Duc Luu is an Edtech and Proptech Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, and Keynote Speaker who founded and sold an Edtech startup which then went public on Nasdaq in 2017. In his spare time, he indulges in travel, basketball, poker, chess, and fashion, not necessarily in that order.
I was recently asked to organize my analysis, thoughts and opinions on the proptech competitive landscape. Herein lies an excerpt of my comprehensive market research exercise which also allowed me to define the proptech industry, particularly Vietnam’s, and the choices its companies make in choosing their competitive advantage relative to their peers.
Over a decade ago, seeing the beginnings of edtech as disruption to traditional education businesses, I built and sold a China-based edtech company that eventually IPOed on Nasdaq in 2017. My transition into proptech in the last several years has been exciting and challenging both as an intellectual and business exercise, learning a new industry in a new country, through a re-acquainted language.
The past several years, technology companies, real estate companies and venture capital firms, mirroring US and China proptech trends, have invested heavily into the Southeast Asian proptech plays to solve the slow-to-change property industry’s value chain pain points.
Transparency has always been the greatest concern in the Vietnam market, where fake listings are used to bait-and-switch customers to lower quality listings and documented transaction prices don’t align with actual numbers. Online classifieds sites, let’s call them first gen proptech, whose monetization model is advertising and lead gen selling, have chosen to prioritize quantity over quality at the expense of the customer and benefit of the agents. Second gen proptech players such as Propzy and Rever have chosen to solve this problem for their respective submarkets, secondary landed homes and primary condos through building proprietary databases for specific residential asset classes. These efforts should result in two outcomes:1) real property listings lead to real and faster transactions as information becomes more accessible and verifiable; 2) lead generation improves and lead costs decline as large but transparent verified listings inventory draws SEO rankings attention from quantity focused classifieds sites.
As with most industries in a now nearly unlimited choice world, lead generation, nurturing and retention are paramount. Proptech companies seek to optimize digital marketing (particularly SEO), measure social media channel distribution, and lean on content marketing to differentiate. New listings inventory is marketed weekly across all channels through martech companies and startups like Hubspot, and xperx.ai. Expert and User-Generated Content distributed correctly allow companies to dominate the share of voice. That last generation of proptech (real estate classified sites) focused primarily on lead generation. The classifieds space is now mature and as with other more developed markets expected to sunset. The current generation of proptech companies seeks to fix the customer experience during the transaction journey while still needing to capture a share of voice. Both generations are seeking to capture more of the transaction. Business model decisions are being made whether to centralize or decentralize their operations.
Vietnam lacks an accreditation body for real estate agents with policies that have any teeth. Anyone can be a real estate agent, unlike in the US where agents and brokers must have licenses to practice and any fraudulent behavior will cause revocation of those licenses, often lifetime bans. Tech companies have taken markets where such licenses are non-existent or ineffective and brought market powered ratings systems to bear on their service providers. Ratings systems along with clear rewards and penalties that affect service providers’ ability to earn on those platforms are bringing order to chaos and driving down transaction costs. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Information Systems that are industry specific, Property Raptor and Property Base for example, are leveraging big data to drive transparency and accountability to the real estate agent’s process. This value chain will be a key battlefield moving forward.
As Vietnamese citizens get wealthier during the current economic boom, their first investment asset class of choice is real estate. Issues of ability to pay for the primary or secondary home have persisted in a strong inflation and GDP growth environment. Two questions buyers need to solve are: how can I expand my LTV or how can I get a lower cost of capital? If traditional mortgage providers such as Techcom Bank or non-traditional providers such as Homebase can solve this on-going problem, then the RE market should expand quickly as long as infrastructure spending continues without roadblocks. We should expect both types of institutions to release better products in the near future to solve both issues for aspiring homeowners and investors.
Property Management should continue to grow even though profit margins continue to be razor thin. Incumbents such as Savills clearly use the service as a near loss leader to their other products and services. At the same time, property management software startups are attempting to scale through SAAS solutions with Emerging Services which offer third party referrals to cleaning services, spa services, etc. Currently they are charging loss leading fees seeking to capture a more decentralized but commanding market share, but less operational share of revenue compared to traditional offerings. This should benefit the end customer while providing acquisition targets for the super app players seeking more daily active users.
The Way Forward: I want to make this weekly column informative, fun, and a bit irreverent, touching on topics I know, understand, or am exploring: Proptech, Edtech, Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital and whatever else Extracurricular (Basketball, Chess, Poker, Travel, Fashion, Family) I pursue. In the years past when I wrote for other major regional and world publications, I added a Q&A section where I select and answer questions from my readers. So let’s do that here!
Ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have thoughts on this article or questions/ideas for future articles and I’ll give you my two cents for whatever digital or fiat cents are worth nowadays!