Archive for January, 2017

Start-up focus: Smarke. Their keyless entry solution

Monday, January 16th, 2017

As AirBnB becomes the hotel of the world, it’s inevitable that new innovations will crop up around it to make the process of ‘living anywhere’ even smoother. One such innovation comes from a start-up called Smarke, who have designed a product that allows property managers and hosts to grants guests instant, remote access to their property using their mobile phone, and without having to hand over a key.

After three years of product testing, Smarke are now on the verge of launching their keyless entry solution onto the market.

We spoke with Hady Abdelnour, one of Smarke’s co-founders, about their innovative product.


 So I understand what Smarke does in theory, but how does the process go – both for a property owner and their guest? 

The first thing a property manager needs to do is to install our hardware onto their lock. This just takes two to three minutes. Our hardware fits onto a standard Europe lock, and it fits on the inside of the door, so other people can’t see it.

Then there’s a quick syncing process with your phone, just to confirm that you are the owner of the lock and the main admin. Once you’ve done this you can grant other people access to the lock, via the mobile app.

You can give two types of access – permanent access, for example, to a family member, or temporary, scheduled access. To give temporary access, you just input the dates you want to allow that person to be able to enter your home for.

For the guest, they simply have to open the mobile app and they will have access to a key for that lock. A Bluetooth signal between the phone and the hardware on the lock will give them access to the property.


What platform does it require? For example I’ve got an iPhone 4 and I’m finding lots of apps are becoming obsolete. 

It will work on any mobile platform, so there’s no worries about guests being locked out when Apple updates their operating system!

There is also a web version as well, though it’s not possible to get a key through this – the web version is simply an admin tool for a property owner to manage dates and access.

We’re also developing a keypad, so a user can type in a code instead of having to open the mobile app if they prefer

How about security – I’m sure that’s a question a lot of people will have the first time  they encounter something like this? 

So we have three layers of security – firstly the hardware which is protected from any exterior signals that will disrupt its function.

Then we have the communication between the phone and the device, and you have to make sure this doesn’t get hacked. So we’ve developed what we call military grade algorithms to protect the key code at this stage.

Then finally there is the communication between the phone and the cloud; when you send the key from phone to phone it goes via the cloud. Again, we’re using very secure channels for this.

The reason we use Bluetooth is to focus all our security channels – we could have linked it to Wi-Fi which would have given us more freedom, but it also makes it harder for us to secure the channels.

I can’t tell you much more about our security, because it wouldn’t make sense to make it public, but I can say that all three channels have been heavily tested, and we’re using the same state of the art security systems that the banks use.

You could even say it’s more secure than a regular lock? 

We think so – one thing we say to AirBnB hosts and property managers specifically is this: You might give your key to 100 guests per year. That’s 100 opportunities that someone has to make a copy of it. With Smarke, you won’t run this risk anymore, so yes, I actually think we’re improving the security.

So no more leaving keys under pots? 

Yes, exactly. It’s quite common in the Air BnB space that a guest arrives late and can’t get into the property without seeing the property manager, so it’s solving that problem. The traditional solution would be to leave a lock box, but that’s outside the property, so not so secure, whereas Smarke is inside. It also solves the problem of a tenant losing their keys and not being able to get back into the property. (This is actually what inspired the idea for Smarke!)

You mentioned that your hardware fits on to a Europe Lock. Is this common? 

In Europe, obviously it’s very common and new buildings in the UK all have it too – older buildings tend to have other models like Mortise Lock. But the Europe Lock is going to become more and more common, as it’s much more efficient than the Mortise Lock. We can also change the locks on any building if required.

You’ve mentioned AirBnB and it seems like they would be an ideal partner. Is that a route you’re looking to go down, either with AirBnB or any other potential partners? 

Air BnB would be a dream partner of course, but at the moment we’re not looking to tie in directly with anyone. That said, we’re studying the API of Air BnB quite closely to see how easily we can link in with this. So using the platform to get the names of the guests instantly to make the experience of the hosts even simpler.

But before we get a huge community using our solution it won’t be easy for us to partner with these companies.

How about some smaller partners?

We have a number of property managers who have asked to take part in our first round of beta testing, which starts in February. It’s really positive that we’ve had so many property managers asking to use it – and not just from the UK but from countries in Europe as well.

