The State of Technology in Multi-family – with Hugh Kolias (yuhu)
On this episode of REALtalk, Hugh Kolias, CEO of yuhu, joins REALPAC CEO Michael Brooks and COO Carolyn Lane to discuss the state of technology in the multi family asset class, Canada’s progress in this space, and how leaders can equip themselves for the future.
The episode covers:
- The state of technology in the multi family market
- Canada’s relative advances and lags in this area
- The value of tech during the pandemic, and how tech helped
- Future thinking “must digitize” areas, and tips for asset owners
- Innovations in Canada, US and Europe
About Hugh Kolias:
Hugh received a Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering from Queen’s University in 2012. Hugh left his job at a Toronto-based hedge fund to become CEO of his own company and launched Yuhu in late 2016. Yuhu is a comprehensive SaaS platform focused on improving and unifying property operations, processes and resident experiences to multifamily owners and operators across the US, Canada and Europe. Some of Yuhu’s client’s include CAPREIT, Boardwalk, Campus Living Centers and Hollyburn.
Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Hey, Michael. So before we get started, here’s a little background on our guest today. In 2012, he received a Bachelor of Applied Science in mechanical engineering from Queens University. He went on to the job at a Toronto based hedge fund and after four years, he left become CEO of his own company and launched yuhu in late 2016. You is a comprehensive software as a service or SaaS platform, and it’s focused on improving and unifying property operations, processes and resident experiences to multifamily owners and operators across Canada, the US and Europe. Some of you whose Canadian clients include Boardwalk REIT, Campus Living Centers, and Hollyburn.
Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Thanks so much for having me, everyone.
Michael Brooks (REALPAC): All right, Hugh, let’s start with the state of tech in the multifamily owner market, and I’m using apartment and multifamily interchangeably today. You’re talking to multifamily building owners all over North America. Where are we in terms of relative sophistication in Canada? Can you give examples? What’s lagging behind and what’s seemingly up to date?
Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Yeah, absolutely. It’s been an interesting journey over the last couple of years. And I’d say Canada’s definitely made a decent headway over the last two, three years, which has been fantastic to see. I think what is repeatedly articulated a lot of industry conferences is, you know, Canada’s five, ten years behind from a technology adoption curve. And as we have our conversations with property managers really across the world, I don’t know if that’s as valid today. And there’s been a lot of focus on the resident experience in Canada. So there’s a lot of companies and property management, owner operators who are focusing in on that resident experience through whether it’s apps or online portals, which provide a great platform for on the smart home side. I think we’re maybe a couple of years behind from an adoption perspective, but the US isn’t necessarily that much further ahead. There hasn’t been mass adoption and the players are really still kind of duking it out to find kind of that that industry standard. And I think that’s what everyone’s kind of waiting for. It’s a difficult problem to solve from a hardware perspective. There’s tons of different hardware providers across the spectrum. And really finding a provider that can consolidate all of those into one I think is probably the key to success there. So there’s a couple of great names coming out of the US, but Canada is definitely a little bit further behind from even just kind of jump starting at least kind of dipping our toes in as a as a as a country, I guess you could say.
Hugh Kolias (yuhu): So that’s probably the biggest area that we’re we’re behind that in terms of access to different technologies. A lot of what’s available in the US is available in Canada as well. And you see a big concentration. The biggest difference, I’d say, actually, is that there’s a bigger concentration of Yardi based clients in Canada than the US. So a lot of clients are kind of adopting the Yardi stack and then augmenting it with other point solutions or platforms like ourselves that kind of sit on top. So definitely when we first started a couple, was it four or five years ago now? I guess six actually almost. We we noticed in a lot of our conversations that there was a hesitancy to adopt cloud, adopt SAS and that conversation has definitely dissipated, which is being great. So that’s helped kind of accelerate that tech adoption curve within the property management industry. And it’s definitely accelerating. So lots of exciting kind of initiatives going on across a lot of our clients and within other prospects that we talk to within Canada. And I definitely say we’re we’re not as far behind as everyone would like us to think, which is which is exciting. I think that’s that’s great for Canada and and great for the industry.
Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Yeah, that’s interesting. When I think about REALPAC’s experience, you know, we and most organizations in Canada, with the onset of the pandemic, had to pivot to becoming digital immediately, every part of our operations and communications and banking and so on and so forth. Have you seen anything similar with the apartment owners? Have they have they learned about the value of tech during the pandemic? And if so, what have they done? What have they been doing and where has tech helped?
Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Yeah, it’s it was I think just about everyone saw that that meme that was going around on LinkedIn about it was the biggest driver for your technology transformation plans. And it had a couple of options and it was one of them. And of course, covid was the answer. And that really drove a lot of companies, I think it just about every every vertical to adopt some sort of technology. So we saw a lot of clients adopt kind of WhatsApp or Facetime or any of the other kind of virtual video conferencing tools to do virtual showings, a lot of clients would set up kind of like payment portals and just try to try to bring everything online as quickly as possible. I think what that has caused, though, is a little bit of a hodgepodge. Let’s call it a hodgepodge of technology solutions that clients have kind of put together because they had to put it together really, really quickly over one to three month time period once covid hit. So now what we’re seeing is everyone’s kind of digesting their technology changes and looking to us or other providers to kind of consolidate some of the the point solutions or ad hoc solutions or providers that they put in as quickly as possible. So that’s been a very interesting, I think theme for this year is call it digesting of a massive change in such a short period of time.
Hugh Kolias (yuhu): But it’s super commendable. I think a lot of our clients went through just insane amounts of change from a technology perspective. They probably did five times more initiatives. It’s maybe a bit of an over exaggeration within that time period than they would have within like a couple of years, which is which is great to see. And now we’re kind of just digesting that through. So we’ll have a lot of interest on the payment side. I think that’s a piece that everyone wants to kind of bring online and really directing residents and their inquiries online, because that saves a lot of time from a site perspective. And coming out of the pandemic, no one really knows what kind of social norms are going to exist, whether people are going to go back to kind of that site office initiative experience or we’re going to transition more to self serve and more people are more comfortable towards that, which is, of course, our bet. So that’s definitely been an exciting shift and change, I think, that we’ve seen over the last year. And I think kudos to the industry for really driving that change forward and meeting the needs and putting safety first.
Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): So, Hugh, what’s the way forward and what are some of the must digitize areas of the apartment industry? Do they have a payback period or how should owners drive what to digitize next? What are the next steps?
Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Yeah, it’s a great question. I think now that we’ve gone past kind of the pandemic and doing the must haves in terms of health and safety, the next step is, as any any business owner always thinks about, is is ROI and payback. And that can come in a number of different ways, whether it’s a bump in rents because you’re providing a better service to your end users or it’s a savings in costs. So whether that’s the tech is allowing you to operate that save on the operational side of your business. So what we see as themes, I think a big part of it is centralizing some of the administrative overhead. And that’s really what we’re we’re gearing towards and have kind of built our platform around is focusing in on as an example on the leasing experience. There’s a lot of administrative overhead in terms of approving applications and consolidating a lo