WiredScore exec: differentiation through brand is the next iteration of the office space
It’s all fairly new for Rory Young. He joined WiredScore in the beginning of January and funnily enough, we met in their new offices just the day after they moved in. Young’s path from Cushman & Wakefield to PropTech behemoth WiredScore, represents a more market-wide trend we can see. I was curious enough for that to sit down with Young, National Business Development Manager at WiredScore, and learn the reasons behind the move, both personal and more general.
– I think it's interesting that more and more people shift from 'traditional' real estate firms to join more flexible PropTech players. What is your personal story behind this?
I have always been interested in PropTech. I did an internship at Cushman & Wakefield and I started to hear about this new interesting trend in real estate called PropTech. I had no idea what it meant. Juliette Morgan who had recently joined Cushman & Wakefield to create the Global Tech Team at that time opened my eyes in terms of what was going in the market. After the internship, I went back to university and I wrote my thesis on the PropTech sector. That was 5 years ago and at the time there was not a whole lot of academic writings on the area. I ended up getting really lucky with Twitter. I sent a tweet to Antony Slumbers and he was like “I can do a 10-minute conversation“ and we ended up having an hour-long phone conversation which was great. From there I joined the Global Tech Team of Cushman & Wakefield.
Once I qualified as a Chartered Surveyor, I moved to a new team in C&W called Futures. Within that team, I was tasked with creating a PropTech consultancy to advise clients of Cushman & Wakefield and also the business internally on how best to navigate the market. I suppose working for a PropTech was always inevitable – having spent my formative years studying the PropTech industry. The opportunity to join WiredScore was something I really couldn’t turn down. I think it’s one of the PropTech companies that stood out and as having a really clear value proposition to go to the market with from the start. Which was really appealing to me.
"Whether it’s an event or having coffee with PropTech startups, then you have frustrations within your own traditional business with layers of the process you need to go through."
– Why do you think people move to PropTech companies in general?
That’s a tough one really. I think It’s similar to reasons for why I moved over – it’s people with real estate experience and an interest in technology. More than anything it is driven by PropTech firms needing to have people with real estate expertise that can speak the language of the industry. People, that are able to effectively communicate the value proposition in a language that a landlord or investor would understand.
What I found at Cushmans is that you really need to communicate how it's going to bring the value within a few lines. Otherwise, if you can't answer the ˈso what?ˈ question that they will come back with, they’re not going to trial your product. There’s a real demand in PropTech companies to get people that have both real estate knowledge and understand the technology at the same time.
– Do you think that the fact that 'traditional' real estate companies have sometimes not so flexible processes is tempting for people to move to PropTech companies where processes tend to be faster?
I think so. I think it’s the desire of wanting to be in the environment where things are fast-paced and perhaps slightly less structured. If you think of the type of people attracted to that role in a traditional real estate business that spends a lot of their time around the startup companies, whether it’s an event or having coffee with them, then you have frustrations within your own traditional business with layers of the process you need to go through.
– During your time at Cushman & Wakefield, were there one or two fields that clients were particularly interested in?
The first one would be building apps. It’s an area that landlords were able to recognise that they could immediately add value to their assets and the technology is scalable allowing them to roll it out across their portfolio relatively easily. It’s a direct response to coworking companies coming out providing not just trendy offices but also that extra layer of service that traditional offices historically have not. Building apps provide landlords with a platform to provide these services to their occupiers.
The other area is the technology that allows landlords to understand their building in much more granular detail, through the use of IoT sensors etc. There is a real desire from landlords to understand every aspect of their asset and ultimately optimise it to squeeze more value out of their assets, whether through operational efficiencies or futureproofing. For us it's great as WiredScore sits at the foundation of being able to firstly understand whether an asset can facilitate this technology and secondly deliver a superior tenant experience.
"A lot of buildings now have customer experience managers or community managers. That’s the trend – landlords having a brand and community, something they can stand behind that differentiates themselves from their competitors. Differentiation through brand is the next iteration of the office space."
– WiredScore tends to become the same standard as LEED or WELL. What concrete steps you as a company and you personally do to achieve that?