So when does your beta testing begin?

Our first round of beta testing begins in May. At present we have 13 clients who will test it for us in around 100 properties.

There’s obviously a lot of demand within the short term rental sector. Do you see any scope for Smarke within the commercial property space?

There are a lot of different components to the software we’ve developed which can provide solutions for other markets. For example, we’ve actually been approached by a company in Beirut to create electronic access points for their office using Smarke software. So yes, offices where you need I.D cards, hotels, retail – all these verticals are in our thinking for the future. It’s not a short term plan, but certainly a mid-term plan.

What have the biggest learnings been along the way? 

Well, I think I can say what anyone who has tried to create a hardware product will tell you – that hardware probably the hardest thing for a start-up to do because you have to go through so many different designs before you find the right one. It’s very costly and takes a long time. We’ve been three years in development up to this stage. So I think the most important thing is to be prepared for a long journey – both mentally and financially.

With regards the financials, am I right in saying you raised just over £300,000 in the early stages? 

That’s right – We won a major competition run by MIT Enterprise Forum called Grow my Business – this got us a lot of exposure.

Eventually we received half from a government grant, and half from Angel Investors. We were really lucky that all our investors so far have asked to invest in Smarke, so we haven’t had to do any pitching.

And you have another round of crowdfunding planned? 

Yes, we will be raising a second round of funding through Crowdfunders. Our campaign isn’t live yet – I’ll keep you posted!

Do you have any competitors? 

There are some companies doing a similar thing, but we’re the only one really focused on the short term rental market. We’re completely focused on digitalising the short term rental market and nobody else is approaching it from this angle. We’re also the only ones building a keypad, and the only ones building an intercom system, s we think we’ve got a fair few USPs covered.

Where do you see Smarke in 3 years’ time? 

We want everybody within the short term rental space to be asking for Smarke, and to understand the convenience and security it offers. We hope we can be the primary players in this space.

And secondly, we plan to approach companies who provide maintenance to properties. We see a big opportunity in this space to and we plan to attack this over the next year.

Founder Interview. Rajeev Nayyar

Monday, January 16th, 2017


Look back through the majority of articles about the major players in PropTech over the last year, and you’ll certainly encounter someone waxing lyrical about the brilliance of Fixflo. Their property repair management system has streamlined the process of reporting and resolving repairs, making life easier for landlords, tenants and contractors, and they are now looking to expand their reach in the commercial space.

We spent half an hour with founder and CEO Rajeev Nayyar to talk about their plans.


Most people will be aware of Fixflo and the incredible success you’ve had since launching your platform. In fact, it can be pretty hard to keep up with your progress – can you give us a quick overview of where you’re currently at?

Our main market is the private rented sector, and we’re currently being used by around 400,000 homes in the UK.

But our systems are also used in the residential block management sector to streamline resolution of reactive issues in communal areas of blocks of flats, as well as planning, tracking and completing cyclical works such as gutter clearance, boiler checks lift checks and that sort of work too. We have 50,000 flats in the UK using that version of the system.

We’ve got clients internationally as well: in Australia, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, America and South Africa. This isn’t a huge number in volume yet, but the good news is these have all been inbound.

And now you’re making the move into commercial property as well? This feels like a very natural transition. 

We are already used in some commercial properties such as office blocks and hotels. We’ve also just been approved for a trial with Segro which is Europe’s largest listed owner, asset manager and developer of industrial property.

So how do you see Fixflo benefitting the commercial property space? 

I think we can provide benefits across the entire commercial property sector. Anywhere there is a requirement for either reactive and/or planned maintenance to be carried out we have great application.

Examples include where the system is predominantly used by occupiers alone, such as retailers who have a large element of fit out to maintain across different premises or by property managers maintaining common parts and managing cyclical works in multi-tenanted office blocks or shopping centres.

Put simply, if streamlined, robust and clear onsite workflow management is required there is a Fixflo system waiting to help.

We obviously recognise that commercial property is a giant beast and comes in lots of different flavours, and we have enough flexibility in our plans to see where the market takes us, but thus far we have had demand from industrial, retail, offices and hotels, so we’re confident it’s going to be a real asset to the commercial property space.

Will you have to change your technology at all to accommodate this market? 

