RealAR is a proptech startup that allows anyone to ‘see’ a building before a brick has even been laid. It works as a mobile phone app – making it accessible to anyone – and can work from any plans, whether that’s a multi-storey new apartment development or the architectural design of your new dream home.
The startup has been founded by Dr Dan Swan and was recently one of just 10 startups selected from more than 750 to take part in the Techstars Accelerator in the US. Here’s the interview.
00:27 Kylie Davis: So, my guest in this episode is Dr. Dan Swan, the co-founder of RealAR, an innovator that turns 2D floor plans into a virtual building you can walk through using just your mobile phone, and it does this in just a few minutes. So, let’s dive right in. Dan, welcome to the show.
00:56 Dan Swan: Okay, elevator pitch. That’s something that we’ve been working on. So, a great, great way to start. Thank you. It’s a really great pleasure to be here, Kylie.
01:04 Dan Swan: So, really RealAR is for buyers and sellers of property off the plan. So, in other words, buildings that don’t yet exist. So, what RealAR is actually closing the gap between buyer understanding and customer sales, and we do that by providing life-sized walk routes. So, unlike a Matterport or a Warehouse, because we’re a mobile lab, we work on a billion devices. We don’t need any additional gear or equipment. And what we can do, we can actually use the magic of AR and mixed views. So, we can actually show customers and buyers actually what it is they’re doing by product visualisation and spatial representation.
01:57 Kylie Davis: Cool. Yeah, cool. So, what are the pain points that you’re solving for buyers and sell? Why is this necessary?
02:06 Dan Swan: Well, we use the analogy that … The big problem is everything revolves off the plan, off the 2D floor plan. And if you don’t fully understand what a 2D floor plan does, then it’s one of those things that keeps people awake at night, right?
02:28 Dan Swan: And it’s the flat 2D floor plan that dictates everything. It dictates what they buy and sign on a contract. It dictates what’s approved by councils. It dictates what’s actually their final dream property or their investment property. So, it’s super important.
02:46 Dan Swan: It’s actually got it’s own word, and I learnt this in LA. It’s called aphantasia, which is the inability for people to visualise something in 3D. So, that’s actually the problem we’re solving.
03:01 Dan Swan: So, yeah. So, when you’re laying at bed at night and thinking, “Oh shit, I’m trying to … I want to sign off this project. All I’ve had is either fake 3D images, or all we’ve had is a 2D plan. All we’ve done is walk through a display home that is nothing like the house that I’m buying.”
03:24 Kylie Davis: And I did it months ago.
03:26 Dan Swan: Yeah, Yeah, well, so you would know. So, what you also have to do is connect the dots between the design and that you’re buying and then reconcile that on the actual piece of land that you want to buy and build on, right? So, it’s a huge problem.
03:40 Dan Swan: We probably spend more time test driving cars than we do in real estate in general and off the plan, it’s almost impossible because it doesn’t yet exist. So, we kind of use the analogy that it’s like going into a BMW car showroom and the display only shows you one type, and you want to see the whole range, and more importantly, you want to see the budget range as well.
04:04 Dan Swan: So, back on the other side, for the builders or developers doing things like building display homes is a huge tertiary cost, so therefore, they want to maximise that investment, and we totally understand that. And so, then there becomes a delta between what the consumer sees in the display room and what it is they are actually buying.
04:31 Dan Swan: So, these things are fitted out to absolutely look gorgeous and convey the message of what’s different, transferring their emotional interactions from a home to a house. So, yeah. It’s early days for us, and that’s the gap that we’re trying we’re trying to close between that buyer understanding and the customer sales.
04:56 Kylie Davis: Fantastic. And I love that. I love what’s that word? Aphantasia. Because I know … We’ve built a property, and we’ve done renovations, and I think that’s probably the most stressful part in a husband-wife partnership of when you’re trying to say, looking at the plans and going, “Is this what we want?” And really, the answer is often, “We don’t know. We think it is”, but you just don’t have that feel for it, do you, like you do walking through an existing property. There’s always that leap of faith, which is utterly terrifying.
