Overview

In this episode, Sam Sayer is joined by Vik Tara from Technology Blueprint, to discuss: The evolution of Proptech and its impact on the Real Estate industry and Embracing AI in all businesses.

Highlights:

0:05- The PropTech industry evolution and it’s impact on business efficiency and growth.

9:00- Technology’s impact on the Real Estate industry.

12:25- Using tech to navigate regulations.

19:34- AI in real estate and open source models.

25:50- The future of AI for businesses.

 

Sam Sayer 0:00

How are you doing Vik?

Vik Tara 0:07

Hey Sam, all good thankyou, how are you?

Sam Sayer 0:09

Yeah, good, good, good. So can you tell our viewers who you are, what you’re about? And what you’ve been up to!

Vik Tara 0:17

Yeah! All right, cool, I’m Vik Tara. And I think they call me a prop tech entrepreneur or something like that. So yeah, I’ve been involved in Prop tech world, from a leadership and technology standpoint, probably for 15, almost 20 years. And before that, I had a career in residential lettings, building a property businesses.

Sam Sayer 0:48

Sure. And that was for a number of years as a family business. Right?

Vik Tara 0:52

That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s where we really got sort of into this space needs technology and technology transformation. You know, because, rocking up on day one in the family business and there’s a typewriter. So yeah, I started there. You know, thinking about, how computers and technology will transform this space and i’m talking about in 1993. around the house. Okay. So, really first started on it. And the first thing I did was bought a computer.

Sam Sayer 1:32

That’s just the advent of PCs. Right. Really?

Vik Tara 1:35

That was, yes. Yeah. 386 you know, PC. Right. And so yeah, long time ago.

Sam Sayer 1:43

You know, I guess that you know, it was filing cabinets it was…

Vik Tara 1:49

Fax machines. It was that era. So yeah, that’s where it started. And it was obvious to me straight away, you know, coming from the open to computer since I was really young. School age. So it was really obvious to me when I stepped into that business that, wow, this whole area was ripe. And at that point, it was simply just digitisation of some sort. It’s like don’t type a contract, laser printer contract. So that you could mail merge fields. Right. So that was sort of, you know, where this whole sort of Prop tech thing really, you know, started from?

Sam Sayer 2:34

Absolutely. So tell us about your journey in Prop tech.

Vik Tara 2:38

Yeah so that really started around 98, where I had the need to, to actually build a web platform to service a student letting. So I’ve got hunter to with Back then it was writing stuff in PHP. So we built a website for students that were at Warwick uni so they could access property listings and things like that. So we had a lot of seasonal demand, we needed a way to handle it, you know, and it was really obvious to me at the time that university students work on the internet. So it was an accessible space, it was easy to use from the union.

Yeah, that’s where we were I first really start to get my hands dirty. And into prop tech, you know, formally. And so yeah, once I’ve done that job, I worked in collaboration with technology blueprint on that, and did it in sort of integration where I’d done the web side of it. I was using that software in my letting you know, and we put two things together. You know, and yeah, I really enjoyed that work. And in the end, I ended up investing in technology blueprint and then switching tracks altogether, going full time to building proptech.

Sam Sayer 4:05

Amazing. So when you first built that the student lettings website, how many other student lettings websites were around?

Vik Tara 4:12

There weren’t. I don’t think there was any property websites. This was before rightmove, it was before any of that stuff. So yeah, there wasn’t really a lot around. Right, that touch I think we were pretty early. But because the you know why? Because the market or the university market, they were already there. Yeah. So students were actually some of the first users of the internet through universities. Looking to get early exposure, I suppose through that market.

Sam Sayer 4:42

Sure. So I think you know, in my early days, I mean, I think about it. My parents bought their first house from your agency? Yeah, I was a tenant. Back in the day back in the day yeah. So, yeah you know, it’s interesting to look at that sort of generational journey through it.

Vik Tara 5:05

Yeah we started in the 70s. Actually, yeah, isn’t it? It’s 1972. Yeah, it’s when it actually started, the property side.

Sam Sayer 5:17

I think when when we first met properly, I was a graphic designer, you know, the web was still in, it’s kind of in its infancy. It was getting more and more traction, but there’s still, you know, print we used to do every week, every Wednesday by 3pm. We had to submit the property listings for the estate agency that we worked for, for the paper in the newspaper. You know, it took half a day to do it was a mad panic, but it’s not been printed the property had been sold or let or, you know, like, wow, yeah, it’s a big thing. Right? And that was, I mean, only 10-12 years ago, that was still a thing. How do you think I think Prop Tech has changed the landscape?

