Kylie Davis: (00:02)
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 the innovators and the real estate agents, and sharing our stories is a great way to do that, especially in these crazy times we find ourselves in.
Kylie Davis: (00:24)
Now, the aim of each episode is to introduce listeners to a proptech innovator who is pushing the boundaries of what's possible, and to explore the issues and challenges raised by the tech and how they can create amazing property experiences. And I'm absolutely delighted to have Mina Radhakrishnan from the property management disrupter, Different, as my guest on the episode this week.
Kylie Davis: (00:48)
Now, Mina is a serial entrepreneur with an enviable pedigree, who was both an early employee of Google and Uber when it was just a startup. She landed on the idea of creating a property management startup after she saw how much her father-in-law was paying to manage his investment property, the manual work that was involved in that, and the level of service he was getting.
Kylie Davis: (01:10)
And so, Different is a true disruptor in that it charges just a $100 flat fee per month to manage any property. And it has a keen focus on automation and processes to ensure that it can be a profitable business model. So how does it work? Here to tell us all about it is Mina Radhakrishnan, welcome to The Proptech Podcast.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (01:34)
Thank you for having me.
Kylie Davis: (01:37)
No worries. Mina, we always start off, at The Proptech Podcast, with your elevator pitch. So what is the Different elevator pitch?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (01:43)
Yeah. Different, we think of ourselves as the assistant for your home, which in this case happens to be your investment property. And we provide the full service that any traditional property manager would do, but in addition to that we provide, I think, a level of transparency and knowledge of your property that few other agents can provide.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (02:01)
Because we build all of our own technology, everything runs through our system and allows our team to really be able to focus on the things that only people can do, while our technology does all of the day-to-day things that you need taken care of in your property.
Kylie Davis: (02:15)
Wow. Okay, fantastic. So what are the problems that Different solves? Why do we need this transparency? What's pushing for that?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (02:25)
Yeah. I think there's a couple of really key stats here that come into play with this. So, when you think about the amount of money that people spend on property management fees, over the course of the year it's somewhere between four and five billion dollars annually, and that's just straight fees to property managers.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (02:41)
And it's a lot of people, 10% of Australians own an investment property, and the vast majority of people who own an investment property choose to hire a professional property manager to do that work. So what you've got is a large group of people, and ordinary Australians, we're not talking about people who have millions of dollars of wealth, we're talking about people who use property as a way to be able to be their key asset for their retirement and for their future. And they're spending, literally, billions of dollars in fees over the course of the year on a service that unfortunately is one that many people are pretty unhappy with.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (03:14)
So the industry NPS, on average, of the real estate industry is around negative 38. And so people are spending a lot of money on stuff, on a very, very important part of their wealth and their future retirement and they're not getting great service and they're not very happy with it. And for us, the way that we think about it is that this should be a good experience.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (03:32)
If you have a bank account and you have $100 in that bank account, you can see every cent that comes in and out of it, you know exactly where it went, you know exactly what happened to it. Whereas for your million-dollar or $500,000 investment property that's [inaudible 00:03:43] to be the future for your retirement, once a month you may get a PDF statement email from your agent about what's going on with it. And we just think that it shouldn't be that way.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (03:54)
You should feel that as long as you have an investment property, know that you have someone taking care of it, you know that you're paying a fair price for it, and you're fully aware of what's happening and what's not happening with that investment property at any given period of time.
Kylie Davis: (04:06)
So my experience if I'm using a property manager is that once a month report or a PDF, what's my experience if I'm using Different?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (04:16)
So I think there's a couple of key things, one is with our owner app and our owner portal, you have full access to everything that's going on throughout the entire period. So you're not waiting just for... Let's talk about a couple of different ways. For example, when you have a maintenance request, right, if you have a traditional property manager, maybe you'll get a phone call, maybe you'll get an email, maybe you'll get something else, and they might give you some sort of general high-level details.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (04:36)
For us, the way that maintenance works is that in order to actually report maintenance, a tenant has to do it from their app, which means that they're [inaudible 00:04:44] a lot of detail, they're not just putting in, "Oh yeah, there's a problem in the house." They have to say what type of problem it is, what room it's in, what's the category of problem, they have to attach photos, they have to attach videos, they have to attach a description.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (04:56)
And that comes through to us, and so we review it. And so we have pretty full data on what this actual problem is and we can evaluate whether or not it's something that you, as an owner, should actually be thinking about and working on fixing. And if we find, by the way, that there isn't enough information, with one click, we can send it back to the tenant and say, "Hey, we need more information on these things."
