Transforming the inventory process with Proptech – meet InventoryBase
InventoryBase is one of the most successful proptech companies in the UK property market.
This hasn’t happened by chance; like an understated Steve Jobs, managing director Steve Rad lets the software (whose customers can be found in over 40 countries) do the talking.
To understand how Steve Rad and co-founder James Taylor have created this success, growing into a mature enterprise servicing both the lettings market and businesses worldwide, with efficient solutions for all reporting types and tasks, inventory processes, “Workstreams” and industry training needs, we sat down to ask Steve a few questions.
When did InventoryBase start?
Steve Rad has been designing and building software since he was just 12 years old. His early experiments in the online peer-to-peer collaboration space led him to a computer science degree where he met his business partner and co-founder, James Taylor.
“We enjoyed building websites and apps together, and people would pay us good money to do it for them,” Steve says, explaining how he and James made ‘pocket money’ by building websites and corporate portfolio sites for everyone from luxury property developers to dance companies.
“This was the birth of Radweb,” Steve says, “a digital services agency. Eventually, this led us down the e-commerce route, working with retailers to provide tailored online retail experiences.”
Radweb started getting big projects, soon able to hire their own team of in-house developers and began to focus on behind-the-scenes software, such as work management systems. Among their growing client base were a number of field services firms, specialising in the likes of elevator and escalator maintenance.
“In this sense, we were really early to the field services software game, cutting our teeth building systems which enabled these companies to submit work orders, assign maintenance tasks, and so on.”
But how and why inventories?
As word got around about the ‘new guys on the block’; Radweb soon found themselves working for a company which provided third-party inventory reports to letting agents. Steve and James were commissioned to build them a management platform complete with a booking system, user interface and app..
“From that direct experience,” Steve says, “we identified that the market for inventories was growing quickly due to changes in deposit law.”
Changes to how deposits are managed protected meant that, among other things, landlords must store their tenants’ security deposits with a licensed deposit custodial or insurance protection scheme. This switched the burden of proof to the landlord, who has to provide evidence before any deductions from the deposit can be made.
To be clear; landlords don’t have to have a comprehensive inventory, check-in or check-out report however; without robust evidence the likelihood that any claim against the deposit is successful is very limited.
“This growing market was in its early days, still finding its feet, but it was obvious to James and I that there was a definite need for our document management and booking system solution. At the same time, Apple was in the early throws of developing the App Store, meaning people could start downloading tools to help them with their work offline”.
“We looked around the App Store and saw there was nothing good out there, app wise, for reducing the time spent on reports offline, and especially nothing that combined online and offline report editing. So, we decided to build InventoryBase”.
Identifying the niche was pivotal in making InventoryBase work with and for property industry’s suppliers, especially those providing services for agents.
“Agents quickly fell in love with us because they loved the solutions they were getting from their suppliers, a.k.a our customers”.
“And before long, we were able to develop a positive reputation that helped our distribution of clients to be split between the property management side, letting agents, estate agents as well as on the service side, inventory providers”.
“Thanks to the continued loyalty of both the early adopters and our very loyal customers, we were able to scale InventoryBase organically over time.”
Was the industry in need of change?
Steve: “In a word; yes! InventoryBase’s rapid success was thanks, in part, to the deeply embedded inefficiencies in the traditional inventory and reporting processes”.
“Clerks were having to produce multiple page Word documents, each packed with hundreds of images, all of which had to be manually pulled or ‘drag and dropped’ in and then formatted and organized. If you’ve ever tried to use Word in this way, you know how painful it can be: incredibly clunky, repetitive, long-winded, tedious and so time consuming even I would struggle to find the will to live at the end of the day when trying to bring all this information together. Each inventory demanded a huge amount of post-production time; totally inefficient and costly”.
“To complete an inventory, the clerk would have to go around, with pen and paper, taking notes, or recording voice notes about their observations, and taking photos with a digital camera. Check outs were even worse, having to manage pages and pages of information whilst trying to work out where the changes were, making more hand-written notes then taking the pictures to evidence the comments. I really take my hat off to those clerks; it must have been a huge task!”
Steve continues: “So back at the desk, clerks would have to download all of those photos onto their computer, transcribe the audio files; post production could take five hours plus having spent just 30 minutes in the property”.