Vik Tara 6:03

Well, I think we went through some stages, it’s like prop tech version one, version two, version three, you know. And what happened, as far as the first step was just basic digitization things. So doing stuff with a computer that was previously done manually. Then things got, I think, more interesting as we started to write more software, and then got into sort of concepts of digital transformation, actually taking the business, transforming it, you know, to run on a technology or a software platform, with platforms doing, actually a lot of the process, right, and ensuring that the process is followed. And so that’s what we did with Propco, we built a, you know, an enterprise application that ran all the processes and lettings and management business. You know, and we’re right at the right time, I think was our platform to win big customers, large property giants, Countrywide, people like that.

And so that was, well how did it change, I mean, it allowed those companies to scale in a way that they couldn’t previously scale. I’ll give you an example. Before we introduced Propco, to some of these really big companies, they would have like central legal processing centres, right, for example, around the country where you go into a place to rent somewhere, and then they’d have to fire off the application to a processing centre where they generate tenancy agreements and documents and send them back, it’s a load of manual stuff, and it’s signing and all this stuff was going through the post, you know. Once they printed the document out using a computer, the rest of it was a manual process.

Sam Sayer 8:04

Right, sure, sure.

Vik Tara 8:06

And so that was the case in accounts, departments? Well, there’s lots and lots of manual processing. You know, and so, yeah, we brought in software, and start to really transform speed up and allow more, more importantly, I suppose the scaling companies, they were able to control particularly loads of the market, right, because they were able to scale on this software. And it enabled companies like that to grow using technology. So I think, you know, the big thing is, is, you know, allowing your business to become more efficient, thereby, you know, more profitable and, you know, easier to grow.

Sam Sayer 9:00

Sure. I think, you know, I mean technology, I mean, it’s always exponential in its growth anyway, by its very nature. I mean, you and I were doing video calls, and you’ve been in way longer than I have for, you know, 10 plus years, right. Because technology. Yeah, I think, you know, when you think of how, you know, four years ago, that everyone started using it. And actually, people were getting more on board with technologies like things as like, you know, there’s often a bit of a hill to climb first, but then it’s nice and steady. It’s like, the short term pain for long term gain, right? Yeah. I think I was looking at things like very tools we use, man, I got to spend like a few hours learning this. Yeah. It’s hard to sort of look at the well, actually, it’s gonna save me three months in the next two years, you know? So yeah, I think it’s the time saving aspect of it, which I think is massive, right?

Vik Tara 9:53

That’s it. Yeah, efficiency. time saving drives down cost, makes the business more profitable. So yeah, that’s what this is all about, right? How profitable Do you want your business to be? You know, technology can really help that can really help with productivity.

Sam Sayer 10:10

Yeah and I think one thing that that really stood out for me is, it enables you to spend more time being the human in front of your customers, right? In front of your landlord’s, infront of the tennants.

Vik Tara 10:22

Yeah, and this is why we talk about the software. What does it allow agents to be? Right? superhuman, right? How do you supercharge your team? How do you make sure that the person that’s turning up to meet your client, right is an absolute expert, right? Well, you can’t remember everything all the time. But if you’ve got it all on your computer, or on your handheld device, or with you, but you can be the expert all the time, you know, what’s going on with that customer? What’s the latest stuff they’ve been doing? You know, what’s their mood and sentiment even now, right? So it just means that you can deliver service at a level that’s otherwise very difficult to do. People want they want, you know, a great service. People are really good in that regard. You know, people who have been in the space, agents that have been working space for years, their ability to work with customers is the whole thing Right, and manage customers. So how does technology help? You know, just being on the ball all the time, with as much information as possible. The more expert you build, the more expert information you can give because it’s at the touch of a button. You better do delivery to the customer? Absolutely.

Sam Sayer 11:49

Yeah. Yeah. It’s the tap into data. That’s, that’s the that’s the core of it. Right is everything should be your fingertips as and when you need it, you know? Right.

Vik Tara 11:59

Oh, yeah. “I’ve just got to check back at the office.” Yeah, right. That’s not, you know, 2024 is it. “Just got to ring this person, and check.” And if the person that you’re competing with for that listing, right, doesn’t have to ring someone and check something, maybe you’ll lose the listing.

Sam Sayer 12:21

Talking of checks. Tell us about Checkdocs.

