It’s that time of the year again… by which I mean, the second time we have had the National Association of REALTORS put on the Innovation, Opportunity & Investment Summit. So last year, I wrote this post in which I congratulated BoxBrowie for winning the iOi Pitch Battle, but awarded my Shiva Award to BoxMLS.
So let’s do it again this year and name a company from the 2019 crop of iOi Pitch Battle finalists as the most innovative company of 2019. Exactly the same as last year, the Shiva Award comes with no cash prizes, no investor interest, and really, nothing at all. I’m not even sure companies want to win this award. The panel of judges consists of me, Mr. (Maker’s) Mark of Kentucky and Dr. Jameson or Ireland. The Shiva Award is simply recognition of the potential for real innovation.
This year’s winner is Propy, the real estate blockchain transaction management company. But likely not for the reasons you (or Propy) are thinking of. We’ll get to that.
First, the contenders, all taken from the list of Finalists for the NAR iOi Pitch Battle.
And here’s what they do, taken from their respective websites, along with my summary of what I think they do:
Cher: (Kind of like a Match.com for finding co-borrowers to buy a home together)
For so many people, buying a house in most metropolitan cities can seem farfetched – but it doesn’t have to be. Homeownership is a long and expensive journey, so our goal is to provide you with the knowledge and resources to help you reach that milestone.Whether you’re still at the early stages of consideration or at the home searching process, we’ve created a digital space to guide you every step of the way. If you have always wanted to own a house but never could afford it on your own – we’ve got your back there too. One of the coolest things about Cher is that we can help you find the Co-Borrower of your dreams, risk-free. And if you’ve already got a bestie or a boo to share a home with, we can help you cosign together too.
Coeo: (Helping commercial subleasing and/or lead-generation for coworking spaces)
We’re re-imagining how space is found and shared to meet the needs of a new generation of mobile professionals and businesses. Coeo™ connects people and businesses who need to find a place to work with the exact spaces they are looking for.
Coeo™ can connect you with spaces that can provide you with the ability to grow, shrink, and relocate on-demand, with the flexibility you and your team need. Best of all we are only focused on move-in ready (turnkey) spaces and we’ve streamlined the process, so you can get back to secretly watching cat videos ASAP.
CRESimple: (Better faster commercial lending)
We are simplifying commercial real estate
We bring speed, certainty, and transparency to every transaction with our integrated financing platform and expert lending team.
Curbio: (Renovation loans for sellers + Project Manager services)
We specialize in turnkey renovations for homeowners who want to sell their homes quickly for the best possible price, and we wait until settlement to get paid.
Digs: (An app to help you save towards a down payment with “homebuyer credits” redeemable at a network of lenders who work with Digs)
We boost your savings
The more you save with Digs, the more you earn in homebuyer credits towards your real estate transaction.
Earnnest: (Digital earnest money company)
Earnnest allows your buyers to safely and securely transfer earnest money to an escrow holder. Our digital platform saves you—and your clients —time.
Go Figure: (Lets contractors and builders produce estimates and proposals with a mobile app)
Estimate, propose and close onsite in minutes using just your iPhone
The Go Figure story is simple. We needed it, so we built it. We were tired of hours-long tape measure and pencil estimating processes, days spent developing proposals, and low close rates. Our new app solves these challenges and more.
Homebot: (Keeps track of home financial data so people know what their house is worth every month + tips and tricks to “save money and build wealth”)
Homebot drives repeat and referral business for real estate agents and loan officers by helping their clients build wealth.
Homebot helps you manage your homeowner’s most important asset, making you not only a pivotal part to their overall wealth, but to their lives.
Likely.AI: (Pre-market AI to find potential sellers, similar to a number of companies like Remine and Revaluate)
The number one problem for mortgage and real estate professionals in the industry today is uncertainty in lead quality. Using deep learning we identify homes highly likely to refinance or sell, thus eliminating lead quality uncertainty.
LulaFit: (Some kind of a fitness program for commercial and apartment buildings)
LulaFit partners with luxury residential communities to cultivate the exceptional lifestyle residents desire. Our innovative and customized fitness and wellness programming helps our partners attract and retain residents, activate amenities spaces and build community.
Propy: (Blockchain-enabled transaction management platform)
Enjoyable Home Buying Anywhere in the World
Papers signed, funds and title transferred – all securely via Propy
RateMyAgent: (Online agent rating service)
RateMyAgent provides a platform where property buyers and sellers can review the agents and brokerages they’ve worked with and rate them so that other sellers in the market can make better-informed decisions when choosing the right agent for them, based on recent reviews.
reConsortia: (Referral tracking platform)
There’s $20B in Untracked Commissions.
There’s no tech that tracks referrals from start to close with settlement for commission payment. It’s all paperwork and phone calls.
This broken system kills your productivity and earning potential.
You shouldn’t have to call an agent and ask if the referral has closed.
You shouldn’t have to hunt down your referral checks.