Our platform is highly configurable and was built with the intent that it would be used across the wider property industry.  Either through a consultancy process with one of our account managers or through self-service functionality our customers can change things to perfectly suit the needs of their business.

The differences will be driven by the use cases for each client.  For example, in industrial it is likely that the proportion of reactive to planned items will be lower and those reactive repairs will be reported for common parts of an estate by on-site staff. Taking the retail side of the market, it’s much more likely they will use the reactive side of the platform more, simply because lots more things break on a regular basis that need to be fixed promptly to preserve turnover and profits.

One feature set that we definitely foresee being of enhanced value is smart contractor selection and monitoring due to need to combine contractors under service agreements for core maintenance and servicing, and ad-hoc specialists for issues falling outside the scope of those agreements.  So our system proposes from the company’s bank of contractors the team that are the most appropriate, who have done similar work before, who are the ones contracted to deal with those type of works etc. It also tracks their performance, and allows contractors to show their qualifications, proving whether or not they are authorised and insured to carry out certain types of work.

And as with residential, I guess there will be a clear and traceable communication stream?

Exactly. Rather than using email from different property managers to different people within an organisation, all of the communications are centrally located.

Fixflo keeps a chronological record of the entire process so there is a clear auditing stream, including before and after photos from contractors, invoices and financial reports and anything else that is relevant. It’s a complete repair management system.

Having worked as a lawyer in the commercial property sector for seven years, I can say with confidence that this is really important.

Can you elaborate on this? 

In an increasingly litigious environment, having clear, concise and centrally held records is key. My experience is that litigation can be hugely expensive, and even more than the hard cost of lawyers is the drain on executive time and internal staff resources, particularly in the disclosure process.

We used to call it defensive practice, so not just doing the right thing, but being able to show you’ve done the right thing and taken all the necessary steps to comply with lease covenants and statutory regulations. These days this is not just nice to have, it’s essential.

Will you be looking to form any partnerships in the UK commercial property space?

We’re always looking to work with willing and capable partners. In the residential space we currently have 13 partnerships with other companies both in the UK and abroad, so we’re well versed in the process of integration and collaboration.

Currently, for the residential block management we are supported with our partnership with Qube Global Software, who are the leading provider of block management software in the U.K.

And in the commercial space we have already partnered with TAP, who provide portals for property occupiers and managers.

The Fixflo platform has been designed for easy integration and we have also quickly and easily integrated into bespoke in-house property management and accounting systems.

Partnering in this way seems like a good approach to take? 

I think it’s a necessary approach, because I think software generally is moving towards more of an eco-system approach, and the ‘one stop shop’ is a thing of the past. Now you have one central source of ‘truth’ if you like, which might be a database or financial report, then coming off this are niche or custom and bespoke solutions to suit a client’s business. That allows providers to create a product that is perfect for their business at a reasonable price, and it also allows those bolt-on providers to continually innovate.  Being focussed on a discrete problem helps a service provider deliver excellence to their client and their client, in turn, to deliver excellence to their customers and clients.

Talking of innovation, it has been said that commercial property is sometimes a little slow to take on new technologies. Why do you think this is?

Tech and property have been viewed very differently, mainly because property processes are already very robust and, in large part, underpinned by legislation. But there’s a growing understanding, led by the likes of the RICS that every business, even within the property sector, is a technology business.  The divide between “tech” and “property” is diminishing and those businesses that strive to put adoption of value enhancing technology at the core of their strategy and actively select service providers that do likewise are best place to thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Do you think there’s a lot that can be changed?

Yes, there are processes that can be improved, it’s just going to take some time. I actually think that even if there was rapid adoption of all the tech that’s currently available, let alone what will be created, that would take 10 years. So there’s enough tech already for 10 years of innovation within the commercial property sector.

Another really important thing to bear in mind is how much consumer experience is now driving everything, including the relationships between organisations. It’s much more about the experience of an individual now. This is being driven by the major players in mobile technology and the platforms they are creating. So if something is broken, property managers want an ‘Uber-ized’ experience where they can report it instantly from their phone to their maintenance team. They then expect an Amazon type reply updating them on the progress.

There are some really interesting stats that show how what ‘good customer experience’ has changed, even in the last three years. So in 2014, three hours was an acceptable time for a reply. In 2016, we expect a reply within an hour.