Mina Radhakrishnan: (05:13)
So for example, if it's an appliance issue with a stove, the tenant says, "Hey, here's the stove model, that's there. Here's the serial number, here are these things," and they haven't told us which burner is off, well, we can just tell them that. What happens on your owner app, you receive a push notification letting you know that you've got a new maintenance request that needs to be approved.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (05:32)
And now, you can see all those same details that we do, what room it's in, what type of problem it is, where are the videos, what's the description. And with one click, you can decide what it is you want to do. Do you want us to find the tradesperson who'll fix it? Do you have a preferred tradie that you want to be able to fix that particular problem? Is it under warranty? Is there something else that we should be aware of? And it's all just one click away.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (05:51)
And every single thing that happens throughout the course of this maintenance request runs through our system. So that means that when we send a message or we make a decision or we assign a tradesperson to put anything in, you are automatically notified about that as well on your app. And it's not because we're sitting there typing stuff in, we literally just assign a tradesperson because our system is able to run that whole process, it notifies you, it notifies the tradesperson, and it notifies the tenant as well, all at one go.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (06:15)
So continuously, throughout the time, you're able to understand exactly what's going on with your property. A bill comes through, shows up automatically in your portal so that you can access it at any time. A message comes through, you have full access to the entire history of the conversation and messages that have gone through.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (06:30)
So at any given point, you don't have to wait for us to send you a statement or send you a financial transaction, you just can be continuously aware of what's going on with your property. And if you don't want to check it every day, that's fine. No problem, we'll let you know when there's something that we need you to make a decision on. And so I think that's the real difference in the way that we think about, there's just this level of transparency into your investment property.
Kylie Davis: (06:52)
Cool. And so, tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get into this? Because you've got a pretty interesting background.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (06:58)
[crosstalk 00:06:58] [inaudible 00:06:59]. But yeah, my background has always been in product and in engineering. I started out as a software engineer a long, long time ago and actually my first job out of university was writing software for BlackBerry apps when that was cutting edge technology, so it's been a long time.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (07:16)
And I was working at a financial services firm then I left and I moved to California and I started working at Google as a product manager. And I think one of the biggest thing is that for me, I've learnt, in the process of building software and building technology, especially things that touch people every day on a day-to-day basis, is that technology is this very humanising thing.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (07:39)
A lot of people think that technology is dehumanising and I fundamentally don't believe that. I actually think if you build great products and great systems that what you end up doing is creating a better experience and outcome for people, and I think that's sort of been the key driver as I look back on all my experience.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (07:55)
So I was a product manager at Google for three years, got bitten by the startup bug so I went and joined a startup in Silicon Valley. It didn't really go very well but it was a great experience. And then I went and joined this other startup, which was this little company at the time, called Uber, and it was like 20 people. And I was their first product person, and basically was there for about four years, and ultimately ran the product team before I left and took a bit of break to try and figure out what I wanted to do next.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (08:23)
And I explored, and I just really love technology and products and building things for people that ultimately make their lives better in some way, shape, or form. And so I worked with some venture capital firms on the investment side, and just really wanted to get back into building and creating. And so, my husband has a very complementary background to me and he's actually my co-founder. We're still married, so, so far so good.
Kylie Davis: (08:47)
Mina Radhakrishnan: (08:50)
So we decided we would love to build something together. And we spent a year thinking about what it is that we wanted to do. We had this long document with a list of startup ideas, most of which were really bad, and we came across this one and it actually was because of my father in law, who is, I think like many Australians, he's older, he's retired and he's got some investment property.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (09:13)
And so we were just working with him to make sure his finances were in order and we were like, "What's going on with this investment property? Tell me more about this property manager that you have." And in that process we realised, wow, here is a place where we genuinely can do this, we can build technology that will significantly improve this experience for everybody concerned, right? And that, I think, is really something that I just love to do, which is make things feel better through technology.
Kylie Davis: (09:40)
Amazing. I love the idea that you've gone from Google and Uber to property management in Australia, that's quite a change. So I just really want to make sure I understand it properly. Do you describe Different as a direct-to-landlord solution or is it a new way for property managers to work? Because we're hearing a lot in the space now about automation in property management and the need for property managers to be working differently. How does Different fit into that?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (10:10)
Yeah. Different is fundamentally a direct-to-consumer solution, so we sell our service to investment property owners. But that said, the reason that I think that we think we provide a better experience for owners is because we build all of our own technology. And so as a result, we have to create a better experience for our own team to be able to do their job better.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (10:31)
And we actually don't call our property managers 'property managers', we call them operations managers because they are not just thinking about, "How do I solve this problem for this one property at this specific time?" They're really thinking about, "How do I build systems to be able to do this really well?" And so our operations managers work very closely with our product and our engineering teams to actually figure out, "Hey, this is the outcome that I'm trying to get to, this is the problem that I'm trying to solve. How do we build technology that takes that work away from me and lets me really focus on it?"
