By Jack Stubbs
In today’s real estate world, industry professionals are constantly trying to evolve their products and strategies to meet the demands of an increasingly tech-centric market.
Started in 2016, ShelterZoom is an online real estate offer and acceptance platform which seeks to streamline the transaction process. We recently spoke with Chao Cheng-Shorland, co-founder and director of ShelterZoom, about the platform and how it seeks to make its mark in the commercial and residential real estate markets.
What can you tell me about ShelterZoom (the platform’s founding, how it was conceptualized, current objectives, when it was founded, etc.)?
ShelterZoom was founded by Amir Allen Alishahi, a NYC-based broker and business strategist, and [myself], an Australian entrepreneur and enterprise architect.
From the very beginning, we believed that our platform had to address real needs of the industry, real estate consumers and professionals. It had to have a life in itself. After several months’ work which saw the development of a business plan and product strategy, a well-defined scope and design, researching the US market and the international market, consulting with industry experts and getting feedback, we knew we had something special to offer to the market – something has not been done before.
ShelterZoom Corp. was incorporated in 2017, but the project started in August 2016.
What are some of the specific features of the product, and what are some of the day-to-day tasks that ShelterZoom streamlines?
ShelterZoom’s first platform features an end-to-end real estate online offer and acceptance solution. This is an area missing technologically in the mainstream real estate market. There are tens of thousands of web sites providing property searching and listing features, but once a buyer or a buyer agent finds a property, the technology stops there. So a buyer/buyer agent has to ring up an listing agent, spend a lot of time filling in an offer form and submit an offer and negotiate.
Buyers or their agents representing them rely on listing agents to do the right thing and present their offers on a timely basis. There is no way of tracking and knowing the status of an offer or if their offer has indeed been presented to the seller. On the other end, a seller often does not know how many offers have been received on a property.
Realtors are not winners in the current process either. They spend hours and hours driving to people’s houses, helping buyers fill forms, carrying paperwork all over the town. Instead of focusing on high-value activities such as making sound decisions and achieving the best outcome for their clients, they spent too much time on low-value activities.
Headquartered in Manhattan, where does the platform operate geographically and demographically? Who does the platform predominantly serve and who are its primary users?
The platform is primarily built by using Google Cloud infrastructure with a few components hosted by Amazon Web Services. ShelterZoom is being rolled out in the U.S. first, followed by Australia and Canada. The aim is to start the rollout to major international markets in the first quarter of 2018 and continue throughout 2018 and beyond, either via ShelterZoom’s assisted rollout, or user self-service of installing and integrating ShelterZoom’s Offer NOW widget.
Because our objective is to address the needs of real estate industry, consumers and professionals, and serve all parties involved in real estate transactions, we do not set a geographical boundary. Therefore, the strategies we developed and the system we designed not only allow easy adoption across the globe, but also standardize and streamline the offer and acceptance process for all ShelterZoom users.
Put simply, we provide every user a common entrance regardless where they find a property of their interest, as long as the web site has ShelterZoom’s Offer NOW button. So for example, whether a buyer/buyer agent submits an offer from RE/MAX, or Realtor.com, or a MLS website, the process and user experience are the same. In addition, all offers will be facilitated via Ethereum Blockchain smart contract, which is highly secure. Every party involved in the offer process gets an identical view of document flow in real time.
What can you tell me about the company’s November 9th press release about the OfferNow via blockchain? What does this chapter mean for the company moving forward?
Blockchain is well-known as the technology behind cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. However, Blockchain, as a platform for building any industry application, is still in its infancy. Few companies have contemplated this option due to technology challenges, let alone delivered an entire application within such a short space.
We have now set up a robust foundation. The team has even invented different techniques for building a blockchain app along the way. ShelterZoom’s future platforms will be very much centered around blockchain, but we will continuously innovate and be the true market leader in this technology space which fundamentally and genuinely benefits the real estate industry and many other industries.
