Kylie Davis Welcome to the PropTech Podcast. It’s Kylie Davis here and I’m delighted to be your host as we explore the brave new world where technology and real estate collide.
I passionately believe we need to create and grow a sense of community between innovators and real estate agents and sharing our stories is a great way to do that. The aim of each episode in the PropTech Podcast is to introduce listeners to a PropTech innovator who is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We’ll explore the issues and challenges raised by the tech and how they create amazing property experiences.
My guest in this episode is Aimee Engelmann, CEO and Founder of outsourcing business Beepo. Beepo has a lot of clients both in the real estate space and the PropTech space, so we’re going to explore that territory where PropTech and outsourcing and real estate collide. Let’s dive right in. Aimee Engelmann, welcome to the show.
Aimee Engelmann: 01:34 Thanks so much, Kylie. Super excited to join you today.
Kylie Davis: 01:37 Thank you. At every PropTech podcast, we ask what’s your elevator pitch, so what is the Beepo elevator pitch?
Aimee Engelmann: 01:46 Great, well Beepo helps high growth businesses supercharge their output and their profitability by tapping into the world’s best talent. And as you mentioned in the intro, we do focus on the tech sector and we also focus on the real estate sector. We’re basically partnering to help those businesses achieve their goals.
Kylie Davis: 02:05 Cool. What are the links between those two from your point of view?
Aimee Engelmann: 02:10 Well, I guess the two things that are common with those industries is that they’re both high growth, and in our business, we’ve had exceptional growth in both of those sectors, in assisting both of those sectors. I think what’s interesting about how tech is helping the real estate industry is that there’s been I guess a real need to bring in new tech into the real estate industry. Now is the time where we’re really seeing technology change the way that real estate businesses are operating, so that’s really exciting for us, because we get to help tech businesses launch to provide those services and then we also get to see how that’s changing the real estate business.
Kylie Davis: 02:49 How did you get into Beepo? What made you start it?
Aimee Engelmann: 02:53 Yeah, it’s an interesting story because if you told me seven years ago that I’d be running a business in the Philippines, I would have said, “Ah no way, Kylie. Absolutely not.” But basically I had a marketing agency for many, many years, for about seven years, and a particular time in that business journey, we had a huge downfall in our revenue through some external factors, and we were niched into the telco industry.
My business, my agency at the time was really struggling. I was faced with the decision of do I wind it down? Do I let all my staff go? Or do I find a way to basically change the way that it’s structured to still be profitable? That took me to the Philippines in 2013, and when I went there, I was just astounded with the talent. I expected it to be a lot of call centre, taking and making calls, but as a marketing agency, I was actually interested in things like digital marketing and marketing support, graphic design, a bit of bookkeeping, and administration support.
It actually became a tool to save my business from at the time, was going through a big decline. 22% decline in revenue-
Kylie Davis: 04:07 Ouch.
Aimee Engelmann: 04:08 … in six months. Ouchie, yeah. It enabled us to keep operating, keep our staff in Australia, and just change the way we resource the business. That was my exposure to the Philippines and it had a huge impact on my marketing business. I then subsequently sold it and started to concentrate on Beepo.
Kylie Davis: 04:27 That’s fantastic. You’ve been going for seven years you said. How long have real estate agents in Australia that you’re aware of, been outsourcing and outsourcing to the Philippines in particular?
Aimee Engelmann: 04:38 Yeah, so probably some of the really early adopters and innovators, you look at the Rental Express guys, now Little Real Estate. They were probably one of the first organisations and I would say, I mean Chris can maybe quote me on this and tell me whether I’m wrong or right, I’d say that’s probably around eight years ago now, 7-8 years ago. And certainly when I went to the Philippines, they already had a fairly substantial operation, so they already had about 40 staff over there.
They were really one of the early adopters and paved the way for others to follow. Of course, many businesses have been, particularly banks and telcos, have had a lot of offshore staff. It’s really been the last kind of 3-4 years where we’ve seen a trend of a large majority of real estate offices considering offshore staff as part of their resourcing model.
Kylie Davis: 05:30 Right. What sort of tasks are they outsourcing?