Vik Tara 12:26

Yeah, Checkdocs came about because of the right to rent legislation, you know, massive burden, some legislation, especially for the bigger companies, but smaller companies not so much. Because if you’re not covering a huge area, you haven’t got to work with a lot of different rules. But for the larger, letting agencies that have many, you know, branch locations, in checkdocs, we built a couple of different ones. I’m talking about property licencing, primarily, yeah. But yeah, for the large company, that that was a potentially a huge burden. And we were able to reduce that burden a lot by saying there is a technology system that tracks all of the rules all of the time. So you can audit your your portfolio really easily against whatever the legislation is in your local area.

Sam Sayer 13:22

Sure. It’s interesting, i’ve had a few conversations about how compliance and legislation leads to good tech, you know. So, with GDPR, you know, just four years ago, around this sort of time, we were going through privacy policies, cookie notices, you know, that you see everywhere now. Well, actually, there’s some amazing tools out there that we use that scan, check the latest requirements, because the states have different rules for different states. And it’s, it’s crazy, but with the date with the technology out there, you can get all that and it does it for you.

Vik Tara 13:55

So yeah, that’s it. Yeah. You often see technology coming up when there’s a new regulation. Yeah. The right space to allow businesses to navigate regulation, you know, without, you know, huge cost burden. If you have to do it manually it’s really expensive.

Sam Sayer 14:13

Definitely, definitely. I mean, talking about all different tech we can use. I mean, I’m looking at our subscriptions, we’ve got all sorts of tools. While you look at the bill each month, sometimes you’re like bloody hell, are we paying for all these types of things, but the time it saves, it’s a no brainer.

Vik Tara 14:29

Yeah, you’ve got to measure that. Right. Because as soon as you do, then it becomes obvious. I would say that, you know, the more integrated your tools are the better, you know, sometimes people have disparate systems, which leads to, you know, potentially data siloing in different places, you’ve got to watch out for that. Yeah. Using lots of different things. Yeah, but generally, stuff pays for itself, right, because you’re saving so much time.

Sam Sayer 14:58

Yeah, absolutely. So this brings us nicely on to AI. You know, I know you’ve been an advocate and user of it for years.

Vik Tara 15:07

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. We’ve been involved in AI for, you know, object recognition, document recognition, voice recognition, for years, using that stuff internally and in the products. And, you know, now with generative AI, yeah, I’ve personally been, you know, pretty deeply involved for the last couple of years. You know, as the sort of rumblings of chat GPT, and large language models came out, yeah. But I did what I usually do, went deep into it researched, read the research, read the science, and yeah, started to build out, you know, in our R&D, products that use large language models, generative AI technology, but you know, going to the core self hosting, you know, understanding how to run a lens on GPUs, and how to get performance out of it really getting under the hood of the technology. So it’s wherever new technology like that comes from, it’s great. Personally, I love it, because it’s your opportunity to learn.

Sam Sayer 16:26

And it shakes the tree a bit right as well.

Vik Tara 16:29

Say it again?

Sam Sayer 16:29

it shakes the tree a bit as well. Right?

Vik Tara 16:31

It really does, because some of the stuff that we’re able to do with that new tech? Yeah, it’s wonderful stuff, right. I mean, if I, you know, I use, my you know, local running models, I don’t use chat, GPT and centralised or third party stuff, because, you know, we’re interested in data security, and not sharing, you know, IP, on the internet. Right, so, so we’ve been into, you know, how do you do it? How do you run it? How do you build it? Yep. And so we’re writing a lot of code now. That way, but we’re not, you know, we’re not sharing that very openly, because our IP is important. But yeah the amount of code or configuration or, you know, especially things like DevOps configurations the fact that we can just spin out, you know, from AI is just amazing.

Sam Sayer 17:34

So DevOps from a typical listener means.

Vik Tara 17:39

Yeah, so development and ops. So systems, you know, operations, it’s like running your servers and developing your code. Tech, the tech team, what the tech team do, super powered by AI that can help you all the time. You know, it’s, it’s just a really great tool for some of them almost mundane stuff. You know, sometimes you’d be staring at something for ages, and you can’t spot where the areas and copy and paste it to the new spot where the inheritance, you know, so yeah, it’s, it’s good. In that sense. It’s supercharged in the way that we’ve talked about technology supercharged agents, the same thing supercharging ourselves with this stuff. And I think that’s where it helps in the agent space to, you know, I think we’ll move very quickly from, the way that we interact with technology at the moment, particularly things like, mobile devices. There’s there’s a problem that that was so created by the use of mobile devices, which is, you know, how much can you fit on here and operate with two thumbs?

Sam Sayer 18:56

Yeah, yeah.

