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Riga, 8.08.2018

Jean Mauris, PropTech Riga programme director and representative of the Latvian Start-up Association: Two worlds to meet in PropTech Riga 2018 forum: real estate and technology to find effective solutions for development

On 27 and 28 September in Riga, and for the first time in Latvia is to take place an international conference, devoted to technology in the real estate industry – PropTech Riga. The conference will include a challenge – a competition amongst real estate field related start-ups. The conference is organized by the Latvian Real Estate Association LANĪDA with a support of the General Sponsor - Bill.me.

Why this event is so special was explained by Jean Mauris, PropTech Riga programme director and representative of the Latvian Start-up Association. “The primary mission of this conference is to bring together two worlds: entrepreneurs of real estate and technology fields, to finally have them talk to each other, discuss impeding problems and find solutions that would allow growing faster and operating more efficiently. We would be very happy to see at least one deal concluded or a continued cooperation after this conference, as Latvia, and the Baltic States in general, have a huge potential to become a centre of PropTech – the world’s modern technology trend of realms of property and technology merging.”

How did this idea emerge – to organize the first PropTech Riga conference?
- Until now, quite a lot of such technology-oriented events have taken place, for instance, for start-ups, etc. And then, a couple of years ago, a trend emerged that, branching off the technology sector, satellite activities began to pop up, focusing on a particular industry. The term PropTech is a buzzword in the world at the moment, and everything around this is becoming very popular. This is because the real estate industry has accumulated many problems, which technologies can help to solve, as well as to swing into growth, and urge to take a look at your customer from a completely different angle: from a digital perspective and contemporary standards. Customers now expect a totally different service, communication, etc. Therefore, having a critical retrospective glance at everything that has been going on here in the Baltics, we see that there have been large, general conferences, but just a few such very focused forums. LANĪDA unifies professionals of the real estate field, while I come from the world of technology. This is a good combination, as it will allow people from these two worlds to be brought together and finally make them talk to each other, understand where there are problems and how we can deal with them together. The idea is to show the current real estate field players – hey! The revolution is already going on!

You are saying that the real estate industry not just in Latvia, but globally as well, is rather underdeveloped from this digital viewpoint?
- From the digital viewpoint – yes, definitely. Industry development in this respect has started just now, and it is particularly driven by blockchain and everything around this technology (blockchain: dispersed, decentralized database – continuously growing block of records), including fundraising through ICO (Initial Coin Offering – public acquisition of funds by means of a cryptocurrency (virtual currency), generating new virtual currency coins or so called tokens). Yet a couple of years ago everybody learned of a new fundraising source – crowdfunding, and recognized it to be successful. ICO is gaining popularity now, and it is yet another option to attract small investors to large-scale projects. Now and there in the world it is already happening and there have been the first pilot projects.

Please, tell us more, what can we expect from PropTech Riga conference?
- We have split the conference into five large blocks of topics, or, as we call them, major tracks, which in this digital age are topical for real estate industry, and the effect of which are felt by the industry most.

The first major discussion track is going to be everything about the customers: sales, service. Customers change, they expect another type of communication and another level of attitude, and all this – via digital channels, not just face to face. We will talk virtual reality, social media, digital and content marketing, namely – all the recent trends in marketing, sales and presentation.

The second major topic, affected by technologies, is property management. We will recall and discuss the already popular co-working concept, the new trend of co-living, which in a way slightly reminds the communal apartments of the soviet era, just in a much better, modern version. Here we also going to talk about the artificial intelligence and machine learning, which helps at processing data and suggest better, more efficient solutions. We together would like to identify and define – what problems property managers encounter. For instance, when you have to manage a dozen properties, you have a hard time to estimate the revenues and cash flows, etc., then let these new technologies come into play and help solving these problems!

The third major track is going to be everything related to finance and legal issues. In this segment, the major focus is going to be on the blockchain technology, as the interest in cryptocurrencies is huge, crowdfunding, as well as legal news. We are aware than Latvia works on developing e-notary system, designed to provide notary services online instead of in person; it also is going to reshape the industry very much.