There are lots of platforms striving to do what ShelterZoom does—increasing transparency and efficiency and streamlining the property sales process. How does ShelterZoom aim to differentiate itself from other tech-based mobile platforms? What makes ShelterZoom unique?
When Allen and I started the project, the first thing we thought about was how to solve a real problem, and what industry and user needs we wanted to address. In the language of Enterprise Architecture, we call it “Design Thinking”.
Not only we should center our idea, technology, strategy and execution around a real problem, but also we need to understand how our products and services will be potentially consumed by the industry and users. In other words, how we define an ecosystem and bring everyone within this ecosystem onto the journey to use our solutions which overcome some real shortfalls and benefit the entire ecosystem is the key to the success of ShelterZoom.
Often a company can have a great product, but its ecosystem may be too limited to make the product impactful. Our widget strategy, and its easy adoption nature coupled with our state-of-art and innovative technology to address real consumer/industry needs means that ShelterZoom can grow extensively and rapidly.
Can you discuss the elements of transparency, directness, and efficiency that ShelterZoom facilitates in the mobile offer and acceptance arena? What are some of the trends driving this particular niche in the market?
ShelterZoom is both web and mobile app, not just a mobile app. We use very advanced mobile technology to ensure smooth user transition between different devices and web browsers.
There are three key elements of the ShelterZoom solution that uplift transparency, directness and efficiency in the offer and acceptance arena: each event is time stamped, and all parties involved in an offer process can see events in real time, and each party has exactly the same view. Offer data and operation have been digitalized, e.g., making an offer, accepting/rejecting an offer, making a counter-offer, and sending offer to seller or buyer to sign are all facilitated online. A pioneer real estate CHAT function is another highlight of the platform: it brings significant collaboration, efficiency and openness. Many deals can be now done much faster.
In a real estate market increasingly synonymous with the term CRE-tech (commercial real estate tech), how will ShelterZoom ensure that it implements the most efficient and up-to-date technology in its platform? How do the company’s goals fit into broader trends driving CRE tech?
The platform supports both commercial and residential. Over time, we will build more differentiating commercial property offer features if required by the industry. However, the functionalities as they are now should cater for commercial property offer and acceptance.
Building ShelterZoom’s blockchain-based app has given us an opportunity to create something no one has done before, and to leave our own hallmark on blockchain technology. True to the open source spirit, we will be releasing what we have improved on blockchain to the public next year so that the entire blockchain community can benefit from ShelterZoom’s innovation.
We have a few very creative and big ideas in CRE-tech, combining blockchain with other cutting-edge technology. However, we have a lot on our plate at the moment. We will need to see how things travel for ShelterZoom next 12 months before we incorporate some of those items into our future strategy.
In today’s current real estate market, and with so many products coming online everyday, successful products are those that are easy and intuitive to use. Are there any challenges with the adoption of ShelterZoom and is there a steep learning curve? Is the platform applicable across a wide range of platforms, and between a wide range of individuals?
A lot of hard work and innovation have gone into making ShelterZoom’s platform one of the most user-friendly blockchain industry apps on the market, according to our chief architect, Dmitry Goroshevsky. On top of that, we have employed a designer-style user interface that can blend well with any affiliate’s website as a widget/extension, or stand out when it is used as an app on its own.
We hope there will not be [many] usability challenges. The extreme secure nature of blockchain does require users to keep their 12-word recovery phrase safely and to always remember their passcode. If lost, there is no technology in the world that can recover a blockchain wallet. We have created a backup account feature, and an easy to use local device passcode function in the app. We also provide a detailed instruction when a user logs in the first time. We ask users to be ultra-careful.
Does ShelterZoom have any plans to expand into other real estate markets in the future, geographically or otherwise? What lies ahead for the company?
ShelterZoom’s solution caters for both residential and commercial. Yes, we plan to roll out internationally. In fact, we have already commenced this process with early adopters signing up from countries outside of the U.S. We will also announce ShelterZoom’s second blockchain-based platform shortly. This will position us well for expanding into other real estate markets in the future.