Using terminology like Proptech and Fintech (popular buzzwords in today’s tech scene) would have elicited raised eyebrows only 16 years ago. During that time period, technology was only marginally accepted throughout businesses and economies.
Gmaven looked at the real estate industry and decided to go in there. The company joined in 2006, leveraging technology to give commercial real estate solutions to clients across the globe. Given the early efforts, it’s no surprise that Gmaven is now referred to as “Africa’s largest B2B commercial real estate marketplace.”
In a chat with Technext, CEO Will Harris reiterates our earlier comment:
Looking back to 2006, the use of words like PropTech and FinTech would have got puzzled looks. The iPhone was to only arrive in 2008, and both Instagram and WhatsApp were three and four years away from being born. Uber and Airbnb did not exist, and Facebook was only two years old. Technology adoption, beyond internet banking and cellphones, was limited to pockets of early adopters. People still used faxes!Will Harris
He adds, “PropTech, while admittedly lagging the piping hot FinTech sector, is no longer an unusual word for industry players and VCs alike.”
But Gmaven ’embraced’ the challenge to ensure the ”commercial real estate industry ran on data.” Today, the industry’s biggest players use active data to deliver the best solutions.
Harris says these players make more money than those that have failed to evolve along the line.
”Those industry players who are able to manage and process data, can provide superior service, identify smarter insights, and make more money...Using automation, time-consuming, repetitive processes can be reduced from hours down to button clicks. That sets apart professionals using automated processes and the group that are still running many processes manually today.”
Gmaven leverages data to deliver value in the African CRE space.
Headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, the business is driven by a mission to pivot ”from the manually intensive world of CRE, skip the “messy middle” of hybrid human-data-software solutions, and go straight to a world of technology-led commercial real estate processes.”
According to Harris, the interest comes from the desire to influence Africa’s contributions to global CRE data that are ”generally unstructured and unstandardized”.
Addressing apathy in the Proptech space
Getting people and businesses to accept new ways to do things can be challenging. Without a clear definition of benefits, apathy ensues and there will be roadblocks to adoption and acceptance.
Harris shares this sentiment on the acceptability of technology in the African Proptech space:
”Apathy, or the reluctance to embrace technology, is indeed an impediment to the industry’s advancement. But, this is a highly rational response from the buy-side. For PropTech to be valuable to users, the particular solution must be indisputably superior to traditional pen and paper and Excel solutions.
The passionate Proptech proponent adds, ”More mature feature features mean greater value to users. It’s in the hands of PropTechs to exercise discipline and laser-focus scarce resources in deepening the maturity of solutions. Where the value delivered is obvious, users will be enticed to adopt – and the perceived apathy will dissolve.”
Gmaven runs on automated processes to deliver value to users and consultancies. The processes cover deal management, reporting, report generation and design. The approach has successfully endeared the business to property owners and CRE consultancies, including CBRE, JLL, Cushman and Wakefield Broll.
In a market where data-driven solutions determines success, Harris says the business is well-grounded in the provision of value around centralised data and collapsed processes.
”This (CRE) industry runs on data. We deliver value here by centralising data and collapsing processes into one cloud-based solution. This boosts data quality which improves decision-making and turnaround times, and reduces agonizing data busywork.”
With this value, people are ”more empowered” and the businesses served by Gmaven become ”more profitable”.
Tapping the untapped
Harris believes there are barriers to entry efforts in CRE, thus causing acceptance and penetration issues.
”With the ongoing proliferation of data, use of mobile, increased adoption of algorithmic thinking, the advent of the blockchain and era of IoT, there are opportunities for new technologies to be applied wherever you look. I would say, the high-domain-barriers-to-entry world of CRE has lower tech penetration than residential property.”
For a market that is just roaring back to life, Harris recommends caution for exploring untapped potential:
”I can assert with confidence that all these buzzword solutions need to be built on the ‘brilliant basics’ of trustworthy, mastered, standardised data assets. The lack thereof is a constraint.”
Deepening the growth of Proptech
According to Harris, an obvious lack of public sector competence is the biggest challenge to the growth and impact of Proptech on the continent.
”I don’t think regulations are limiting the growth of the industry. But a lack of public sector competence is.“
Harris says the industry will benefit from adopting public sector driven initiatives from Kenya: ”Efficiency in property transfers (Kenya is doing some cool stuff there), the digitisation and improved management of public sector data, improved ethics and service delivery at a local government level, the provision of stability and business-friendly policies at a national government level, and the supply of basic infrastructure will do much to accelerate property sector-fueled investment and growth.”
Speaking on the trends that will shape proptech in Africa and across the globe this year, Harris says, ”I get this wrong every year, mainly because I am too optimistic.”
He added, ”For Africa, assuming VC capital continues to be constrained, I would bet on greater collaboration between PropTechs, industry bodies’ formation, and standardisation of data protocols. Decision-making will rely more on data, and technology will continue to diffuse into property-related processes – both by industry insiders and outsiders. These bets become a bunch more ambitious if funding flows in.”
On the global scene, Harris said consolidations and the rise of remote work will bring more attention to Africa.
Globally, there is talk of consolidations and a slowdown in VC funding in the more developed markets. Given the shortage of labour in the US and rise of remote work, this may necessitate and facilitate the exporting of work processes to lower-priced geographies – which is good news for Africa.Will Harris
Charting the future of proptech in Africa
Over the next few years, Gmaven wants to influence the creation of a pan-African body for the CRE industry and deepen market intelligence to offer solutions.
”We’re going to support the long-overdue creation of an ethics and professionalism focused pan-Africa body for commercial real estate advisors. With our goal of improving the marketing of vacant space, we see ourselves completing integration into Prop24 and providing API endpoints for specialist CRE website developers to build off.
”Focusing on data analytics, we’re looking to provide deeper market intelligence, and just-add-data business intelligence solutions (specifically around power usage).”
For Gmaven, it’s ”an honour to be making an impact on an industry we greatly love”. The African CRE and Proptech industry seem to be in safe hands for some good times.
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