Mina Radhakrishnan: (10:58)
So this maintenance solution that I just described to you is not something that I'm thinking about building in isolation. I'm working really closely with people who have 10+ years of experience in property management, and how they've done maintenance stuff in the past. "What works, what doesn't work, how does it fit together? Oh, okay, cool. What about if we did it this way, would it solve the problem and get you to the place that you have?"
Mina Radhakrishnan: (11:20)
Because I think one thing that we recognise is that technology, we look at it as an 80/20 kind of thing, that it can solve a lot of the easy problems, right? And there are a lot of simple, basic things that happen in property management, it just needs to be done repeatedly over and over again, but there are also these really complex things that you can't just rely on technology to solve. Like how do we think about this...
Mina Radhakrishnan: (11:41)
Like for example, we had somebody, there was this massive storm and then the tree fell into the pool. Our maintenance system is not going to automatically find somebody who fixes trees in pools, right? Somebody has to step in, chat with the tenants, make sure they're okay, make sure things are in a good place, chat with the owners, let them know what's going on.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (12:00)
So the maintenance system works really well for leaky taps, which are honestly the vast majority of requests, blocked toilets, blocked sinks, those kinds of things are easy. And so if you don't, as a property manager, have to deal with those really basic things and instead can focus your time on solving problems, well, I think that's what it is.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (12:16)
So, Different, at its core, is about, we are the caretakers for your investment property. But in order for us to do that job well, we actually have to build a great solution for our team to be able to work, to do that job well.
Kylie Davis: (12:30)
Fantastic. So how big are you now? How many operations managers do you have?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (12:38)
Yeah. Well, it's a little [inaudible 00:12:40], because I think we take a slightly different approach to how we run our teams. So traditional agencies typically will have a single property manager who manages anywhere between 100 and 200 properties, potentially with an additional assistant as well.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (12:55)
The way that we think about it is we have billions of dollars of property under management. We have well into four figures in terms of number of properties that we manage across our three cities, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. And we actually run it as a team-based approach.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (13:12)
And so, we're very aware of some of the things that can go wrong with a team-based approach, which is that you feel like, "Who do I go to? How do I make sure someone's actually solving the problem?" And we try to resolve that in a number of different ways, one is that, when you reach out to us, everybody can see the full history of conversations that's going on.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (13:34)
So it's not like somebody goes on vacation and all your emails and all of your conversations and contacts with them are trapped in that person's inbox. We actually have a shared communication system. So that means, and I do this too, I could pick up the phone or I could write an email or I could reach out to any particular or a tenant for any situation that's happening and I have full context of everything that's happened in terms of what's going on there.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (13:55)
And so we [inaudible 00:13:57] very much like a team-based approach to how we handle property management, and the goal is that we are continuing measuring and monitoring our ability. So for example, just a few weeks ago, we released on our website, we show you how well we do maintenance or how poorly we do maintenance, we have live updated stats that say how long it takes for us to be able to follow up and reply to a maintenance request, how long it takes for us to be able to get the approval for a maintenance request to proceed, how long does it take for us to assign a maintenance request to somebody, and we just have those live and updated and running on our website.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (14:30)
So, the fact that we use this team-based approach actually really keeps us very honest because we know what we're doing and what we're not doing so that we can come back and say, "Hey, you are the team responsible for maintenance. I can see that there are seven maintenance requests that have been waiting for more than 48 hours, why is that? What's going on?" And anyone can look at that and verify.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (14:48)
And the teams feel very strongly, they have a lot of pride in the way that they do their work, because they want to do their jobs really well. I think we've hired amazing people. And so to give them that insight and that transparency into it, "Here are the maintenance requests that have been waiting more than 48 hours." You can literally just look at a list at any given time and power through it and make sure that those get resolved. So I think that's the way that we really think about it.
Kylie Davis: (15:11)
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Kylie Davis: (16:20)
So you charge a flat fee to landlords, and that's just $100 a month.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (16:27)
That's right, it's $100.
