Matt is a strategist and digital planner from the advertising industry and a former colleague of Kay. Both had worked at the advertising agency TBWA in Berlin, but became good friends and met regularly to discuss everything under the sun. So in Spring 2013, we happened to talk about presentations of exposés in the real estate sector, especially about the use of remarkably underdeveloped technology.
We had the idea to develop a digital service with which real estate brokers were able to present their projects anywhere and anytime in an appealing style. Johan joined the team, and we finally developed a sketchy concept that we showed to a contact from the real estate sector to get a first feedback. The reaction was very positive – almost euphoric!
So we proceeded working on a first prototype to enable brokers to showcase their exposés within an iPad app. The exposés were managed via an online database, which enabled the app to be automatically synchronized.
Of course, we had asked for further feedback while developing the concept – which also turned out very well. Only an interface for the import of exposés from common administrative systems was missing. Installing such a system was very complex, but it seemed worthwhile and we invested another two months in the implementation.
After finishing our MVP (Minimum Viable Product), Matt started developing a marketing strategy. In order to give the project its necessary seriousness and to invest some initial capital for the marketing, we founded the ESTATES UG. And then the difficulties started.
First, we published a press release and waited for the first feedback to see if we had explained the service in a comprehensible way. There were a handful of registrations, but none of the registered customers used the service the way it was intended – and no one uploaded exposés. We decided to get in contact with the registered users to provide support if there were questions or problems. No response – except for one: on our offer to test the service free of charge, this broker actually offered that he would support us for a fee for the testing. WTF?
A few days after the launch, Matt and Kay participated in a conference of the German industry association of the real estate industry in Berlin to talk directly to brokers and introduce the service. After countless conversations – which were often strangely misleading – we came to realize that our USP (Unique Selling Point) was the attractiveness of the presentation, but real estate brokers are primarily salesmen and only think in numbers. Therefore attractiveness and good design play a minor role for them.
Brought down to earth – but also enlightened by new insights – we sat together and discussed how we could add a commercial value to the existing concept. And our solution was ingenious: we only needed an option to swap exposés in an internal exchange platform between different brokers.
And that´s how it worked: Agent A has a house for which he does not find a buyer, and Agent B has a potential buyer with a special interest, but has no corresponding project in his portfolio. This is where our exchange platform started. Agent A was able to provide his house to Agent B, and the commission from the sale of the property would be shared between each of them. Theoretically, this could enable a whole new generation of real estate brokers and perfectly fit into the concept of Shared Economy, which everyone was talking about.
We implemented the exchange functionality into our system and decided to present this new feature to our existing customers in a personal conversation. Interest grew much higher now. However, even with the support of direct sales through an allied broker and the personal support of our customers, we were unable to reach the critical mass of active users that we needed to successfully operate the service, which is why we had to stop the project.
The collaboration within the team was great, and we mostly reached our project milestones in time. In hindsight, what mainly hindered the success of the project was the fact that real estate properties were „selling like hot cakes“ at that time, and the brokers had no need to pursue alternative marketing strategies.
ESTATES failed, but we walked away with a special experience, having gained many new insights which would help us prepare and design subsequent projects.