Staging & Design Network: (Exactly what it sounds like: online directory of stagers/interior designers and tools/services for them)
SDN is a member network for Home Stagers, Interior Designers, Builders, Realtors and their clients. We provide interior design products and services through our Design Center and the first-ever Shared Rental Pool and Resale Gallery. Sourcing, storing and moving staging inventory from home to home can sap the joy (and profit) out of staging and decorating. Let us help! SDN was founded on the idea of sharing resources to make the business of staging more efficient, profitable, and frankly, more FUN. SDN’s delivery & inventory management allows you to focus on what really matters to you – creating beautiful homes for your clients.
Before I announce the winner… a quick aside: What happened to the finalists from 2018? It’s only been a year, and most of those companies are still startups trying to prove things. Is ActivePipe not innovative now? What about Quigler or Glide? I’m not sure I understand why the companies that were deemed innovative enough to make the finals last year are entirely absent from the list this year… but maybe iOi Pitch Battle has different goals than identifying the most innovative company in real estate.
In any event… drumroll please…
The winner of the Notorious ROB Shiva Award for Innovation in 2019 is Propy… kind of by default… since none of the others have even the whiff of some day disrupting and/or destroying anything.
Let me explain.
Shiva, The Destroyer
9 years ago (holy shit, that’s a long time ago), I wrote a short blogpost titled Shiva, The Destroyer. Here’s what I wrote:
What I wonder about today is whether people truly worship creativity, or pay lip service to it. Do you really want innovation? Are you sure you’re prepared for what creativity means? Are you certain that you want creativity in your life, in your business?
The Hindu deity Shiva is often said to embody destruction and regeneration, like the forest fire that clears out the dead leaves and old growth to enable new shoots to emerge. To embrace creativity and innovation, then, is to embrace destruction. Are you ready?
Or thought of another way, when you look at the innovations in the industry today — whether mobile apps, CRM technologies, social media, RPR, or whatever — you might ask, “What part of the industry does this innovation destroy?”
If the answer is “none”, then that thing, whatever it is, is not innovation. It is, rather, incremental improvement; a marginal gain in efficiency. It isn’t the automobile, but faster horses.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe incremental change is all that we need.
Innovation is not necessarily a good thing. Sometimes, incremental change is all we need. But we can’t go around calling every little tweak innovation, can we? The word would lose all meaning if we did.
What I find amusing from time to time in real estate technology is how many companies claim to be game-changing, disruptive, innovative… and not one can answer a simple question: “If you are successful, who do you put out of business?”
The only possible choice in the list above with creative destruction potential is Propy, and maybe Curbio (the actual winner of iOi). Everybody else has what I would call “parasitic” business models that almost entirely rely on everything staying the same in the industry, with all of the same players doing all of the same things… but slightly more efficiently. Lead quality improvements? Referral tracking? Health and wellness benefits for office buildings?
Creative destruction, these are not.
If Propy Is Successful…
Now, if you’ve read my longass post about ShelterZoom, Blockchain and Real Estate, you’ll know that I don’t really see blockchain being an important thing for a long, long, looooong time. ShelterZoom and Propy are, as far as I can tell, direct competitors offering very similar products and services.
In that post, I said that blockchain is a very cool solution in search of a problem, at least in real estate. So much of its promise and its disruption depends on things like the laws changing and possibly entire political systems changing. But over the long haul, if a bunch of wider social, political and economic changes occur (e.g., fiat currency becomes completely devalued everywhere in the world), then blockchain’s day has come.
Having said that, here’s what I wrote in the blockchain post:
With blockchain smart contracts, the buyer and the seller don’t need any of that. The seller can FSBO on Zillow, the buyer finds it, they go into a blockchain contract system and work it all out. The whole time, they know that everybody is who they say they are and everything is on the up and up. Sure, they might seek advice from a really experienced real estate agent, in the same way they might seek help from an attorney to understand the contract. And Perry says as much.
But are they going to pay $30,000 on a $500K house for that advice? In what world?
So if Propy is successful, it will destroy real estate brokerage and real estate agents and title insurance companies. And possibly other things, like national sovereignty and the global banking system. But let’s stick to real estate for now.
Propy and other real estate blockchain companies have more or less stated destroying title insurance as a goal. Since title insurance companies represent some of the largest companies in the wider real estate industry — Fidelity National, First American, Old Republic, Stewart Title, etc. — and some of the fattest margins for brokerages who have them as affiliated businesses, that’s pretty destructive in and of itself.
The blockchain companies have not stated destroying real estate commissions as a goal, but it’s an obvious conclusion once you have smart contracts secured with blockchain. Given that real estate commissions represent the largest piece of the cost of transaction for the home seller, that seems like real creative destruction to me.
I’d be shocked, however, if either Propy or ShelterZoom or anybody else in the blockchain proptech segment wants to trumpet that.
Congratulations to Curbio and Propy
The winner of the iOi Pitch Battle, which comes with actually useful benefits, was Curbio. I actually like Curbio quite a bit, and it has a small potential to destroy large, well-funded brokerages… specifically Compass. Why that is might be a different post in the future, but let’s just say that I think Compass’s real competitive advantage might be its Concierge program. Curbio lets every mom-n-pop shop offer the same thing, which could really dent Compass’s advantage and ultimately lead to its destruction.
Nota bene: could does not mean will.
But where Curbio might destroy a few brokerages, Propy has the potential to destroy all of them. So the Shiva Award for innovation in real estate goes to Propy. Congratulations!