“This meant that some professionals were spending up to two hours (or more during busy periods) a day just embedding photos into reports. One of our current clients worked out that, before coming on board with us, they were paying £70K a year in salaries for people to exclusively do this, day after day.”
So is InventoryBase the solution?
InventoryBase doesn’t just reduce post-production time, it eliminates it, saving around 5 hours of admin time per report.
“I mean, Steve says; “just by doing a simple calculation of all the reports completed each month or year; that amounts to huge time and cost savings!”.
“You can spend 30 minutes in a property, entering text and photos directly into our app and, apart from proofreading, there is no post-production required. None”.
“With InventoryBase, clerks have more time available to take on additional work and get into more properties and generate more revenue. For the property managers, it means they can cover ground at pace, spending a lot less time on admin so they can focus on lead and income generating tasks.”
Before InventoryBase, there were existing solutions on the market. But, as Steve explains, they did not allow professionals to work in the way they wanted to.
“They relied on clunky drop-down menus, providing only a limited number of possible choices. We realised that the market is very mixed and diverse in how it wants to work: some people want to dictate their notes and transcribe them later, others want to input text directly in order to get everything done and dusted on the spot. Nearly all of them wanted the ability to be highly detailed but not to spend ridiculous, revenue sapping amounts of time compiling the report”..
“We knew we had to provide all of these options to our users, and make each working style as flexible and efficient as possible”.
“For example, for those who prefer to record voice notes, we’ve made our app sync with Siri and make use of her automatic speech-to-text capabilities, and we’ve also partnered with transcription providers, for our users to send their voice notes to.”
“Users simply use the InventoryBase app to record their voice notes and then send it off to be transcribed. Within the day, not only will the notes be transcribed, but added directly into the report template so all the user needs to do is carry out an audit, request any changes or click the completed button and off it goes to the client instantaneously”.
“Pictures, when taken in-app, are automatically dated, time and referenced so there is no need to ‘drag and drop’, resize or fit them into a PDF. Everything is galleried for easy viewing and to help the adjudicator when looking at the evidence during a dispute. It really is that simple!”
The software sounds amazing; is that all it does?
“Well another flaw with existing solutions, and one that InventoryBase has addressed, is their frigid use of language’; Steve says.
“All professionals make use of different language, jargon, and shorthand when compiling reports,” Steve says, “so we’ve built a dictionary which can be customised to each account. Not only does this enable predictive text like that we all now use on smartphones, but it also allows for tailored language short-cuts such as acronyms.”
InventoryBase users can create and input their own detailed library of descriptions and conditions and quickly access them seamlessly using acronyms, such as FWT (fair wear and tear) or SSTLC (small scratch in top-left corner), and the software will replace it with the appropriate phrase in full.
“InventoryBase is designed to reduce input time and eliminate post-production. The timespan between conducting an inventory inspection and then getting the final report into the hands of agents, landlords and tenants used to be more than 72 hours. Our app makes it all happen on the same day.”
By working with such intelligent software, inventory suppliers, property managers and agents are able to better serve their customers by enabling them to react to issues more quickly, reduce costs, reduce maintenance tasks, and improve safeguarding. Furthermore, they can now be notified of any issues on the same day the inventory takes place enabling reactive work to address any safety or cosmetic concerns before the tenant gets settled in. And as for the end of a tenancy, InventoryBase’s tools reduce deposit disputes from 12-16% of tenancies, to fewer than 2%.
This is all sounding extremely smart and efficient; what else do you have up your sleeve?
“For quite some time we toyed with the idea of developing a marketplace that could allow professionals to work in the exact manner they prefer”, Steve says.
“We wanted somewhere safe, managed and to address the issue of clerks getting paid for the reports they had delivered; it’s a big problem for SMEs so we developed Workstreams”.
Workstreams is a transactional marketplace that allows reports to be completed in three different ways. To maximise flexibility, and allow for as many professionals as possible to utilise the system within Inventorbase:
In-house enables property managers to complete the reports themselves, or at least within the walls of their own company. If choosing this route, professionals can make use of all of the features discussed above.
Seen as a crucial tool since the Covid-19 pandemic, the self-service option enables professionals to give tenants access to the app in order to conduct their own inventories. Keeping tenants safe but the property and landlord compliant
The outsourced approach sees managers working with external contractors to conduct reports on their behalf by adding them to their InventoryBase system. The contractor completes the work, but the manager always maintains ownership of the documentation.