05:30 Dan Swan: Yeah. We did a lot of research early on, and we found. We worked with actually a great lady. I need to give her a shout out, Amelia, who runs a great podcast, as well, called Undercover Architect. I’m sure you know her.
05:46 Dan Swan: We had a few great conversations with her and some of her user base. And the biggest thing is that people just don’t want to stuff it up, right?
05:55 Kylie Davis: Yeah. Well, there’s big money and lots of time and lots of well, disruption I guess, possible.
06:01 Dan Swan: Yeah. That’s exactly right. So, whether you’re doing your first build or whether you’re building a multi-million dollar complex, there’s always, we interviewed everyone. There’s always something that people want to change. So if, I guess, mantra is our thesis is that pixels are cheaper than bricks. In other words, it’s much easier to change a line on the plan and then see it visually than it is to later knock down a wall. So, that’s a huge driving force between everything that we do.
06:38 Kylie Davis: So, tell us a little bit about how big is this as a market size? What’s the opportunity for RealAR, and you mentioned Matterport before. They’re one of your competitors, and what about Diakrit and businesses like that?
06:53 Dan Swan: Yeah. They’re kind of indirect. It’s a very fragmented marketplace, so there’s a lot of direct and indirect versions, actually mostly indirect. But, the market size for residential off the plan in Australia is really quite big. I think the RBA, the Bank of Australia, last year said it was worth about $70 billion. And we’re across here on this program in North America trying to actually address both the Canadian and the U.S. markets. And I think that’s got some outrageous figure, which I’m not even going to talk about, but the opportunity is huge in terms of residential.
07:43 Dan Swan: The thing that we’re also looking at is extending out to commercial, which is even more exciting. So, we’ve got to really double down and think about what our core markets here because of course, in North America, the market is crazy. It’s going really fast. So, the problem isn’t one of supply and demand, let me show this. There’s more demand than there is supply. So, we have to look at things differently to the Australian market, which is how do we increase the value rather than being a lead generation tool, which is something that we’ve been done previously.
08:21 Dan Swan: But, back on the competition. Yeah, Matterport is a great product, but it’s actually quite different to us. We use that as a reference because it’s such a fantastic industry-standard, likewise Diakrit, but we’re also competing with things like those big life-size walkthrough warehouses. So actually, where people pay quite a lot of money, much more expensive than us, to beam down a flat 2D floor plan into a life-sized space or even the agents that go above and beyond and actually bother to drive a customer, a lead, to the actual piece of land they want to buy and build on, and they start pacing out with a spray can. That’s actually, again, a little bit of something that we’re, in this case, trying to enable as well. So, it’s a very interesting time in a very interesting marketplace at the moment.
09:59 Kylie Davis: So, tell me a little bit about the tech that’s driving it for you guys because you’re using your mobile phone, isn’t it? You can do it on your phone.
10:07 Dan Swan: Yeah. Yeah. So, we use … We call it augmented real estate. We try not to use … I hate acronyms. I hate talking about AR because that also leads very easily into VR, which we’re 100% not.
10:23 Dan Swan: And there’s a few reasons for doing that because VR and 3D’s nothing new in our business. It’s been around for decades, 3D AutoCAD especially. VR, a lot of people have tried VR stuff unsuccessfully and actually found that it’s damaged a lot of their brands because they’ve tried to go a little bit too deep with choosing colour pickers and then those colour pickers of fixture and fittings don’t actually match the real true colour of the fixture and fittings that they end up with. And that’s one of the things that we’re very different to the eyes that we have that mixed reality view.
11:07 Dan Swan: So, we actually pull in a lot of light, natural, real light into our spaces. And what that does, I guess it’s a number of things. It means that a lot of the surfaces and a lot of the walls and a lot of the renderings actually have a truer sense of realism. But, on top of that, it actually reflects the aspect, whether it’s north facing or not, but also how much light is coming through that.
11:33 Dan Swan: So, you can really get a sense of that space either first thing in the morning through your bedroom window as you begin to wake up or later on in the evening if you’re in the open living space on your deck, and you want to understand what it’s like to have a sundown down there but you in that space.