Vik Tara 18:58

So there’s if you think about that device, there’s a sort of automatic dumbing down of everybody that uses it, because, you know, you’ve got all of the things we can really do. Yeah, can’t use you, here. We’re great at being able to speak and describe stuff. But you’re reduced to what you can do with pressing buttons, and

Sam Sayer 19:19

this whole other dimension that really is.

Vik Tara 19:24

So if you’ve got a very powerful, you know, platform in your hand all the time. And as an agent, you’re walking around with that all the time. You really just want to be able to talk into it.

Sam Sayer 19:37

Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve been looking at, you know, how does AI or tech help agents right now in the future? So things like you know, generative AI to write property descriptions, anything different. We’re actually working with a tool that will regenerate descriptions on your own website versus Rightmove or Zoopla, so you’re not duplicating the SEO. So, yes, the tweaks?

Vik Tara 20:04

Yeah, yeah. And that’s all yeah, really low hanging fruit. You know, there’s loads of stuff like that already out there. You know? And we built systems that do exactly that, right. Property Description generation using AI. Yeah, that’s the, what I call the low hanging fruit, I guess. And I think what’s coming? You know, what’s coming is really exciting stuff. Right? It’s, you know, knowledgeable. Ai, that is, refined and tuned to the specs. You know, because if you, want to really be superhuman. It’s, what, it’s the Ironman of the Estate agency. It’s right. I just want to tap here, find out everything and say it right. And everything real time. Yeah, about my customer about the property, about the landscape, about the surroundings, about the best schools about the crime rate about everything. To do with any question that’s going to be asked, right? Yeah. You want to be the agent that can answer anything? Yeah. How to do that?

Sam Sayer 21:30

Absolutely. Absolutely. No, I showed you. I mean, this is stuff you’d be playing on yourself. Anyways. Our our chat bot called DAVE. Yeah. Actually, one of the reasons he’s called Dave. Yeah, is because I remember two people working for you called, Dave. We did a billboard ads or from talking 10 years ago now saying To be frank, or Dave, or in fact, you can ask any of us, because it’s a bit of a thing. Everyone’s got to make the Dave Right. Yeah. So we’ve kind of humanised our chat bot. It’s DeTypes Automated Virtual Employee. So, you know, it’s kind of making sure you’re I think, you know, making sure that humans are benefited from it and humanising it as well. I think it’s clear.

Vik Tara 22:10

Yeah. And I think I think that’s what will happen. I think it’s not a fear around if, you know, I’ve been involved in the technology and building the technology. You know, I always have these slightly, you know, funny conversations with people around AI, you know, because they’ll come out with what I find a bit sort of, I find the questions bizzare, you know, but are you not worried about it? And it’s, it’s really dangerous. There’s a couple of questions, and then they’ll start telling you the plot of the Terminator. I’ll go yeah but you know it’s a film called The Terminator. Right? Where those things happen. This is different, what we’re doing here.

And it’s not actually, you know, you look at the lens, I mean, things will get more advanced and more advanced. And, yeah, there is more technology in the future. And that there’s, you know, there are regulations and safety concerns, but you know, car and seat belts is what I would say, Yeah, technology is around, right. technology requires regulation, you know, so that, you know, things don’t go right, because technology is powerful. But, you know, the car and seatbelt margin? However, we’re not in the world of there being a, you know, dominating AI that’s going to like destroy the planet. Because it’s a movie plotline. It’s called the Terminator.

Sam Sayer 23:40

Yeah. I always think these things gonna go a bit like this staggered up. So one thing changes that.

Vik Tara 23:46

So there’s a lot of talk of, of the dangers. But actually, I think what we need is openness. Yeah. That’s the key. It needs openness and transparency. That’s why what we do is we work with open source models, right? Yeah. We’ve got the whole dataset. So does everybody else, yeah, you can see the training dataset. Right. Everybody can see the training data set, everybody can collectively work on the training data set. And I actually read in the press just this morning. There’s a senator in the US who’s just proposed this: Regulator needs to be to form your training data is public domain. In the open, everybody knows what it’s trained on.

So that type of transparency is what will ensure that this is actually AI for the benefit of people. That’s where AI is the brilliant thing. It’s just people have not realised quite that it actually supercharges everybody. The way it’s been portrayed negatively, and at the moment they’re centralised in big corporations, that’s how most people are accessing it, you know, open AI, you know? And, yeah, that’s not what it was supposed to be. I don’t think I think the name is is open AI.

Sam Sayer 25:12

We had a conversation last week because think about open AI isn’t open.