Kylie Davis: (16:30)
I mean, that's quite extraordinarily low, is it only the technology that allows that price to be so low?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (16:38)
Yeah. I think it's two things. It's definitely the technology, it's definitely the systems and the processes that we built, which are also related to technology but not necessarily just technology. And that $100 is a very considerate $100. It's not like, "Hey, let's just drop our prices as low as we can and increase them in the future," we genuinely believe that we can build a high quality of service and charge $100 and still be able to build a long-term profitable, sustainable business.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (17:09)
And so, the way in which we think about those things is, again, kind of coming back to the 80/20 thing where it's just like, technology can really handle the simple stuff, the things that you just have to do repeatedly over and over again, that don't vary, that don't change. Technology is really good at that. It doesn't forget, it doesn't feel procrastinated, it doesn't get bored, it just does the things that it needs to do, right?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (17:28)
And people love to work on the hard stuff, on having empathy, being able to have compassion for people, to understand situations. I would never build technology to figure out how to deal with COVID rent relief applications, but I will [inaudible 00:17:41] one of our experienced operations managers in charge of running that process in a really compassionate but objective way. And so that's the way that we really think about these things.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (17:51)
There is a lot of software in property management, I'm not going to say that there isn't. But there's three big things that these software solutions that agencies use have issues with. The first one is the people building the software are selling software to agencies, so as a result, they're not thinking about what is the ideal customer experience, what is the way in which you want an owner to feel, what's the [inaudible 00:18:12] in which you want a tenant to feel.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (18:14)
Your goal is to try and sell this service to an agent. So you're like, "Oh look, you can do this faster. You can press this button faster. You can click this thing faster." And that, I think, is an issue because it ultimately doesn't get you to the outcome that you want, which is to create a great experience for owners and for tenants.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (18:28)
The second thing is that a lot of the software that's out there is solving a specific thing. One piece of software for maintenance, one thing for accounting, another thing for your CRM. And if you do that as an agency, it's really hard to be able to figure out what's actually going on with this property, what's happening with this tenant, what's happening with this owner, because you've got to look in four different places to be able to actually get at it. And I think that's really tough.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (18:58)
Then I think the last thing that really comes in into play here, is also that at the end of the day, this isn't about automating work, it's not about making it easier, it's not about taking the work away from people, it's providing a place for people to say that they've done the work, right?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (19:17)
At the end of the day, your property manager still has to go make the phone calls, still have to send the email, they still have to do the work. And then they have to go into this software and enter the thing that says, "Hey, I did this thing." Whereas the way that we think about building technology, the way that we think about building software is first and foremost, let's think about how do we want the owner to feel? Or how do we want the tenant to feel? What should happen for them as a result for this to be good?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (19:38)
We build all of our own technology which means that we're not relying on different pieces of things, we actually can tell you holistically, "Hey, this is what's going on with this person or with this property or with this portfolio."
Mina Radhakrishnan: (19:49)
And then lastly, because we're only building for ourselves, we're only building things for our system. We actually can take work away. We can say, "Hey, this is the way in which we want this thing to work. We're going to design it and build it in this way, we're going to automatically send these emails, we're going to automatically kick off these processes, because we know that that's how it should work."
Kylie Davis: (20:07)
Fantastic. So on your website you claim that you attract the best tenants, which seems a little bit counterintuitive if you're not... I mean, in traditional real estate, thinking that you would have to be based locally and know the area and all that kind of stuff to attract the best tenants. So how does that work? How do you guys attract the best tenants?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (20:28)
Yeah. I think that when it comes to tenants, I think a lot of agents will tell you that they have their tenant databases, etc. etc. And I just think, let's be real here, where are tenants looking to find properties? They're looking on Domain and they're looking on REA.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (20:42)
96% of properties are found from Domain and REA, so the best possible thing you can do is to make yourself the most attractive listing that you can on Domain and REA, which means that we use high quality photos, we use 3D tours, we use floor plans. Because, as a tenant, what do you want to know? You want to know is this property going to work for me, is it going to fit? So the best thing that we can do is create the best possible listing to make it easy for a tenant to answer the question of do I want to live in this place? Is this a place that I would like to?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (21:11)
The second thing is that it's about following up quickly, it's about responding to inquiries from tenants, and it's about processing applications. And I don't think that you need to be in a specific area to be able to do that. What you need to be able to do is to respond quickly, to follow up, and to provide full information about what's going on. And that, I think, is the best way to lease property.