Aimee Engelmann: 05:34 In the property management divisions, lots of processing that needs to be done in a PM business. Tenant application processing, a lot of commercial support with simple checking and auditing of invoices, repairs and maintenance work. Then in a sales division, sales support work and lead generation and data cleanup and data mining. In finance administration, bookkeeping, even things like receivables and payables and payroll, trust accounting reconciliation, and then in marketing as well, roles like digital marketing and social media assistants and web development.
So, quite a broad scope but I’d say the majority of agencies start with property management, because of the real administration burden that comes along with a PM office.
Kylie Davis: 06:25 How good are we at outsourcing? What are the main challenges that a real estate agent will face when they’re outsourcing for the first time?
Aimee Engelmann: 06:34 Yeah, it’s a great question because it’s not just a silver bullet that you turn a switch on and everything’s perfect.
Kylie Davis: 06:39 Just make the problem go away, send it to the Philippines.
Aimee Engelmann: 06:42 That’s right. The first thing that can be a bit of a risk or a concern is processes, and understanding of how a process is done. Because what you don’t want to do is take a clunky process or an ineffective process, and then take it to the Philippines, because it’ll just make it worse. So, the challenge is around being a business that’s process focused, so if you’re not a process focused business, it’s actually not a good step.
You need to have some internal change management and change the way you operate before you outsource. The second challenge can also be a little bit around the adjustment that the Australian team needs to make to work with remote staff, and particularly remote staff in the Philippines. There’s a lot of I guess preconceived ideas that people have around Philippines talent because they’ve been called by a bank or a telco and they might have a bit of a negative connotation about that. The Australian team really have to go through a bit of an adjustment period to get that working relationship right.
Kylie Davis: 07:45 Why would you choose outsourcing to the Philippines over outsourcing to another country?
Aimee Engelmann: 07:50 Yeah, the Philippines, the trend has really been a switch into the Philippines away from other areas like India, because English is their official language. Filipino kids grow up through school, going through the schooling system, speaking English. Often their parents are bilingual so their parents will speak their local dialect as well as English. The accent is neutral and the underpinning system and values is very Christian and also there’s a lot of similarities with the American market.
So, very Western, like a very Western kind of thinking and paradigm which helps. And just great service culture. Very, very service orientated. Nothing’s a hassle. Open to learning new things. We don’t get that situation in the Philippines of a task being above someone. Sometimes in Australia, someone will say, “Oh, I don’t want to do that for eight hours a day. I’m too good for that.”
Kylie Davis: 08:47 This new millennial thinking.
Aimee Engelmann: 08:51 It is a great environment to just have people who are motivated and happy to get in and get the job done.
Kylie Davis: 09:00 We talked about where you need to improve, it sounds to me like the decision to outsource the first thing you need to do is actually examine your own leadership or management style. Would that be correct and maybe work on that first?
Aimee Engelmann: 09:14 Oh, 100%, Kylie. 100%. It’s one of the things when we talk to real estate agencies, sometimes we have to say, “No, you’re not ready and here are some things you might want to consider before you start.” Absolutely, and some of the characteristics to look for, is the team good at making change? Great example is when have you introduced new software or new technology into the business? How easy or hard was that for you, and how did your team embrace that change? Because if an office has made a change to a new piece of software and they’ve been able to integrate that successfully, update their processes, then that’s a good sign that they’re also going to be successful when they look at hiring offshore staff.
Kylie Davis: 09:55 Right. So, if you need to be a highly processed driven business, how does that work with the fast growing PropTech? Because often they’re growing helter-skelter. Step me through what that looks like.
Aimee Engelmann: 10:10 Yeah, so we work with a lot of tech companies who are in that high growth phase, and for us it’s about understanding that that’s their pathway, and making sure that the staff that we hire have got that ability to move with them. A great example is looking for someone who might have a couple of years’ experience, who’s young, super enthusiastic, really smart, university qualified, but we know that they’re going to be able to stretch as that business wants and needs more from them.
So, it is common for the businesses that we work with to be in that high growth phase and want their staff to be able to do more in the future, and we recruit for that.
Kylie Davis: 10:48 Right. The tasks that you outlined before around property management and sales support, and digital marketing, they’re all very busy but possibly low skill kind of jobs. How is the rise of technology changing or affecting that? Because what we’re hearing is that the AI is going to be doing a lot of these tasks. Is technology an enabler or a disruptor for outsourcing?
