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The Charter Hall Proptech Accelerator program was a real eye-opener for the team at start-up Bricks + Agent, revealing a huge new untapped market they are now just beginning to explore.
Rafael Niesten and Jon Stul co-founded Bricks + Agent in 2017. Rafael had software experience from previous start-ups, and Jon had spent several years in the property industry. After putting their heads together in search of new business ideas, they set themselves the goal of removing the friction from property maintenance management:
“We did some research on the B2C space, but there were already some rather large players,’’ says Rafael. “We looked around a bit further and we realised that property managers in the residential market had a huge volume of property maintenance issues, but no great tools for managing that.’’
The pair set out to design a solution, and the result is a cutting-edge app that brings property managers, tradies, tenants and owners together on one user-friendly platform, enabling them to manage maintenance jobs without site visits.
Rafael says previous incumbents in the market were offering only desktop solutions, and a key differentiator for Bricks + Agent is their mobile-first, cloud-first approach that allows anyone to use the product from anywhere.
“The competition in residential is not forward-thinking,’’ he says. “It's more about ‘let’s take what we did on paper and put it on a computer screen’, whereas we are focused heavily on smart customisation and the best technology to provide a great user experience.’’
The Bricks + Agent app enables tenants to raise maintenance issues with a property manager, together with pictures and videos. Queries can be addressed by chat, phone call or video call within the platform. The job can be offered to all tradies available in the area or to a preselected group, who can then quote to the property manager. Once satisfied the manager can approve the job.
“We cover the complete workflow, from the posting of the job by the tenant through to the tradie finishing the job and then feedback being left for that tradie,’’ says Rafael.
Rafael and Jon were entirely focused on the residential market before they were selected to take part in the 2018 Charter Hall Proptech Accelerator program.
“That give us exposure to the commercial market, which was a complete eye-opener,’’ says Rafael.
“Up until then we had been quite happy in our residential world. But on investigating we realised we would be easily able to modify our product to suit the commercial market, where there is really no one we have found to date doing anything similar to what we've done.
“The whole space is pretty much open to us at the moment, it is really exciting.
“Commercials are a lot bigger [than residential property managers], but some of the industry practices are really backward. People are running maintenance off spreadsheets, making multiple phone calls and emails asking for quotes to be sent in – it's a very time-consuming process.’’
Bricks + Agent are now collaborating with Charter Hall on a number of projects to investigate commercial applications of their platform.
“The Accelerator and working with Charter Hall has been a really great experience,’’ says Rafael. “We’ve met a lot of great people, and we have some huge opportunities in the commercial space that have stemmed from that relationship.’’
Rafael and Jon’s new goal is becoming the global standard in property maintenance platforms, and they plan to explore overseas expansion through partnerships, white-labelling or their own offices if necessary. But for now they are focused on the local market and on refining their product.
“We want to make sure we are doing everything right here before we expand internationally, but it should be quite simple to transport the model overseas,’’ he says.
“From the beginning, we built our solution to be able to be easily customised and allow us to set up in other markets really quickly. It integrates well into CRMs and other systems, and we have designed it so you can use all of it, or one small part of it.’’
The majority of Bricks and Agent’s 43-strong team are employed in R&D, reflecting their belief that a great product is more important than great marketing.
“Much like the guys at Atlassian, we believe you shouldn’t need a sales force to be able to sell your product,’’ says Rafael. “At the end of the day, if your product is good enough it will sell itself.
“Our solution saves people a lot of time, energy, effort and money, and has everything in one place so all parties can interact transparently – as people expect these days with any transaction anywhere in the world.’’