InventoryBase enables outsourcing to be done in two different ways:
Property managers can either choose to use contractors or suppliers they already know or submit the job to InventoryBase Workstreams and source a supplier close to them
“Workstreams is a transactional marketplace,” Steve says. “On-demand, you can choose to offer a job out to the marketplace. It’s then advertised to our database of vetted, insured and approved suppliers local to the property who then bid for the contract”.
“The buyer receives multiple bids and can view all the applicants insurance details, associations, customer reviews, and sample reports. This last one is vital because, with inventory clerks, there are a wide range of skill levels – these sample reports allow buyers to ensure the applicants are professionally capable.”
“This ability to source contractors on an on-demand basis is incredibly valuable for suppliers like inventory clerks. One of their biggest concerns is that, if they have to turn down work because they’re already at capacity, their agent customer is forced to look elsewhere, with the risk that they form a relationship with a new supplier. And if this happens, there is the very real risk that the agent won’t ever come back. Using Workstreams, suppliers can source a contractor to do the job under their brand, maintaining that relationship with the agent or client”.
“At the moment, InventoryBase Workstreams deals not only with property reports but has partnered with Drone Safe Register to provide UK wide coverage to conduct aerial photography, roof inspects, real estate footage. Over time, it will open up to all sorts of property service providers. The sky (excuse the pun) is not the limit”.
So take let’s take a quick step back and look at the successes you have had so far
Since launching in 2012, InventoryBase has enjoyed the type of success which many young companies can only dream of.
It took only 2 years of success here in the UK before the company expanded into the North American market, under the brand of Property Inspect, because the word ‘inventory’ has very different meanings in the two different markets.
“2014 was an exciting year and it all happened before we could really make an impact in the UK market,” Steve says. “Our move into the US market was largely driven by a number of customer referrals. This forced us to evolve our product to meet the needs of a wider range of report types and formats.”
The company gained some really good agency clients very quickly, and, in the process, caught the attention of two of America’s biggest companies.
“Amazon came along first, keen to find a software solution to help their facility management team carry out inspections, especially hazard and safeguarding checks, for every floor of the company’s Seattle headquarters”.
A partnership with Airbnb followed quickly behind the Amazon deal, and, as Steve says, this foray into the short-term rental market opened a whole new world of business opportunities for the still-young InventoryBase entrepreneurs.
“The Airbnb Plus programme, which focuses mainly on luxury retreats all around the world, offers its subscribing hosts a full inventory process as part of the package. Property Inspect became integral for inspecting and maintaining their managed accommodations across the globe”..
“We quickly saw how well suited our software is for the short-term holiday rental market, and it has grown into a successful, lucrative area for us. So much so that we will soon be launching Host Inspect – a new sister brand which will focus entirely on short-term rentals’.
In 2016, InventoryBase launched a second International hub in South Africa, becoming a popular inspection platform for South African property management companies, expanding Property Inspect’s International customer base.
“South Africa has been very good to us,” Steve says. “So much so that we are now centralising our global support systems over there. Property Inspect is also partnering with a very well established provider to help train home inspection professionals but you will have to wait for that announcement for more info! (due imminently)”.
At the time of writing, InventoryBase and Property Inspect combined, manages sales and support operations for users spanning 40 different countries, spread across the globe. Throughout this extraordinary period of rapid global expansion, the company has found a way to dominate the UK market, too, becoming the market-leading solution for property service providers up and down the country.
What is driving the success behind InventoryBase?
“Firstly; I believe it is our popularity with agencies of all sizes and types, from single-branch independent agents, to online challengers and large, historic franchises”.
“These large franchises, both online and traditional, are our most sought-after customers,” Steve says. “Our solution, while creating value for users of any size and scale, is at its most effective when being used at scale. It’s when thousands of reports are being created each week that the software’s true power is showcased and the time savings become quite extraordinary.”
“For agents with multiple suppliers that also manage inspections internally, InventoryBase offers a hybrid solution for centralised document ownership and seamless collaboration. With multiple suppliers and integrating with companies and like minded proptech; InventoryBase is making the user journey even more efficient and productive”.