Kylie Davis: (21:33)
So that transparency of service that tenants can experience is part of that attraction. I can imagine it would be.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (21:41)
Yeah. And I think the responsiveness.
Kylie Davis: (21:43)
Mina Radhakrishnan: (21:44)
I think it's really [inaudible 00:21:44] to have that there.
Kylie Davis: (21:46)
Yeah, because I know that one of the biggest bugbears that tenants have is response to maintenance, so I'd love to hear some of those numbers.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (21:54)
Yeah. So, for example, I'm looking at the last seven days, so in terms of... From the time that a tenant opened their request to the time that we reviewed the request and sent it off to the owner for final approval, 96% of the requests that we received were approved by us, forward to the owner, in 12 hours or less.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (22:19)
And then, of the ones, what we also did is... It's important too that we play this interesting role in terms of the balance between owners and tenants, right? And so, one thing that's important for us is that we also have to let owners know about their responsibilities as a landlord, that you can't just have requests sitting around waiting and hope not to deal with them. If it's important, if it needs to be dealt with, you have to follow up as well.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (22:40)
And so we've put a lot of safeguards in place to say, for owners, our expectation is that within 48 hours, you will approve a request. Or if you're not going to approve a request, that's okay, but you're at least going to let us know why you didn't approve the request so we can follow up and have that conversation. Because if it goes to you in the first place, we believe it probably should be fixed.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (22:57)
So in terms of the time that it went to an owner to the time that it got approved, which also requires us following up and making sure that that happened, 94% of maintenance requests were followed up on and had decisions from owners within 24 hours.
Kylie Davis: (23:11)
Mina Radhakrishnan: (23:13)
So I think these are the things. And then 81% of those requests were then assigned to a tradesperson within 12 hours. And the remainder are generally assigned anywhere between 12 to 48 hours later. And this also, keep in mind, is taking into account the fact that we had a public holiday yesterday. So it's a slightly smaller time frame in terms of approved to assigned because obviously people are away.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (23:44)
I challenge you to find a property management agency that can tell you those numbers. I can tell you those numbers, I have them at a glance any time and I can put it from any time period in the past six months that I want you to figure it out. And so just the fact that I think that we even have access to those numbers, really, I think shows our commitment to transparency and doing the right thing for not only our owners, but also our tenants.
Kylie Davis: (24:06)
And I can imagine that would be a three-day turnaround pretty much for getting a tradie out to fix something-
Mina Radhakrishnan: (24:14)
Kylie Davis: (24:15)
... In most of those cases.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (24:18)
And we're [inaudible 00:24:19] working on building new systems and follow-ups for our tradespeople as well. So for example, just last week we released a feature, it's an automated follow-up, so that a tradesperson has to be able to accept the maintenance request and confirm their scheduling of the maintenance request, and the tenants get notified of that as well.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (24:34)
So we're always working on improving this because we can see the data, we can see that when we release something, that when we build something, when we change the process, we know what impact it has. And that's really important to us that we continually measure and increase the bar in terms of quality of work.
Kylie Davis: (24:50)
Fantastic. So, Mina, how do you guys manage the legislative risk? And you're active in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, is that correct? Yep?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (25:04)
Kylie Davis: (25:05)
They're all pretty notorious for having an extraordinary amount of legislation.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (25:10)
Yeah. It's actually interesting because as you look at the legislative requirements across all of the three different states, in many ways, they are actually quite similar. There are certainly variances in terms of things like, okay, so in Victoria it's 28 days of notice versus 21 days of notice, and in New South Wales. So there's things like that where the actual specific number varies, but for the most part it's actually really quite similar.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (25:33)
And I think there's a couple of key things that come into play with that. We're Real Estate Institute members in every single state that we're in, so we're continuously kept aware of changes to legislation. So for example, in New South Wales, a number of changes happened, the recent changes on March 23rd, and we're very aware of what's going on with them. We're prepared for it several weeks in advance. We have all of those things in...
Mina Radhakrishnan: (25:54)
Every single person, pretty much, in our company has either a licence or a certificate of registration, including myself, by the way. Our engineers, our product managers, our designers, our operations managers, our growth team, we're all very much aware of what needs to happen with the industry and we're aware and on top of it. So I think that's the biggest thing, is that we are very much aware of the legislation in each of these areas and a big part of that is that every single employee in our company is licenced and certified, and I think that's a really key thing, being able to do the right thing within the industry.
