By Meghan Hall,
As the world has gone remote, technology has been its eyes and ears. This has held true especially for the commercial real estate industry, where professionals have evaluated and toured properties via cameras and screens as opposed to in-person. The result has been the rapid expansion of real estate technology products that help landlords, owners and tenants map and visualize their assets. The Registry spoke with Engrain’s founder and CEO Brent Steiner, on the evolution of visualization software and its rapidly expanding place within the commercial real estate industry.
Please tell The Registry a little bit about Engrain, which aims to “show, not tell,” users relevant properties details.
Generally speaking, we believe the best way to showcase an asset is by seeing all available content and data in the context of the real estate itself – a map. From virtual tours to asset management metrics, all relevant content related to leasing, selling or managing an asset should be housed in one easy-to-access platform.
Engrain was founded over a decade ago, and we have numerous product lines, including:
- TouchTour, a high-resolution touchscreen display often found in leasing offices, which showcases floor plans, amenities and other property details.
- TouchTour for iPad, which extends the power of TouchTour® to the mobile setting.
- SightMap, interactive property maps for use in leasing, touring, marketing and operations, which provide context to anyone needing to understand the location of an apartment relative to amenities, parking, etc. SightMaps are integrated into the websites of many apartment buildings.
- SightMap Asset Intelligence, a platform designed for asset management professionals, which overlays financial information, availability and other key metrics on a map of the property.
Can you define what “visualization software” means for those within the commercial real estate industry? What pain points does this software specifically seek to solve?
Traditional software applications provide data in tables and graphs, but ironically what’s missing is the actual real estate. Unit Map allows users to visualize their property-related data — for example facilities management or leasing data — within the context of their actual property, which completely changes the perspective. People are visual and can process information more easily and quickly this way.
What are some of the biggest challenges that Engrain has encountered while working to develop its technologies, and how have you overcome them?
Our first challenge was integrations with other companies. The concept of open APIs and collaboration between software providers has become ever more important due to the pandemic. We have always led the industry conversation in creating this open network. Until recently, adoption of this strategy was seen as a nice-to-have solution. Now, it’s ever clearer that all of your platforms need to play nicely with each other.
Our second challenge was actually working with operators to find accurate maps of their properties. We’ve had to develop some creative ways to forensically create property maps for use in our products.
Engrain offers several products: TouchTour, SightMap and Unit Map. In your opinion, what product has been most popular with those in the commercial real estate industry? Why?
SightMap has taken hold the fastest. It provides a level of detail that was previously missing in the acquisition or development process. It allows buyers and owners to digest [SM1] data they already had or to visually paint a picture of an upcoming project without physically being there. Longer term, Unit Map will be our growth flywheel. As more and more products integrate our maps within their applications through our maps-as-a-service API, users will begin to expect to see their data on a map.
How has the industry’s opinion of visualization software evolved since the beginning of the pandemic?
With the pandemic disrupting normal due diligence procedures, it has become clear that visualizing an assets content from afar is critical to maintain a steady flow of business. Lockdown demonstrated this immediately and we saw slow adopters suddenly moving quickly.
Has Engrain seen an increase in interest/usage of its platforms? If so, by how much?
Yes, dramatically. Since mid-March we have received contracts to create SightMaps for over 1.2 million self-storage and multifamily units, which nearly doubled our map inventory. We also beat quarterly licensing targets by 400 percent, which has led to some pretty staggering growth. Likewise, we’ve seen Unit Map adoption increase as other software developers have needed to quickly add property maps as features within their applications for self-touring, inspections and delivery scenarios.
Engrain hopes to also be able to deploy its maps to not just those within the commercial real estate industry, but also emergency services and organizations. Can you talk about how Engrain’s products would be utilized in these industries?
Our Unit Map maps-as-a-service API has been opened for use in life safety applications for wayfinding. Multifamily properties often have poor signage, and 911 dispatch software typically doesn’t show the location of an apartment. Having accurate addressable maps is critical for first responders.
On a more general note, can you talk about where you see how you see visualization software and maps as a service evolving? What do you think the future looks like for these technologies in terms of application and usage?
A commercial property might use a dozen software applications for various needs; we believe every one of them should include a map of the property. Our partnership team is actively engaged with numerous other providers to create seamless integrations for our clients and users. This creates a network effect that will allows for exponential growth in a capital-efficient way – first, within the multifamily real estate asset class and, ultimately, through expansion into similar verticals, including storage, hospitality, education, healthcare, coworking, retail, etc.
Engrain announced at the beginning of the month that it had raised $3.7 million in new funding. Can you please explain how Engrain specifically plans to use these funds for its expansion (new technologies? New geographic locations? New asset classes?).
To bolster revenue, we intend to use the funding to A) invest in our technology stack to move faster through our product roadmap; B) expand our marketing and sales team throughout the US and Canada, to get our products in front of more customers and partners; C) expand our production team to accommodate the additional volume.