Aimee Engelmann: 11:18 Yeah, great question. Where we focus our staff and where we really aim to be is we want to enhance what our staff are doing by using new technology. I’ll give you an example, as a tool becomes available to the Australian market and we know of it and it launches, we generally look to work with a client to trial it straight away. Sometimes we’re in a situation whee we might have one client using a tool and another client not using a tool and we can actually see the metrics and compare what’s happening between those two clients and look at the effectiveness.
Even in some cases, we’ve been able to provide feedback back to that PropTech company and say, “Hey, we’ve been using your tool, here’s some things that we’ve found. If you could do XYZ, this would actually really help us be more efficient in supporting you.” It does mean that we need to change the tasks that those offshore staff are doing. Their role will never stay the same, because tech is going to change what they do, but we need to be able to support them and train them so they can make that change.
Kylie Davis: 12:28 Right. I guess there’s two elements in there, isn’t there? There’s the feedback for a PropTech on how effective their product is or where their product needs to adapt or change a little bit to be really robust, but then on the other hand, if I’m using Beepo as a real estate agent, and I’m also getting the benefit of all of that experience into my business even without the need to test some of the software. Would that be correct?
Aimee Engelmann: 12:59 Yeah, absolutely. Where we are right now is we’re actually working with some clients to say, “Hey, we’ve seen this working, this is where it fits, this is how your relationship with your Beepo staff can change. We’re actually going to help upskill them to be able to do X and Y, and now we’ve got this tool that’s going to do A and B.”
Kylie Davis: 13:20 Wow.
Aimee Engelmann: 13:21 Yeah, it’s really exciting for us, because we’re starting to lead that discussion in some cases, and find out what works, look for similarities of business problems across the client base and say, “Okay, that worked for this client so we know it’s going to work for that client. Let’s go and have a chat to them about how things might change.” It’s a journey, it’s not, “Let’s launch this next month.” It’s, “Hey, let’s do a bit of a demonstration, share some results and think about where things will head over the next few months.”
Kylie Davis: 13:50 Fantastic. You guys could really be kingmakers of PropTech, sort of identifying the ones that are most likely to succeed based on … Because you’re kind of testing in a really amplified way, I guess.
Aimee Engelmann: 14:01 That’s true, and look, at the end of every tool, let’s be honest, is a person.
Kylie Davis: 14:06 Yeah, true.
Aimee Engelmann: 14:06 They don’t run themselves end to end, so there are people that are using these tools and so where a Philippines based staff member can use that tool, it’s more effective overall. And absolutely, in the early stages we can give feedback because some of our staff have been working in the real estate industry for six or seven years themselves. They do have a really good grasp, some are new and fresh and we put them through training, but they’re smart people who can give some real insights.
Kylie Davis: 14:39 Yeah. What are the trends in tech that you’re seeing that’s changing how your teams are working, Aimee? And you can name names, I’m curious to hear them. We can do shout outs.
Aimee Engelmann: 14:54 I could name names, except for that part of the confidentiality in our agreement.
Kylie Davis: 14:59 Oh really? Well, I’d still love to hear if you’ve been working with some of the technology, like the startups that seem to be working quite well.
Aimee Engelmann: 15:10 Yeah, sure.
Kylie Davis: 15:10 Don’t have to link them to clients specifically.
Aimee Engelmann: 15:15 Sure. I think in the startup space, the trends that we’re seeing is about making sure that that tech company has, firstly, an awareness of how Philippines based staff members can help aide their growth. In the early days it’s all about run rate and cash management, and we all know how hard it is to get through those first two years. It’s about an awareness of, “Hang on, I could maybe get a support development role in the Philippines. I might keep my senior dev in Australia, but I’ll get some support dev roles in the Philippines or I might get some functional testing or a QA” or, “I’m about to start my marketing programmes and ramp that up, I really need someone who can help with digital marketing implementation.”
In the early days it’s about working out what’s that next resource gap for that tech company? And then building an awareness of, “Well, if there’s talent in Australia, there’s talent in the Philippines, I can build a bigger team quicker in the Philippines.” Still keep employing in Australia for the strategic roles, and get those simplistic roles going. The sooner a startup tech company gets a hold of that, and starts to utilise that talent base, the quicker they can achieve their goals and basically they’ve got a better run rate, because they’ve got more cash to work with.