Vik Tara 25:16

So what they started with the ethos of being open and transparent, and then it seems to have become not so much some litigation going on at the moment.

Sam Sayer 25:29

There’s also especially in the artistic community, well, in the creative community, which is everyone right. This is this is my work here.

Vik Tara 25:39

I think there’s actually a case against open by Elon Musk at the moment, which is, this is supposed to be open. Right. And so I don’t know where it will go with it. But the future of that generative, technology is open. I dont know if you knew there was something, it’s something called the The leaked Google memo about this. And in there, they sort of openly talked about how open source, large language models and open source AI is doing stuff that some of these companies have spent hundreds of millions on. And we’re doing the same stuff. You know, in hundreds of dollars. So it’s very interesting that right, huge corporations have got loads of money, right? They can spend on massive infrastructure.

But as soon as you get, you know, students, at uni hacking technology, someone’s running it on their MacBook. You know, we’ve got large language ones you can run on a phone processor. And so the innovation that’s going on in this space is amazing. So I think you’re gonna see products coming through really quickly. Much faster change. Yeah. Now, because it just speeds everything up. Even building technologies 10 times faster.

Sam Sayer 27:22

Yeah. I remember even you know, looking at, like, Sass and Less for writing CSS style sheets. So you know, the styling of your site can be done. iteratively. And that was a game changer. What, 10-15 years ago? Maybe longer. But you know, it’s those things just amplified.

Vik Tara 27:42

Yeah. So yeah, this is there’s a big change going on. It was inevitable that this would happen. And I think that we’ll be able to keep going. You know, and I think there’ll be some people that really want to use AI and some people don’t, right, I think in the agency space, give choice. You know, you’re in the space, you’re thinking, What should I do? Which thing should I implement? Give your customers choice? They’ll decide? They’ll tell you? Yeah, then like, then, you know, ram it down anyones throat. You know? So some people like to use tech and want to interact with business via their website, or via their chat or whatever. Other people don’t. Right. They just actually really want the wraparound service they want someone to speak to. So the best thing is actually implement technology where your customers want it. Yep, some really do. Yeah. And yeah, use the traditional approach, where people demand that. It’s no problem. There’s no point sort of being in one camp or the other I dont think. Not if you’re really commercial about the business. Absolutely. actually satisfy the customer. What is the customer one? Not what do you think about it.

Sam Sayer 29:08

Yeah, I mean, this is something that we always come back to with any aspect of what we’re doing is, no matter what you want your website to be like, what are the audience want. So you’re servicing.

Vik Tara 29:17

Exactly. Yeah. Very important to never forget that.

Sam Sayer 29:24

Nice. Cool. Thanks, Vik. Any last thoughts on these topics?

Vik Tara 29:28

Well, you know, not on these topics. But you mentioned something earlier about, you know, we’ve been using video calling for the last 10 years or so. And it literally spun a memory out for me because we actually started well I actually started using video calling, or an attempt anyway, when I had the lettings businesses,

Sam Sayer 29:53

Oh, wow. Okay.

Vik Tara 29:53

So, you know, we expanded I think, to four or five branches, and I used to have this problem where landlords would come into the branch in Lemington spa and they want to speak to me. You know, so what we did is we set up webcams in each place. And we use, do you remember that there was a software called NetMeeting?

Sam Sayer 30:12

I do. Yeah.

Vik Tara 30:13

Right. Microsoft Windows 95 Net Metting. It was, yeah, it was a very interesting way to do a video conferance.

Sam Sayer 30:26

And if you had like more than two or three people it just not to fall over wouldn’t it.

Vik Tara 30:30

I think even getting you to get like one person was not straightforward. Originally bundled with, I was just reading now it in originally bundled with Internet Explorer three. And then with Windows from 95 to Windows Server 2003, they were still bundling it with Windows Server 2003. So yeah, really going back in time.

Sam Sayer 30:57

It just shows how long this Tech has been around, right. Yeah. You know, I mean, I think, you know, Google search is arguably AI in the way it’s processing things. Right.

Vik Tara 31:11

Absolutely it’s been around a long time, or you know, and also large language models. This is a 1970s technology, actually, right. Okay. Yeah, late 60s, early 70s. The first large language model was way back then. It’s been around for a while, we’re I think embracing it fully now.

Sam Sayer 31:33

Nice. Thank you, Vic. Really appreciate your time, fascinating conversation. I could talk for hours on this kind of thing. Maybe we’ll do a part two sometime. Wicked all right. Thank you!

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