11:54 Kylie Davis: So I can see that it’s absolutely an amazing product for being able to see what it’s like to be inside the property. How does it work, or is there any advantages to how it fits with neighbours or things like that? You mentioned before that council approvals, they’re often quite contentious because neighbours imagine what the experience of the property is going to be like on them. Is there any real role there?
12:23 Dan Swan: Yeah, we definitely add most value on interiors, but also you can actually walk around the actual house and understand its position on the actual block.
12:39 Kylie Davis: So, whether it will be peering into neighbour’s bathrooms or things like that?
12:42 Dan Swan: Yeah. And you can actually even the reverse, more importantly, I think. We talk to Queensland state government who have kicked off a number of more bespoke projects now. But, they get inundated with community feedback, and it’s the scenario is that you may have a neighbour. You may know them for years. Your kids all may go to school.
13:07 Dan Swan: Suddenly, you’re either extending or doing a knockdown in your house. And quite naturally, everyone starts freaking out. If you show them a floor plan, a flat 2D floor plan, that doesn’t tell them anything really. So, if you can show them an AR model that they can see on the block and get a feel for what it’s like, generally nine times out of 10 that relaxes them, and they kind of go, “Oh, well, that’s actually going to be nice house. It’s not going to be too many levels too high. It’s not going to block my view. In fact, it’s actually going to be a gorgeous development that’s probably going to add value to the whole—
13:46 Kylie Davis: To my place.
13:47 Dan Swan: Yeah, exactly. So, there’s something in it for me too, right? We were all worried about that.
13:52 Dan Swan: And councils get inundated and nine times out of 10, that’s what it is. Of course, it’s never going to really solve a truly contentious, so if they decide to knock downtown hall in Brisbane as an example, then it’s never going to solve those really big communal consultations.
14:12 Dan Swan: But yeah, you essentially can, of course, look at a house on a block. It is limited to … We’ve struggled with a few skyscrapers. We do things differently there, and we have to do some manual stuff. And we got sent an airport once, just outside of Chicago, and that broke our tech. But, if it’s a pretty reasonable style house, we’re after all trying to view on our phones, so we’re trying to make it very quick and easy for people.
14:45 Kylie Davis: Cool. So, with the tech, you basically have your floor plan, and you take a photo of it, or take a photo of it through the system? How does it work?
14:56 Dan Swan: Yeah, so we initially started, of course, converting 3D models. So, we actually today support all Autodesk formats, so Revit, 3D Studio Max, AutoCAD, all those, ArchiCAD, and even SketchUp. But, we quickly found, and that’s great if you’re a commercial business, and you have access to those kinds of plans.
15:20 Dan Swan: But then, for consumers, we found that it was obviously very expensive. So, you’re absolutely right. We then started bootstrapping a machine learning platform, which means that we can now take a flat 2D plan and basically create a life-sized walkthrough, basically create a 3D model. So, if you look at us from a worst-case scenario, 3D modelling that used to take days, if not weeks, can now take hours if not minutes.
15:58 Kylie Davis: Wow.
15:59 Dan Swan: Part of what we’re doing at the moment is actually creating a roadmap where we can accelerate that and actually make that happen in real time. So, you can literally take a photograph of a plan from a brochure or even from a website, from I don’t know, realestate.com or something else and actually do that conversion.
16:18 Dan Swan: Currently, there’s a bit of a lag. We sort of set the expectations up to 24 hours. But yeah, you can tag a photograph, upload a flat 2D floor plan and away you go. The machine learning, the magic of AI creates a model for us plus also some really life-like rendering. The advantage of that, it’s very good at doing iterations, right? So, if you’re worried about the third bedroom, and you want your architect or designer to make it bigger with the risk of the balance of not having enough light in that bigger space, then we can quickly solve that problem for our customers. So, that’s really cool. It’s something we’re quite proud of.
16:59 Kylie Davis: Yeah. So, you need to have an app downloaded, I’m assuming, to to use it?
17:06 Dan Swan: Yeah. The app is free to download. Plug obviously, you can go to realar.com or just search RealAR places on either the Apple app store or the Google app store. And already, it’s packed full of free demos. So, if you want to get a feel for what AR means, you can see the the super quick versions, but you can also see some of the high res versions. So, that’s the Emanuel version of what we would call a display home. So, it’s a bit glossier. It’s a bit shinier. It presents a lot better than the super vast conversions.