In functional areas, the key or most popular obviously software development and as I said, it’s more that junior development. The senior role’s still kept in Australia, digital marketing very popular, customer care and customer support is another one, administration support and then also bookkeeping and accounting which can certainly add up when you’re paying Australian rates for bookkeeping and accounting. They’re the roles that we typically see most popular at the moment.
Kylie Davis: 17:09 Right. Who were some of the technology startups that you’re seeing being used in that way that you described before, that you’re able to say, “Hey, we’re seeing some great results with some of these startups, some of these innovators?”
Aimee Engelmann: 17:24 Yeah, absolutely. So look, in the PM space, of course all of the foundation core software tools like PropertyTree and PropertyMe, they’re all being widely utilised and obviously staff being certified where possible and up-to-date on the latest features. That’s really important. So, with the tools that we have, making sure that the features are fully trained and fully utilised. In new technologies, so an example where we’ve got staff who are using Rita by Aire. We’ve got staff who are doing some testing with Realm, on Claire-
Kylie Davis: 18:02 Okay, yeah.
Aimee Engelmann: 18:04 Yeah, which is really going-
Kylie Davis: 18:06 All the girls.
Aimee Engelmann: 18:07 That’s right. Rita and Claire. That’s just two examples that are focused on that kind of really new, exceptionally new, in the marketplace. They’re still in a way formulating what their product set is and changing and morphing their product set, so having those two being used by our staff and us being able to get some feedback and work closely is just yeah, it’s amazing.
Kylie Davis: 18:34 Fantastic. I’m really curious, though, to understand how AI and outsourcing and Australian real estate comes together. How does that play out? What’s the AI doing? Then what’s the outsourcing doing? And then, what does that leave the agents back in Australia doing?
Aimee Engelmann: 18:52 Yeah, great question. Look, with the development of AI, you can see that a lot of core processes and tasks, as much as possible, can be done by technology. Simple queries, question and answer type scenarios, data mining, trigger based data, bringing insights forward, and that will change dramatically. I think the next three years, that will super accelerate. I foresee repairs and maintenance getting to a point very quickly where you could have AI completing from the beginning of the maintenance query right through to the end. Obviously a tradie’s got to come out and do-
Kylie Davis: 19:31 Do the job.
Aimee Engelmann: 19:32 … the job.
Kylie Davis: 19:33 Could all fall over there, but anyway.
Aimee Engelmann: 19:36 That’s right. But I can definitely see AI and that conversation right through to invoicing and reconciling the invoice all being done. So where does that leave a Philippines based staff member? So, there will always be exceptions, there will always be times where the technology either gets to a point where it stops, it ceases, it needs further help, or it needs further learning. I see that really where a Philippines based staff member who’s already competent in that process, because they were doing it previously, to be able to step in and deal with the escalations.
And then above that, if that staff member isn’t able to resolve it or maybe there’s a certain monetary value that it’s a really big repair, there’s a lot of complex requirements, that’s where things could go up to a property manager for example. I just think not dissimilar to the way that when offshore came about, certain tasks were categorised. “This is what we’ll do offshore, and this is what we’ll do in Australia.” It’s just broadening that to three categories.
What can be done by technology? What would get done by offshore staff? What’s the high value work that will only be done back in Australia? Contact with landlords, in the sales space, the direct relationship obviously, working with the vendors. Yeah, I think it just provides more and more work to be done and more work for the property management or the sales team to be out of their hands, so they can just focus on the high value work that they should be doing.
Kylie Davis: 21:06 I think that’s where we’re going to, isn’t it? Like, we’re moving into that space where the AI is handling all the business as usual stuff. You’ve got humans and I guess in your case, outsourcers that are handling the early exceptions, and then you’ve got the Australian agents or the Australian staff doing the real deep relationship and strategic leadership stuff that is truly growing the business and pushing the busywork down and down the funnel.
Aimee Engelmann: 21:37 Yep, absolutely. It is a challenge for those who are in the real estate industry at the moment who are focused on process, who are really good at processes.
Kylie Davis: 21:43 Yes, or just doing.
Aimee Engelmann: 21:44 That’s the challenge for another who is really good at that process space, is then do they reskill? Do they move to a relationship based role? Or, what will their role become if they are doing the doing and it’s process orientated?