Kylie Davis: (26:25)
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Kylie Davis: (27:04)
Direct Connect offers a range of market-leading suppliers and Direct Connect has now made it even easier than ever to send connections, directly integrating with MRI software's Property Tree. So in just a few clicks while processing your tenancy, you can send the connection details through and get your customers connected.
Kylie Davis: (27:21)
To make the right connection and find out how Direct Connect can make moving easy for you and easy for your customers, visit agents.directconnect.com.au or call 1300 558 169.
Kylie Davis: (27:37)
How did you guys go through COVID-19 and lockdown? I mean, you're obviously operating a centralised office, so how did it impact on you?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (27:48)
Yeah. I think actually, one thing that I'm very proud of is our team, in general, the approach that we take towards things is like, "Hey, we don't have to do things the same way they've always been done, we can come up with our own new ways of doing it." We're quite an adaptable team.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (28:02)
And because of that, in many ways, COVID was just kind of like, "Okay, great. So now more people will work from home on some days." On a day-to-day basis in terms of how our business went, it really wasn't a huge change for us at all. We're very used to building out a company where it's like, "Hey, we can't always go to the office, we can't always go to the home, we can't always go pick up the keys and walk into [inaudible 00:28:26]." We actually just have to be able to operate from wherever we are to be able to run a business really effectively.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (28:31)
And so I think actually in many ways, COVID was kind of validating of that approach to business, which is that you don't have to be in a specific local area in order to be able to do the job well. If you have thousands of properties across Australia, you can't be in every single one of those thousands of properties, but you still need to provide that high quality of service. What do you do? How do you make it work? So I think from a day-to-day basis of running a business, it really validated our approach of how we work, which is that we build technology for a reason, technology works from anywhere, any time, however you want it to be.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (29:03)
In terms of practical things that COVID affected, the biggest impact, obviously, was on leasing, right? You have to show people in homes. There's nothing you can do about that. And so, I think one thing I'm really proud of with our team is that, I think Scott Morrison announced it [inaudible 00:29:17] at 10 p.m. on Wednesday. By 11:30 p.m. that same night, the team had already come up with a plan of how to do 3D virtual tours using drones, how to build floor plans, how to get that in place. And by the end of the week, the vast majority of properties that we had listings on already had those built into it.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (29:33)
They built out a calendaring system to be able to handle open homes to make sure that only one person was in the property at any time, while that was allowed and people were still allowed to go and visit. And I think it's that they're very open to using tech solutions to be able to solve problems.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (29:48)
So yeah, I think on a day-to-day basis, our existing customers have had a really good experience, especially on the leasing side, which is a real challenge. I think that because we were very much on top of responding to rental and [inaudible 00:30:04] applications for tenants, and just being, again, very transparent with our owners about, "Here's what we received, here's what we've done, here's the process that we take, here's the documentation that we asked for."
Mina Radhakrishnan: (30:15)
We have some great stories of owners and tenants who have just been very... Just working through the situation, which is obviously not ideal for anyone. We had a tenant, oh sorry, an owner who was on vacation and with very limited cellphone service, and basically crept up to the top of a hill to give us a call, send us an email, let us know, "Hey, I think my tenants are going to be having trouble [inaudible 00:30:42]."
Mina Radhakrishnan: (30:42)
They knew they owned a gym. And they gave them a $200 rent relief [inaudible 00:30:47], without us even asking, unprompted. So I think we just also have been very fortunate to have great tenants and great landlords who just realise, hey, we've all got to work and deal with the kinds of situations that we have in place here. It's unprecedented, it just requires having a certain level of compassion on both sides.
Kylie Davis: (31:03)
Very cool. So, how do you guys do regular inspections, tenancy inspections?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (31:10)
Yeah. So routine inspections. I think with property management there's no question that there's local services that have to be done. And so we actually have a field team of local people operating in all these individual areas who would go and do the stuff that needs to happen in a house, it's open homes, routine inspections, in-goings, outgoings.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (31:27)
And they're trained, they're qualified, they have licences, they have certifications. Many of them are also ex real estate people as well. We run the schedule, we coordinate with them, and they pick it. And as much as possible, we want to have people work in their local area, we don't want them driving long distances, we want them to stay. Like, "Okay, great. You live in the Eastern Suburbs, you'll do everything in the Eastern Suburbs." And that's kind of how [inaudible 00:31:47].