It’s great to see the industry is investing into sustainability and wellbeing of occupiers. At WiredScore, we see connectivity as the oxygen of business. WiredScore was established to solve an issue of a growing discrepancy between the ever changing and fast moving tech demands of occupiers and the relatively illiquid nature of bricks and mortar.
Since our launch in 2013, we are now active across 160 cities, on 1,900 buildings and hit 500 million sq ft of Wired Certified space globally earlier this year.
In 2018 we had our Series A funding and we’re really excited to deploy that throughout 2019 and beyond to roll out new products, venture into new markets and ensure that connectivity is at the top of the agenda of every landlord. Reliable and resilient connectivity isn’t just a priority for our capital cities, but for every commercial office building across the globe.
"What we’re really seeing is the emergence of the trend of space as a service. For landlords, it’s no longer enough to have the physical wrapper of office space, it’s about the activities that go on within that building that will deliver the value to occupiers."
– The problems companies have are totally different according to the market. Is there a universal challenge to tackle?
The universal challenge is essentially being able to deliver a transparent benchmark for commercial assets across every market that occupiers and landlords alike can utilise. This problem is market agnostic. Occupiers live on the internet, they have to be able to identify buildings they can provide their connectivity needs. If the internet went down five, six years ago, you could not have sent an email. If it goes down now, you can't access anything from your files to the software that you use. You might as well go and work in a café if that happens.
For landlords, it is about being able to effectively communicate the quality of digital infrastructure in their building to occupiers and understanding how they can improve their assets.
And for us, it's all about educating all stakeholders in the real estate world on the importance of reliable connectivity and how to navigate a rapidly evolving tech landscape.
– What do the tenants appreciate most in connectivity?
Having it! A fast, reliable and resilient network with no single point of failure. Not being able to access the internet in an office environment is not only incredibly frustrating but also costs the business large sums of money in terms of lost productivity. It's tough for tenants if they don‘t know what's in a building and when they are not able to identify the right buildings and know for sure that they're not going to have issues of the internet going down.
At WiredScore we think there are three key questions that all occupiers want to know the answer to before they move to an office. They are:
- How much is the internet going to cost for what speed?
- What is the risk of the internet going down in the building?
- How quickly can I get up and running on the internet once I move in?
This is by no means an exhaustive list but it covers some of the key pain points that occupiers experience when searching for new office space.
We are seeing examples of occupiers now using WiredScore to narrow their building searches.
– If anchor tenant is looking for a new space, you can potentially advise them and finding the building for them or collaborating with an agent. Is this something you’re looking into?
Certainly, increasing tenant education is going to be one of the focuses of the year ahead. We’re continuing to educate all stakeholders on the importance of the digital infrastructure. We work closely with the leasing agents on Wired Certified buildings to educate them on how to effectively communicate the key aspects of connectivity or in some cases we will have direct conversations with prospective (or existing) occupiers to answer any enquiry they might have.
Digital connectivity is one of those areas people don’t know much about but once you have everyone in the market educated, the job is halfway done. It is not a particularly sexy subject, but it is the lifeblood of modern business and only going to become more important.
– How do you perceive the changing landscape of the workplace?
If you imagine Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applied to the office, basic two needs are completely facilitated by landlords now, to the extent that they have become a commodity.The remaining three layers are where the landlord has the opportunity to deliver value to occupiers and ultimately charge rental premiums.
This is what’s driving the demand for building apps because that’s where landlords can directly communicate to occupiers. Unless you work in real estate business, chances of you knowing the landlord of your building are slim to none.
Touching on coworking, occupiers there want to go to WeWork because it’s cool to be associated with their space. I think you’re now going to see that coming through traditional real estate. Landlords want to have a lot more exposure, and engagement with the occupiers of their building. There has been a shift from ‘occupier’ to ‘customer’ and ‘landlord’ to ‘hotelier’.
A lot of buildings now have customer experience managers or community managers. That’s the trend – landlords having a brand and community, something they can stand behind that differentiates themselves from their competitors. Differentiation through brand is the next iteration of the office space.
Follow Rory Young on Twitter.