Kylie Davis: 22:05 Cool. This is going to … Hang on, start again. This is really the beginning of a shift, a fundamental shift in how agents think and how they think about what constitutes their day and doing a good job during the day, doesn’t it? If it’s going to be around not about how much stuff you did, but about what you actually achieved and what the outcomes of that work was.
Aimee Engelmann: 22:37 Absolutely. Look, at Inman, when we were at Inman in January, we heard from Keller Williams talking about their new technology supporting sales staff, that while they’re in the car, they are talking to their digital assistant, their AI assistant, about who’s next to call, updating records in the CRM. They’re doing all of this voice activated while they’re driving from one appointment to another, so that their time is completely maximised on touching those vendors and those connections that they need to, to the extent that the AI tool is planning for them and telling them who they need to call next.
Yeah, getting to the extent where their day is planned out by their AI assistant and they can just because super, super effective and productive on doing the relationship, and focusing on the relationship piece.
Kylie Davis: 23:30 So, do you see a future where the AI will also be leading or instructing the outsourcing team? They might be better at it, who knows?
Aimee Engelmann: 23:42 Yes, to an extent. I think once the workflows are really matured, we’ll start to see in a cycle of processes, tasks will jump between. They’ll jump between the AI tool, they might go back to a person in the Philippines. Might go to someone in Australia, back to the Philippines, and then back to the AI tool. Absolutely, it will be, within in any workflow, there could be multiple touchpoints between people and robots to get it done.
Kylie Davis: 24:09 Yeah, fantastic. Well, I mean, we had Sarah Bell on the show recently and she was saying that the future is a combination of human and robots, and in fact, the thinking is really that robots let us be more human, don’t they?
Aimee Engelmann: 24:22 Yes. But huge challenge for people in the workforce, not just in the real estate industry, but any industry to think about how their job will change, and how do they put themselves in a position to yeah, to reskill or step up or move sideways? But yeah, the labour force in the next 10 years is going to change dramatically.
Kylie Davis: 24:43 Fantastic. Look, Aimee, thank you so very much for your time. It’s been fascinating to explore that area where technology and outsourcing and Australian process and real estate all really collides.
Aimee Engelmann: 24:59 Thank you. And fantastic, well done on launching the podcast, Kylie. It’s going to be very, very successful. I can’t wait to tune in and learn more as well.
Kylie Davis: 25:07 Thanks so much, Aimee. Appreciate your time.
So that was Aimee Englemann, CEO of Beepo, and Australian business that helps both real estate agents and proptech businesses outsource to the Philippines.
And what a great conversation. I have been fascinated for a while now about this nexus between outsourcing and technology adoption and I loved exploring that with Aimee today.
In the interests of full transparency, I am a Beepo client – my digital marketing assistant Jill Escudero works at Beepo (big shout out to the fabulous Jill) as does the HomePrezzo team of Nikko and Charles. (Hey fellas!)
There is a real discipline in being able to work with an outsourced team – it requires the creation of strong processes, and a vision and value proposition for your business that you can articulate clearly and really embed into the day to day work that you do. I know from experience that it really requires you to unpack job descriptions and really think through what you want those people to do on a weekly basis to add value in your business and the clarity you bring to instructions and your intention.
The truth is that if you cannot make outsourcing work for you, you are going to struggle in the race to adapt to new technology because the skills required to outsource are similar skills to the ones you use to brief and set up AI.
I don’t think it’s a secret that some of the best real estate businesses out there – those that are adapting the quickest to the new AI options out there – were early adopters of outsourcing and have long been using it in their business.
So if you want to do one thing that will help you build the muscle required to get ready for the AI that’s coming, start working now on outsourcing your business. We’ve included information on how to reach them Beepo in our show notes.
Now, if you have enjoyed this episode of the Proptech Podcast, we would love you to tell your friends, share us on Facebook or LinkedIn. You can find us on Spotify, and now on Google Play.
I’d like to thank my audio support, Charlie Hollands, the amazing Jill Escudero and our sponsors, HomePrezzo, creating content from your data. And of course, Smidge Wines, official wine of the proptech community.
Thanks, everyone. Until next week, keep on propteching!
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.