Kylie Davis: (31:49)
Okay. And so is there a way that traditional property managers could leverage Different to improve their own services? Or are you using property management freelancers? What's the nexus there?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (32:05)
Yeah, yeah. Our field team is a series of casual employees, and we're always looking to grow and build that up. These are people who, for the most part... The general profile of our field teams are that they like real estate, but they don't want to be doing it full-time, they just want to pick up things along the way or they have other jobs and they just have an interest in getting involved in the real estate industry and so they pick these up as well.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (32:28)
So we're always looking for more people to do that. Believe it's called our Field Operations Associates. Our job listings are live on our website at any time, if anybody is interested and wants to pick things up. In terms of partnering with agencies, we are a competitor to your traditional real estate agency, which not everyone loves their competitors.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (32:52)
But yeah, we always look to see how we can partner with agencies in a way that makes sense for us. The key thing though is that we want to be able to provide a great service to our owners and tenants and that's first and foremost for us.
Kylie Davis: (33:03)
So there's a growing number of real estate services in this space though, like other proptechs out there that are doing parts of the transaction like inspections or fire alarm, smoke detector inspections and things like that. Do you guys collaborate with any other tech providers?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (33:23)
We are exploring things. Technology is something that takes time to build it, you can't build everything overnight, and we're continuously building and improving our system. So we do use other systems as well to help us with that.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (33:34)
But for example, the different tools that we use, we use Zendesk to manage our customer service. Because customer service and finding good ways to be responsive, there is a reason that there have been whole businesses, billion-dollar businesses built on that, it doesn't make sense for us to rebuild that from scratch, right?
Kylie Davis: (33:51)
Mina Radhakrishnan: (33:51)
So we do definitely use other tools as we need to, but what we try to think about is there's always this question in software of "Do you buy it or do you build it?" And the way that we really think about it is that is this a core service that's ultimately going to improve the customer experience, that we need to own, that we can't customise in any way? If the answer to that is yes, then we'll build it, and if the answer to that is no then we can have a real conversation about, okay, maybe we should find a solution for this that already exists.
Kylie Davis: (34:19)
And look, you confirmed before that you guys are in competition to a traditional real estate agent, but there's also a lot of newcomers in this space since Different popped up. How do you see the competitive space of other property management proptechs?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (34:35)
Yeah. Look, I think competition is great in the industry, it helps all of us be better at what we do. I have to be honest with you, I don't spend a lot of time just focusing on what our proptech competitors are doing necessarily, because I think that the biggest market out there is people who are using traditional property managers, and I want to be able to provide.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (34:56)
At the end of the day, I believe that if you give owners and tenants what they really want and what they really need, then you will win. And that's the way that I look at it, is I think competition is great and let the best person win.
Kylie Davis: (35:10)
Fantastic. So, Mina, what's the biggest challenge that you've ever faced as an entrepreneur?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (35:16)
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:35:17]
Mina Radhakrishnan: (35:19)
How much time do we have? Look, I think one of the great things about our business is that it's growing, but that [inaudible 00:35:29] also a problem. And I think there's this period in a company where you start out and you're just like... We started this business with literally nothing, we had three customers, and one of them was Ruwin's friend and two of them were Ruwin's cousins. So that's how we started this business. We literally had nothing.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (35:47)
And we've grown remarkably in the past two and a half years since we launched the business, which is an amazing thing. But as you grow, you have to be continuously thinking about what needs to change in your businesses. The things that worked when we were at... I remember the day we celebrated getting to 100 properties and it felt like, oh my God, it was such a milestone. And we were like [inaudible 00:36:08]
Mina Radhakrishnan: (36:11)
When's the next 10,000? How does it go? And so the way in which you think about those things has to change drastically. So I think the biggest challenge is when you're not teeny-tiny anymore and you're not also massive and you're in this in-between place, you have to be continuously thinking about, "Hey, if the goal is to be very large but still maintain really high quality and really high service, what are the things we need to change in order to make that happen?"
Mina Radhakrishnan: (36:34)
Because when we were at 100 properties, I could and did pick up the phone to an owner and say, "Oh, let's chat about this. Let's figure this out, let's see what's going on here." And you can't keep doing that always.
Kylie Davis: (36:48)
Mina Radhakrishnan: (36:48)
[inaudible 00:36:48] find the right systems and processes in place as you continue to grow while never losing sight of the fact that actually you have to maintain a really high quality of service.
Kylie Davis: (36:57)
Fantastic. So what do you think, what's your predictions for what the next five years looks like in real estate, and especially in that property management space?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (37:05)
Yeah. I'm always a little bit scared to put predictions because invariably they're wrong.
Kylie Davis: (37:10)
Well, you can never get [inaudible 00:37:11].