17:46 Kylie Davis: Wow. Okay. So, we’ll include the links to all of that in the show notes. So, how long have you been working on it for, Dan?
17:55 Dan Swan: Well, Keith and I have been working on this for a couple of years now. So, Keith and I actually, we’ve been working together for more than 10 years. He was actually my customer at News Corp. He headed up the mobile division. I was working for one of the largest digital services companies in Australia, and we did a lot of heavy lifting media tech, so a lot of systems engineering and that sort of stuff that’s required for big media sites.
18:24 Dan Swan: His background is actually as a Silicon Valley engineer. He’s, it’s Netscape set.
18:30 Kylie Davis: Wow.
18:30 Dan Swan: He sat a couple of desks—
18:33 Dan Swan: Yeah, internet 1.0 and sat a couple of desk away from Mark Anderson, who by proxy, is a bit of an investor at the moment, which is quite funny. So yeah, I actually worked on some of the very first VR browsers, which were super early, way early,
18:51 Kylie Davis: Bleeding Edge.
18:52 Dan Swan: Yeah. So, my background is I guess, as a tech entrepreneur, I was very lucky. I left university and went from a two-person windowless office in Cambridge, UK to an amazing, incredible journey where we IPOed on the NASDAQ, and then eventually, the business was bought by Oracle.
19:14 Kylie Davis: What was the name of that business?
19:17 Dan Swan: It evolved into … It was actually an Australian business, so a company that was founded in Melbourne that eventually bought us called VTech Retail Technology. And they, in the dot com days, we did retail.com, so we were doing a lot of ERP systems competing with SAP in all the major tier 1 retailers around the world, so Disney, Gap in the U.S.. Here in Australia, Mitre 10 and Grace Brothers now Myer. So, that was a very exciting journey. We both ended up in Australia and fell in love with our respective wives and ended up spending—
19:56 Kylie Davis: Good to know.
19:58 Dan Swan: … a lot more time than we had probably first planned. And so, yeah. So, we’ve kind of known each other for a long time.
20:04 Dan Swan: I got involved with one of his startups as a small investor and then started scaling that up. That was in digital publishing, and we kind of won in Australia and beat people like Adobe. But we found that digital publishing publishers is a very poor asset class. So, that’s what we like about this industry is that real estate is obviously a huge, huge, amazing dynamic market, which we love. So, we’re very much focused on trying to scale real AR in ways that we hadn’t scaled that particular business, and one of the reasons why we’re here in North America at the moment is to try and do that.
20:51 Kylie Davis: So, you said before that the Australian market, according to the Reserve Bank, was what, about $70 billion? $90 billion. Yeah. And the scale of the U.S. to Australia in real estate terms is, well, there’s about 80,000 agents in Australia, and there’s 1.3 million agents in the U.S., so it’s usually what times … I can’t do the math, but there’s like a 10 times what we’ve got. Is that right?
21:15 Dan Swan: I think, yeah. Well, I think it’s about $411 billion US. I mean, it’s the U.S. market. Canada’s a wee bit bigger than Australia, but then you throw in US, and it’s just insane. So I think it’s about $411 billion for US. and Canada.
21:36 Kylie Davis: Cool.
21:36 Dan Swan: So, yeah. It’s an insanely large but addressable market we think, and that’s where we’re trying to be very, very focused.
23:00 Kylie Davis: And so, we’ve been talking about the benefits to buyers and sellers and to architects and councils. How could real estate agents be using this, or how do you feel that you’re going to change or influence the real estate transaction between the agent and client?
23:21 Dan Swan: Yeah, that’s a really great question, and that’s actually something that we looked at almost straight away. In fact, part of this business kind of was born out of I was selling a property in Sydney, just sort of on the cusp where things were starting to slow down, not quite sort of full-blown. And we decided to go for auction.
23:46 Dan Swan: So, we had came down to two real estate agents, and we looked at their auction clear. I’m very much a marketer plus systems and network thinker. So, my brain was hardwired into lead generation. So, I came down to two agents. We looked at their data and their clearance rates, and we met them both, and we’d kind of really quite liked them both.
