In search of the first proptech unicorn

JLL EMEA CEO Guy Grainger discusses "Concrete" - an investment vehicle for proptech start-ups, and explains why he wants to find the first proptech unicorn

June 26, 2017

Proptech […] is now the fastest growing area of investment by venture capitalists in start-up companies - over $4bn has been invested in recent years

You know what a 21st century unicorn is, right?  It’s a start-up company valued at $1billion.  Crazy!  But we live in a crazy world.  I know what you’re thinking – how can something so small be worth so much?  It’s because the people behind unicorns are trying to do something magical, to change the world…..and succeeding.

So far, unicorns have been prevalent in hospitality, finance and retail.  But what about property?

Property and technology

“Proptech”, as it’s known, is a broad definition relating to technology solutions in the real estate sector, and is now the fastest growing area of investment by venture capitalists in start-up companies – over $4bn has been invested in recent years.  It’s part of a wider digital change in the industry, and on one hand can relate to smart buildings, or on the other hand smarter processes for the customer journey.

Interestingly, most of the venture capitalist investment is from outside the real estate sector.  Surely, those of us in property should be showing more of an interest?

Concrete – an investment vehicle for proptech start-ups

Earlier this year, JLL joined forces with start-up investor Seedcamp and private equity firm Starwood Capital to launch Concrete – an investment vehicle for proptech start-ups, and our aim is….to find the first proptech unicorn.  Ambitious, I know.  But I think we can do it.

Property touches everyone.  I’m in the profession so I care passionately – it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a place to live, place to work or where to spend your leisure time, I am convinced that the customer journey can be improved and technology will play an important part to innovate this process.

One thing I’ve learnt from the start-up industry is the need for collaboration.  Sometimes in property, we feel we can do everything ourselves.  But the reality is we don’t always have the skill or the speed to innovate as we would like.  That’s why we’re collaborating with people of a different mind-set and different pace.

So alongside us in Concrete are amazing partners who have track records of success.  These people are from different nationalities, different backgrounds, different skillsets and different points of view.

We’ve made a little video to help tell our story.  Let me know what you think.

How JLL will help find the proptech unicorn

What excites me most about Concrete is that JLL plays a leading role helping to identify what solutions are needed, and therefore what type of products and services Concrete wants to see from start-ups.  Proptech has been guilty of being very product led, and a number of businesses have delivered product for product’s sake…just because the technology’s there.

But with JLL’s reach and wide remit of real estate services, we can help identify what urgent problems need solving.  Think of all the owners and occupiers and investors our people speak with day to day, or the research we publish.  We have the insight, and look forward to putting it to use.

In my role, I have to look further down the road than most, and the reality is that digital disruption will happen in property.  And as a CEO, I want to be personally involved with Concrete.  So this is me saying that we at JLL are committed to finding that proptech unicorn.

I urge all other real estate firms interested in this area to get involved.  If you’re already doing something similar, that’s great.  Because if we don’t do it then others outside the industry will.  It comes at a cost in terms of time and money, but it will be worth it.  Finding that unicorn, whoever does it, will be of benefit to all of us.  They truly are magical beasts!