By Jack Stubbs
The commercial real estate industry is becoming increasingly impacted by the integration and adoption of technology across the board, and new tech-based platforms that seek to transform the industry are continually coming to the market.
Matterport, a platform founded in 2011 and headquartered in Silicon Valley, enables its clients to experience properties and physical spaces remotely and in real time through the use of 3D technology. We recently spoke with CEO Bill Brown about the platform, how 3D technology is replacing 2D photography and changing the broker-client relationship, and what lies ahead for commercial and residential real estate industries.
What can you tell me about Matterport (where and when the company was founded, current goals of the platform, etc.)?
We saw that advances in low-cost 3D sensor technology could enable us to build a system that makes it easy for anyone to capture a digital copy of a space that could then easily be distributed to anyone across the Internet. As we looked for applications for the 3D spaces we could create, it became clear that there are a lot of high-value decisions that people make today without an effective way of making sure the decision makers have convenient access to visual and spatial information about a property.
In developing the platform, Matterport has created a new immersive 3D medium to drive better decision making through the lifecycle of any property [space]. The key characteristics of this medium are that is has the ease of capture, distribution, and use as photography, while providing the type of rich 3D environment that used to require expensive laser scanning equipment.
Where does the company operate, both demographically and geographically? Who are some of the platform’s primary clients?
We are headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area and have offices in Chicago and London. Our customers are small and mid-sized businesses and enterprise companies globally, with about 30 percent of our business coming from outside of the U.S. Our main focus is on North America and Europe, the Middle East and Africa, [and] we have customers in over 80 countries today. Our clients include real estate agents and brokers, photographers and content capture service providers, multifamily property management companies and portals, hotels, vacation rental sites, construction companies, insurance companies, retailers, claims adjusters, and many other types of businesses.
Matterport operates in residential, rental communities, engineering & construction and travel & hospitality. How does the company ensure that the technology behind the platform scales effectively across the different contexts and property types?
Our content is very simple to capture since it doesn’t require technical skill or much training, so anyone can easily capture a space. Once the content is captured, it can be embedded directly into our customers’ web sites or mobile applications through our 3D showcase application. This allows any customer to incorporate Matterport content into their existing feature sets. We also have an application framework through which partners can create custom functionality within the 3D content, allowing us to scale across different property types, industries, and use cases.
What are some of the day-to-day services that the platform provides its clients with? In your view, how does Matterport change the traditional broker-client relationship (which was traditionally interpersonal)?
Each market is a bit different, but in real estate, Matterport enables brokers to engage a large audience with an experience that rivals an on-site visit. This facilitates the leasing or buying process, helping people make better decisions. Today’s successful brokers leverage technology and understand the changing ways that people consume information in making purchase decisions. These modern brokers incorporate Matterport and other technologies into their marketing programs to differentiate themselves to building owners and property managers in order to earn their business.
A similar thing goes for the tenant or buyer and their broker. By saving people hours of driving around to see properties that turn out not to be the right fit, Matterport helps brokers and their clients to focus on understanding the comps, area, transportation, amenities, and their negotiating strategy. When you save people time on travel and logistics, we believe this also takes a lot of stress out of the process and makes that interpersonal relationship much more effective. The process can be stressful, and because office buildings are not commodities and the market is fluid, the broker will always be that trusted expert for many clients.
Concerns around privacy and personal information remain of the utmost concern for individuals and organizations, especially in an age where information, data and images are shared instantaneously. How does Matterport strive to mitigate this concern?
At Matterport, we take the topic of privacy extremely seriously, and have designed the platform to give the content owner control over whether their models are shared with the public or not.
Every Matterport model starts off as a private model, meaning only authorized and authenticated collaborators within the account of the organization that the content was captured for can access it. The only way a model will be made available for the public to see is if an authorized user sets the privacy settings to “public,” so our system is opt-in for sharing.
Because we are a hosted service that does not allow copies of a model to be made outside of our platform, the content owner controls privacy, and the end-viewer is assured that nobody has altered any of the images they are seeing unless they are notified that a space has been changed.
Even in spite of the accuracy and specificity of the platform, surely no software platform can actually replace the experience of a user physically being in a building (being able to see, hear and feel a building “in the flesh”). What are some of the challenges involved in helping users to bridge this gap?
There are pluses and minuses to the digital experience versus the on-site experience. We don’t pick up sounds, smells, and tactile feel, [but] on-site, you can’t back away to see a dollhouse view and then jump from the first floor to the third within [one] second.
We use a lot of techniques to give the user the feeling that they are moving through a space rather than just jumping from location to location. We also give customers the ability to add multimedia content that can add additional elements of sound and motion to the 3D environment. Finally, because we support PC, mobile and VR experiences, we allow the user to make the experience as immersive as they like.
In addition, a challenge can be that people “get lost” in spaces, both physical and digital. As a digital format, it is much easier for us to provide way-finding features, such as our guided tour feature, than it is in the real world. At the same time, a private showing or open house usually [includes] a person present who can answer questions in real-time.
While we can’t replace the experience of a user physically being in a building, there are many situations in which it just isn’t practical for someone to be physically in the building at the time that they want. Someone who is relocating across the country can’t travel to every property at will to help make their decision. A potential tenant might decide at 10 pm on a Tuesday that they have time to walk through a property they are considering, and in that case an on-site visit is highly inconvenient.
How does the 3D experience that Matterport provides relate to or differ from the increasingly prominent use of AR/VR in commercial real estate? How is the 3D experience replacing the older model of 2D photography?
Matterport enables the user to walk through a property in “inside mode,” in which they are moving along and seeing [high dynamic range] spherical imagery from multiple locations throughout a property. The user can also zoom out and see what we call a “doll-house” mode, which is a full-color 3D view of the property with the walls taken off. The user can easily move from floor to floor [or] see just one floor at a time. Matterport [also] enables…a highlight reel, which is a set of different perspectives from the property that can be automatically played as an animated walk-through of the property for someone who wants a lean-back experience.
What lies ahead for Matterport and for the industry? Are there any plans to expand into other sectors (e.g. healthcare, retail, education, etc.) in the future?
Insurance is the next big market for us, with a huge crossover with commercial real estate. The underwriting and documentation process can be made so much more effective if you can leverage a digital record of the property’s dimensions and condition. Retail is already a market where we’re seeing a lot of use, along with appraisal and facilities management, so we expect those to grow over the next 1-2 years. I’m personally really excited about the potential to use Matterport to deliver virtual field trips to anywhere in the world to students who otherwise will never have the opportunity to experience those locations.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or anything else that we should be discussing?
Because of the structure of the industry—with brokers controlling the client relationship and many of them using access to information as the means of engaging those clients—CRE has been slower to adopt new technologies like Matterport than I think they otherwise could be. There are some companies like CBRE, who have strong innovation teams and a vision around differentiating based on the convenience and effectiveness of their technology solutions. They are similar to Redfin, who lead residential real estate’s adoption of Matterport. Adoption in CRE is happening, and we believe we will replace 2D media—and the extent to which the brokerages rather than the brokers drive decisions on use of technology will determine how fast this inevitable shift happens.