The fourth track of topics will be of interest to construction project developers, as we will attempt to find answers to the question – what should be built right now and how? Increasing in popularity are so-called smart real estates as well as the internet of things or IoT: large and small gadgets, interconnected, and helping to ease the daily life: to save up on heating, regulate lighting, control the climate in our properties. This segment is going to focus on matters expected by the end consumer – property buyer.

And finally, the fifth topic, which actually would be useful for person from any industry: culture. Here we are not going to discuss culture in its usual sense, but corporate culture, which also currently goes great through a time of change. When previously it was common for the large companies to devour the small ones, then now it is just the small enterprises, which are swift, flexible, and can swallow the large ones, which are too idle and overconfident to follow the recent trends. This statement has a number of real-life proofs already.

Speakers in each of the topics are going to speak on these, new tendencies, as well as there will be case studies on how these technologies have been applied right now already (and why they should be employed) and what is the return on them.

Who will be the speakers at the conference?
- Nearly all speakers have an international experience in PropTech. Various countries will be represented: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United States, Russia... And, naturally, our closest neighbours – Lithuania and Estonia.

- There will be a challenge contest during the conference for startups operating in PropTech so that they could present their ideas, useful for real estate field companies, on stage. We expect to invite to accept this challenge companies not just from the Baltic States, but expand this range to closest countries of the Eastern Europe. We are going to invite business angels or investment funds investing in such startups, so that they could themselves vote the best ones, worth investing in.

What do you expect from this conference yourself?
- I would be truly very happy, if at least one deal was concluded after this conference between a real estate company and a technology developer, or at least cooperation and negotiation continued. Because, as I said before, the primary mission is to bring these two worlds together to start a dialog, to make people understand each other. We – working in technology – can contribute to the growth of real estate companies, their innovative thinking. Of course, there already are companies, following the new trends, and are putting much effort to make things for the better! Although, there are also ones, who still keep thing a bit old-fashioned way, therefore we would like to mould the way of thinking a bit, as it is the source of all change, innovation, development.

To have fear from everything new is human... 
- Quite correct, there is fear, but in this conference we would like to help to get rid of these fears, we want to demonstrate particular examples, when technologies are successfully employed and the market response to it is positive, yes, it works! If we sense that the interest in PropTech is large, we think that we could organize a yet larger-scale event next year, a pan-Baltic one. Although even this year, according to our estimates, approximately 30-40% of the conference participants might come from the neighbouring countries.

Which of the global PropTech trends we might expect in Latvia some time soon, or there still will be a time to wait for them to become embedded?
- There is definitely something going to happen in Latvia, and I believe that it will concern blockchains, ICO. There might already be people in our country investing in cryptocurrency assets, but we just do not know it yet. I believe that this will happen very soon.
Second: people start thinking increasingly more about smart real estates and smart gadgets, using technologies. Right now I cannot name particular projects, but we will definitely get to know about them during the conference. The supply of smart gadgets on the market is enormous, just grab it and use it!
I am assured that companies and their culture will begin to change, as will have understood that the internal, corporate culture is the one leading to development, and that they need to change and do it fast, therefore real estate companies will be heading at an increasing rate towards the new technologies and move closer to IT start-ups.

Next trend: probably, this will be a matter of not just Latvian scale, but Baltic scale, and it is going to happen within next 3-5 years, that we will see emergence of a fund, established by large real estate companies, which will invest in new technologies. At present, large companies, each on their own, invest something, search for new solutions, but, imagine the industry in general being capable of investing to develop PropTech field! It might be very interesting.

Until now, we are more known as a FinTech centre, so, why could not we become a PropTech centre, as this is a very “hot” trend globally. We have a great potential due to the fact that we are a small region and experimenting here is very cheap. To compare, experimenting in London with the new, smart building projects is extremely expensive and it requires huge investments, while investments are relatively small in our country. It could be one of the reasons, why companies would flow here, and this conference could give them a thrust, and to show the world that this is a place where something new going on, that this is a place where advanced, cutting-edge products for the real estate industry are created, which might attract global interest as well.

The first PropTech Riga conference is organized by the Latvian Real Estate Association LANĪDA with the support of the General Sponsor - Bill.me.

More information about PropTech Riga – www.proptechriga.lv.