Mina Radhakrishnan: (37:13)
I think the only thing that you can be very clear you're going to be right about your predictions is if they'll be wrong. I think there is a couple of key things, one is, I think that people are going to demand more transparency in general, that this "I'll send you an email once a month" is just not going to cut it anymore. People will want more transparency throughout the process and they're not going to be willing to just wait on people to do it.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (37:33)
I think that COVID has shown us that people are going to want to communicate in a number of different ways and it's not always going to be about picking up the phone or about going into an office or doing that. There's going to be a lot more things that are done virtually with regards to communications.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (37:47)
And then I think the other big thing that we're going to see is probably a lot of consolidation in the industry, where it's just like, if you're small, there's a lot of things that you have to build from scratch that are really hard to do. And it's honestly just probably simpler to be part of something a little bit bigger. So I think those are the three big things that I think are coming to mind.
Kylie Davis: (38:08)
And so what does the future hold for Different? What's your road map look like?
Mina Radhakrishnan: (38:14)
Yeah. I think that the key thing for us is, I started this out by saying that we are the assistant for your home, in this case it's your investment property. Ultimately, I believe that the future of Different is to just be the assistant for your home, period. Whether you're a tenant-
Kylie Davis: (38:27)
Oh, please. Please, please, please come and be the assistant to my home.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (38:31)
I think, for what we do, one of the most powerful things about property management is that you learn so much about how to take care of homes well. I'm a homeowner as well, and when there's a leaky tap or my roof's been leaking, it's been so easy for me, I'm like, "Oh, I'll just go look up who's the best roof [inaudible 00:38:49] in the Eastern Suburbs and find them and call them."
Mina Radhakrishnan: (38:51)
And I think if we can solve the leaky tap for the investment property owner who's at 4 Liverpool Street, why can't we solve it for the owner or occupier who's at 8 Liverpool Street and 10 Liverpool Street and 12 Liverpool Street and every single other street next to it? So I just think that everything that we're learning as we build high quality property management, is so valuable for anybody who lives in a home. And I think that's our continued focus in Different, is how do we become the assistant for your home, period? For whoever you are, wherever you live, in any home.
Kylie Davis: (39:23)
Oh, I love the sound of that. There's a lot of conversations going on in real estate about the need for that to happen, because I don't think there's a couple on the planet that doesn't rock-scissor-paper with each other when something goes wrong in your own house. And then you have that argument over who's going to wait around for four hours for the tradie to not turn up. So yeah, that sounds fantastic.
Kylie Davis: (39:42)
Look, Mina, it has been absolutely wonderful talking to you today. Congratulations on Different and thanks for being on The Proptech Podcast.
Mina Radhakrishnan: (39:51)
Thank you so much for having me, Kylie. It was a pleasure to chat with you.
Kylie Davis: (39:54)
Kylie Davis: (39:55)
That was Mina Radhakrishnan from Different. And I think Different offers some fascinating example to the real estate industry, and the importance of step-change thinking rather than incremental thinking. In the property management space, there's been a lot of proptech businesses out there helping PMs do what they do just a bit better. So helping property managers be a little bit more efficient, or helping them embrace a bit more automation, or helping them save a bit of time and money in reconciling and doing trust accounts, or making property maintenance a bit easier.
Kylie Davis: (40:30)
And the adoption levels have all been decided based on what we, as an industry, have been comfortable with. But it's getting uncomfortable pretty fast, because at no stage has the business model sitting behind what we do, that hasn't changed. What all of this tech has done has been to let us cope as an industry with the pressure to do property management just a bit cheaper.
Kylie Davis: (40:53)
And Different is a great example of that. Different is playing by the rules. They are accredited agency in every state that they work in, but their example is one of extreme automation and a process-driven business that is so tight, it allows them to offer property management at a flat fee of $100 a month. So the question for each of us is, how does the traditional industry need to change to compete? I'd really love to hear your thoughts.
Kylie Davis: (41:22)
And if you have enjoyed this episode of The Proptech Podcast, I would love you to tell your friends or drop me a line via email, LinkedIn, or Facebook. You can follow this podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Anchor, and Apple iTunes. I'd like to thank my audio support, Charlie Hollins and the fabulous Jill Escudero, and our sponsor, Smidge, official wines of the proptech community, Direct Connect, making moving easy, and HomePrezzo, now part of ActivePipe, and making email marketing easier than ever before. So, thanks everyone, until next week. Stay safe and 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.