a tool that builds a deeper and more agile relationship between property managers and their landlords and tenants.
“Property managers are always on the road, and that makes it difficult for them to keep on top of requests coming from their landlords and tenants. Having an easy to use app on their mobile devices would effectively make agents available 24/7, with workflows that even allow for direct call-outs to preapproved trades people in case of after-hours emergency repairs.”
“For landlords, all the information they need for their property will be in one spot. That will be very helpful come tax time or when they need to review their properties.”
“Tenants will also benefit by having one place to communicate with their property manager –not only will it give them quicker turn around on requests but give them greater transparency as well.”
Crowd sourcing for investment properties
CEO: Christopher Scott Price
Christopher Scott Price wants to help people buy shares in private real estate investments for as little as $1000.
“What if investing into properties were as easy, enjoyable and rewarding as investing into Kickstarter projects?,” he challenges.
That musing is why Scott is developing an online investment platform, PropertyShares, that allows users in Australia and overseas to invest in properties without having to attend endless inspections and auctions.
Buyers will be able to chip in for anything from $1000 to 100 per cent of the property’s finance requirements online from anywhere in the world.
Scott learnt firsthand the difficulties in investing in the Australian property market from afar. A serial entrepreneur, he recently partnered with colleagues to invest in a student housing accommodation project which they later sold to the Malaysian government. After all the due diligence and paperwork was done, Scott realised that his background in startups and technology placed him perfectly to create a much smoother solution than the process he experienced.
“There is a real appetite to invest in the Australian property market, but as people become more time poor it’s getting harder and harder to find the time to do all the research and work out which properties to invest in and how much to spend. There’s a lack of access and transparency. That’s where our platform can step in.”
PropertyShares is starting out by bringing together property developers with properties in the $10-$20M range with accredited investors looking for investment opportunities. All the development opportunities are screened and standardised before being presented on the site for investors to compare and buy parcels in.
The same mechanism can later be used to open the platform to foreign investors and individuals who want to invest smaller parcels of funds.
“We’ve seen crowd-funding models for everything else work abroad and then get adopted in Australia. It’s only a matter of time before crowd-funding property gains popularity here, and with our excellent board of advisors and skills in the team we’re set to be the leader in this field.”
Scott and the team are based in Melbourne.