24:10 Dan Swan: But then, I started looking at their lead generation pool, and one of them really stood out above the other because they were actually selling property off the plan, right? So, I want to be part of that budget pool instead of just having 20 residential property sales at $4,000 or $5,000. It was much better to be part of a larger pool where agents were also selling in the mix of the plan. And that was the thing that was decisive for us, and we’d got an amazing price for our property when we sold it in Sydney.
24:44 Dan Swan: So, it’s a great question because that’s where we started. But then, we started working with a lot of the guys in Sydney, have big conversations with Tim Foote about this. And we think probably for the direct residential sales, we’re not quite there yet. Agents really love to present that property instead of a home to a house. We don’t have the same emotional connection. We don’t have pictures of the family over the fireplace and those kinds of things. So, we’re more about that spatial visualisation.
25:21 Dan Swan: So, we think we will get there. And of course, when that market comes to light, we think it will really take off. So, we don’t think … Our user experience, it works really well, but it works really well in the same way a taxi app works really well. We want the Uber experience where it just works seamlessly, and you fire up the Uber application, and there’s just cabs, and you press a button, and then you get one, right? So, AR is still an evolving technology. So, when we get to being buttery smooth, then we think agents will start really taking this up.
26:03 Kylie Davis: So, I guess this is a good technology for agents to be looking at now and starting to think about what the potential and the possibility is for them. One of the potentials I can see is if you’ve got a property from someone who just will not declutter or will not strip it back to its basics or a hoarder or something like that, you guys give a very stripped-down version of the property from the floor plan. So, maybe that’s a good way to present it without needing to show people all the drama that goes with it.
26:34 Dan Swan: Yeah, foreign markets is a big one. We’ve already identified that here. Everyone’s talking about foreign markets because there’s such strong demand from the domestic in the way that they can increase their yields is by going to a much wider foreign investment market.
26:53 Dan Swan: And so, they see this here as being a really big point of differentiation in a hot market as well. So yeah, being able to view property and not be there, being able to select a range of different properties very, very quickly and boil it down to the final two or three that they want to finalise, yeah, they’re the kind of conversations that we’re having here right now.
27:20 Kylie Davis: Yeah, great. And so, I guess one of the ways that you would be influencing the transaction in the future would be allowing people to do a walkthrough without having to lose their Saturday just to get it down to that shortlist.
27:33 Dan Swan: Yeah, exactly. We’ve got what’s called a big hairy audacious goal to eventually become a marketplace. And so, we’re probably more focused. You’ll see us evolve as very much a data company, and a data-driven company. What does that mean?
27:55 Dan Swan: Well, it means that we can actually track the different designs, so from a lead generation point of view, we can very easily track between a hot lead and a cold lead, which obviously for brokers and agents is very important.
28:13 Dan Swan: But, then more importantly, as a user goes through that property, we can also heat map it and again give that back to the sales guys and brokers as actionable, so sales intelligence.
28:28 Kylie Davis: Wow.
28:28 Dan Swan: So, residential property, it’s a family that’s getting bigger, and that’s why they want to get a bigger plan of the plan house. Then, we can tell the agents whether it’s the second. Everyone goes to the open living space, the same as a physical property. But, if they’re always going to the second or third bedroom, then again, that becomes an actionable point of concern that the agent or the designers can come back and really work with them and help them address those issues, and we think that’s really exciting. And that leads us to a really interesting avenues, which a lot of the teams here are getting very excited about.
29:14 Kylie Davis: Fantastic. So now, you guys were recently selected as one of 10, as part of this Colliers Accelerator out of a catchment of 750 applicants. Congratulations on that. That’s huge. But, what does that, what does it, well done!
29:32 Dan Swan: This is week three for us, and I’m still kind of pinching myself as I think the rest of the cohort and the class here is as well. Yeah, so thank you. Thank you so much.
29:43 Kylie Davis: That’s right. But what’s it going to let you do? What does being part of this accelerator programme bring to you guys? Because you already have offices in, I saw in Ireland, in Australia, obviously the UA, and where else? It was somewhere else. It was—
29:59 Dan Swan: US yeah.