Of course, in a physical environment, we know there are contingencies, but it’s important to be honest about these and manage customer expectations. The nature of Fixflo allows for all this to happen.

It seems like this might be a good time for FixFlo to be moving into the commercial property space?

I certainly hope so, and I think we have two more big trends in our favour. Firstly, there’s a move from seeing landlords as the sole client to tenants as being a valuable stakeholder and a customer of sorts. That’s being driven by tenants having shorter lease terms, and much more regular reviews of their arrangements. That means that dealing with the needs of the tenants is much more important. If you don’t serve their needs they will move damaging yields for investors.

The other area I think we’re moving toward is as property managers as relationship managers. There’s an acceptance and expectation that instead of sitting behind a desk, they will be out building relationships with tenants, to understand what their existing and future needs will be. Mobile first technologies will allow them to do their job while their out on the road.

Will your move into commercial allow other prop-tech companies to do the same?

Potentially, though think there are nuances to commercial property that might not be widely understood. I’ve worked in commercial property for 7 years, and advised clients through every stage of the life cycle. I think the commercial property industry is a lot more guarded, and you have to really understand the industry to succeed. It may become less important as technology becomes more prevalent, but the truth is that trying to sell any product to someone when you don’t know their industry and the pain points they face is almost bound to fail.

Any other companies that you admire in this space?

I really love what Land Insight are doing – I think that’s a really clever and exciting product. And this comes back to my point that Johnny really understands the industry, and only on that basis is he providing a technological solution. Companies like this I think are going to open the minds of venture capitalists within the space, hopefully allowing for more useful innovations that will make people’s lives easier.

Find out more about Fixflo’s commercial offering here.

Why LinkedIn’s Pulse could be a highly effective tool for commercial surveyors, and how to do it well. 

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Last time round we talked about why a newsletter might be a good way to address one of the marketing issues faced in the CRE world, namely, keeping yourself in the mind of clients when you may not interact with them on a regular basis throughout the year.

Another way to do this is to make use of LinkedIn’s Pulse platform. It’s free, it puts you directly in from of the people you want to be talking to, and most people aren’t using it enough.

So here’s a quick how, what and why for best use of Pulse. Hope you find it useful.

What is it? 

Pulse is LinkedIn’s publishing platform. It started off on an ‘invite only’ basis, with thought leaders in various fields contributing articles, but in 2014 opened its doors to allow anyone to write and publish articles.

Why use it?

Pulse is now one of the quickest ways to get your content seen by the right people and drive them to your firm. It doesn’t disappear in an instant like a tweet, and because LinkedIn’s content is quickly ranked, your posts will be more likely to appear in search engines’ pages than if they were posted to a company or personal blog. (Not to say you shouldn’t keep these current as well).

The benefits of doing this are twofold. Firstly, it’s a great way to attract new clients to your firm, or keep yourselves in the mind of existing clients. Interesting, relatable articles that provide real value will help position you as the experts. You can provide relevant links back to your company at appropriate places within a post as well.

One thing to be aware of is that LinkedIn won’t accept posts from a company page, so each post has to come from an individual. This brings with it the secondary benefit that you can build up your own personal profile by writing regular Pulse articles as well. If you’re harbouring desires of being headhunted by that firm across town with the staff gym, it can be a good way to show off your skills.

What to write

This will depend on your motivation for writing the post. Are you more interested to bring in leads for your company, or are you writing to boost your own profile within the commercial property industry?

Writing to Attract Clients

If you’re writing for potential clients then choose something you know will be genuinely useful to them. What are you asked about on a regular basis? Posts such as this one, which breaks down a complicated part of the commercial acquisition process are a good example of providing valuable information.

Writing for Peers

If you’re looking more to build your personal profile among your CRE peers, then you may want to take a different approach and focus on how you can help others in your industry. Are you the first to get your head around a new piece of PropTech, for example, and can you show others how they might benefit from it? Can you pick apart a new legislation or find a solution to a common problem? This post around the trend of social media and it’s applications within commercial property is a good example of this.

As well as the help and advice type examples, LinkedIn CEO David Roth recommends using LinkedIn as a sounding board. Do you have industry related opinions or ideas you want to share or debate? Can you comment on something happening in the news? A good example of this kind of post is here – the author isn’t simply reporting facts but interpreting them and expressing an opinion.