“The truth is, the potential markets for InventoryBase are limitless. From helping with safeguarding and hazard checks for the likes of healthcare and student housing, to the rapidly growing e-commerce industry whose enormous urban warehouses benefit greatly from InventoryBase solutions”.
But Steve and his team aren’t satisfied with simply increasing InventoryBase’s bank balance and increasing the company’s presence around the world. There is a deeply held belief that InventoryBase has a responsibility to improve the property services industry by supporting, protecting and upskilling the market’s professionals.
To this end, InventoryBase developed The Academy.
What is InventoryBase Academy?
With InventoryBase’s widespread success around the world, it didn’t take long for the company to become an unofficial tracker of market mood and sentiment, receiving a lot of market insight and opinion from the increasing customer-base.
Conversations were and have centred on the fact that the industry just wasn’t getting the support it needed from the two existing membership organisations – The Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC), and ARLA Propertymark.
“Both organisations charged fairly substantial membership fees to the clerks, yet produced no content whatsoever; no insight, no training over and above a basic course, no education. They just gave you a logo to put on your reports to show you’re a member. That’s really about it!”.
“Our customers were and are very vocal in their frustration at this lack of support and community; the lack of voice within the industry was deafening. So we decided to step in and become that unified voice the industry was calling for.”
InventoryBase Academy was launched, providing an online training library for inventory clerks, far superior to that ever offered before. The demand from the market was vast and instantaneous. In July 2019 alone, the Academy trained over 300 contractors from a variety of different backgrounds and companies as well as agents and those looking to start a new career.
“Soon,” Steve says, “it became clear that the natural extension of the online courses was to offer real life classroom-based courses, few and far between in the industry at the time, to provide full practical training alongside the theory and best-practice training.”
Even with the global pandemic affecting every part of the industry; InventoryBase Academy switched totally to online courses to provide professional industry training, not just for inventory reports but courses that cover everything from an introduction to inventory, how to dictate reports, guidance on legionella risk assessments, NSPCC safeguarding, GDPR for Property Professionals and Fitness For Human Habitation.
And with the introduction of podcasts, regular industry blogs, guides and a support hub boasting over 200 + members (and growing) InventoryBase Academy is firmly cemented in its role as an industry voice.
So what’s in store for you and InventoryBase?
“2020 was a very busy and challenging year for all the known reasons”, Steve says.
”We proved that we are willing to adapt to market changes by rapidly releasing tenant self assessments and a live video inspection app, allowing effective property management to continue even when physical inspections can’t take place. And with InventoryBase Academy offering unwavering support to property professionals across the UK, we have been able to offer advice, guidance and a friendly ear to anyone that has needed us”.
Many will look at the timeframe in which InventoryBase has been around, compare it with the spread and scale of their success so far and find it difficult to figure out how they’ve done it. But it’s simple – every step and decision made by Steve and his team has first been analysed through the eyes of the consumer:
“if an idea or innovation is going to bring immediate and ongoing value to the users, it will lead to success and sustainable growth for the company. If, however, and like so many do, those decisions are made first-and-foremost with the mind of an entrepreneur, with the view to maximising returns for the company alone, the offering to the consumer will be lacklustre and growth will inevitably stall’.
And growth is certainly on the menu for 2021 as InventoryBase announced their inclusion in the augural launch of the REACH UK program this month.
Created by Second Century Ventures, the strategic investment arm of the National Association of Realtors® and with the support of Propertymark; REACH UK helps scale start-ups and established tech businesses by enabling innovation. The programme focuses on accelerating high growth potential companies to develop real time and future solutions for the UK’s real estate industry.
“We are beyond excited to be accepted into REACH UK’s inaugural cohort of 2021. Since the launch of InventoryBase; our vision has always been clear – to become the market-leading platform for not just property inventories and inspections but to also address the complex needs of facility/asset management, global short term rentals and all other related sectors involved with property so we are determined to take every opportunity to learn and grow with the REACH program and all our classmates alongside”
Any final words Steve?
“We’re now firmly in 2021 and it is more important than ever to maximise any and all opportunities. Tech companies are scrambling to figure out exactly how to do this however I see it as a straightforward decision. Put customers front and centre. Learn from everything that has happened over the past 18 months, don’t take the foot off the pedal for one second and keep innovating”.
It’s been a pleasure Steve, and I can honestly say that InventoryBase is not only going places, it’s going global.
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