30:00 Kylie Davis: Oh, US, of course!
30:01 Dan Swan: Yeah. So the, the UAE is a shared virtual office. There’s no doubt about that. But yeah, we actually have more serviceable presence in Europe. We’ve got some guys on the ground in Ireland, which is great. I’m now here in the U.S., and we’ve obviously got some team still in Australia on the gold coast, which it’s just really cool.
30:22 Dan Swan: But yeah, the amazing thing about Techstars is that it is such a huge worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and their hit rate is 90% of startups. I think, they’ve got a network of 2,200 at the moment, and they’ve got some very exciting announcements on top of that coming up over the next year or so. But, their hit rate is that 90% of those startups that go through the accelerator are still running and still growing as businesses, which is the complete reverse of the rest of the injury, which is, we all know nine out of 10 startups fail.
31:10 Dan Swan: So, they’ve been able to flip that statistic absolutely on its head. And so for us, that’s a huge stamp of approval. They’re the number two accelerator in a world after Y Combinator, but even in the PropTech space, they have an amazing reputation because of what they’ve achieved with especially the the last cohort that ran was just enormously successful.
31:42 Dan Swan: So, demo day last year was I think 850 people, and the space that they’ve got reserved this year will be for a 1,500. So, I’m quietly nervous when I’ll be pitching because a lot of the room will be full of VCs from around the world. So, it’s serious anxiety. But yeah, it’s one of the few accelerators that actually has serious pull that we would actually consider seriously going on. So yeah, it’s going to be amazing.
32:15 Kylie Davis: Fantastic. Well, look Dan, it’s been absolutely fantastic to talk to you about the role of AR in its growing influence on real estate. I’m really looking forward to hearing how you guys go in the Collier’s Accelerator. If people want to, listening to the podcast, want to engage with you guys or reach out, what’s the best way?
32:41 Dan Swan: Either go to realar.com, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. That comes to me as well as the team. Obviously, there’s a bit of a lag, and we’re, we’re up here in North America at the moment, so I’ll try and get back to you personally. But yeah, please do hit me up. I’m also heavy on LinkedIn, lots of connectivity on LinkedIn, which is a good source as well. So, you can look me up on there, and I really look forward to talking to anyone that we can help with.
33:12 Kylie Davis: Fantastic. Cool. So look, thanks so very much for your time. We’ll include those contact details in the show notes, but Dan, thanks so much for your time.
33:22 Dan Swan: Thank you so much, Kylie. It was a real pleasure, and thank you so much for inviting me on.
33:28 Kylie Davis: So, that was Dan Swan, the co-founder of the really exciting RealAR.
33:32 Kylie Davis: Now, as someone who has built a property and remembers full well the meltdowns that my husband and I had, although minding my husband or worrying about whether what we were going to do was really going to meet our needs. I can see that this technology has huge potential because we’re talking really big money here, folks, that people building properties are investing, and combined with the fact that these are people’s homes, which we all know really amps up the stress levels.
33:58 Kylie Davis: So, the idea that that stress could be alleviated by downloading a free app to help us visualise our floor plans is phenomenal. So, what I love is that it creates wins for everybody when it comes to a new property. It makes it easier for architects and designers to share their vision and to ensure that the clients feel comfortable that the home they’re designing is exactly what they want it to be.
34:19 Kylie Davis: I love that it’s helping neighbours and councils get a feel for the true impact of the new development in a way that removes a lot of their fear and in the real estate space, I love that it’s going to allow property buyers to speed up their assessments of a property without needing to lose their Saturdays walking through a pile of different homes. And with the RealAR team part of the Colliers Accelerator in the U.S., I reckon you should watch this space with RealAR. It is going to take off.
34:45 Kylie Davis: Now, if you’d like to find out more about RealAR, you can go to our show notes at kyliedavis.com,au/proptechpodcast/realar, and we will put you in touch with Dan and the team.
Content marketing strategist, researcher, journalist and presenter specialising in the real estate industry. I'm passionate about proptech, digital disruption and all things property, big data, leadership and entrepreneurial ideas, have an MBA and specialise in social and digital media content creation and automation.