More Tips on Topics

It can be a good idea to maintain some thematic consistency within the articles you write, so you become ‘known’ for one thing. Are you usually ahead of the curve with technology? Do you have a knack for putting the complicated litigious processes of a commercial transaction in layman’s terms? Demonstrate that skill in your articles and it will help you find a niche.

Finally, the best articles on LinkedIn do more than simply present hard data – they show a human side as well. The platform is essentially about connecting people, and the posts that tend to get the most engagement are the ones that draw on personal experience in some way.

Still stuck? Here are 5 questions to get you started for article ideas.

  • What’s been the one experience where you’ve learned most in your career?
  • What personality traits do you think are required to do your job?
  • What are the current trends within CRE, and what’s your take on them?
  • What do you predict for CRE in the next 10 years?
  • What advice would you give someone looking to get into CRE?

How to do it

OK, down to the nitty gritty. You’ve picked your topic and you’re ready to go. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a writer, you can improve your chances of success by following these guidelines.

Write a Good Headline 

Then write a really good headline. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, when you consider that only 1 in 5 people reads anything more than your headline, then it makes sense that 80% of your marketing budget should be spent on that headline. Many successful Pulse writers say they’ll habitually spend as much time on their headline as the article itself.

Keep it Short (ish)

There’s a fine balance with LinkedIn – it’s a serious, professional platform, so the Buzzfeed-type posts which contain little substance are not going to gain you much credit; a certain amount of depth and insight is required. Still, people are busy and you can’t expect them to spend an afternoon leafing through your epic. As a general rule, 800 – 2,000 words is the right length for a LinkedIn article.

Make it Easy to Read 

A few ways you can do this. Break the text up with sub-heads so that those who scan first will get the gist easily. LinkedIn offers a good range of formatting features to help you do this.

Write reasonably short paragraphs – 3-5 sentences. Remember reading on the web is around 20 – 30% slower than reading from paper, so it’s best to keep it snappy.

And as with any good writing, vary sentence length for cadence, and keep it as concise and to the point as you can.

Use of Media

Every LinkedIn writer worth their salt recommends taking advantage of Pulse’s ‘header image’ option and adding a fitting and relevant image to your content. Like a good headline, the best will provoke some level of intrigue. Where is that undeveloped beachfront plot going for a song? How did he get to meet Richard Branson?

If you don’t have your own images ready to go, sites like Pixabay offer quality, royalty free images.

Break up content with pictures throughout the article as well.

Quality Trumps Quantity 

Aim for excellent articles that your audience really will find useful. Better to post less and well than often and poorly. However, if you can post great content regularly, you’ll really start to reap the benefit. Once a month, great. Once a fortnight, even better.

Go Pro

The holy grail of LinkedIn Pulse writers is to get their article featured.

This means that instead of being seen only by your followers, your article will appear in front of anyone with a stated interest in commercial real estate. Viewer numbers could go from just a few hundred to well into the thousands.

Getting featured needn’t be a goal – it does your profile a lot of good to have well written articles appear alongside your resume anyway. But if you do want to reach the masses with your LinkedIn pieces, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.

Firstly – follow all the advice above. Write interesting, relevant, and human focused content that people will actually want to read. Although no one knows exactly how LinkedIn’s algorithms work, the more likes, shares and comments you can get on your post the more likely it is to be picked up by the editors and featured. Remember to reply to any comments your readers make as well, to keep the conversation flowing.

Secondly, share it via your own channels as much as you can. Get your company to share it too if possible. To really do it like the pros, include tip@linkedineditors in your Tweet. This alerts LinkedIn’s team that you have posted something – a far more reliable way of getting their attention than hoping they notice it via algorithms.

Also be sure to link generously within the article to outside sources as well – this will increase your posts’ searchability and authority. Of course, if the helpful resources you link to happen to be on your firm’s website, then all the better.

Finally, LinkedIn suggest a topic theme each month – generic questions such as ‘The One Question I’m Always Asked’ that can be easily applied to any industry. Posts based around these are often featured if they can bring a new perspective to the answer.

Raring to go?

For a step by step guide on the nuts and bolts of putting your first article up there, this article by hubspot provides a clear, illustrated guide.