Sophie Jokelson: So me and my co-founders, we started Cove back in 2018. So we’re still a very young company, just three and a half years old. And the three of us, we didn’t come from the legacy of the real estate industry, which I think makes us kind of naive enough to take on the challenge of disrupting the space.
I mean our ambition from the beginning was, really about how we can leverage technology to bring what is typically quite an old fashioned industry into the 21st century. I’m sure many of you in this room have rented properties and you’ll attest to the fact that the experience is still pretty analog. It still involves often paper contracts, dealing with agents, going around lots of properties.
And me and my co-founders kind of came from backgrounds building consumer tech businesses and we thought, can we bring this approach to the home rental space and make it a really seamless experience for renters?
I think we’d all agree that tech is synonymous with a smooth customer experience, right? Really it’s through technology that we deliver efficient and frictionless, interactions with our customers. So from the very beginning we’ve been very focused on, kind of breaking down the customer journey when it comes to home rentals and thinking about at each stage of the process – , how do we bring in different technology tools?
Most of which exist already, but just bring them into the ecosystem and make that experience seamless. And to be honest, a lot of the time it’s not necessarily the really sexy, like hyped up technology that makes a difference when you’re disrupting a legacy industry. You know it’s even simple things like, how do you involve digital contracts as opposed to paper contracts.
It’s how do you, for example, build a front tech website that makes search and discovery very seamless through technologies that already exist. Things like VR tools, etc. And I guess my fellow panelist from 99.co has similar things to share on that. I think our approach was kind of breaking down our customer journey and thinking about at each point, what tools can we leverage to really make the experience frictionless.
I think the outcome has been that typically in the past when we rented a home through kind of like the legacy home rental experience, it could take weeks, probably best case to go from finding a place to kind of booking it, to doing the contracts moving in. And we’re able to do that in as quick as 24 hours now.
So from someone actually seeing a property, they like to being moved into a fully furnished apartment, we can have that whole thing done in 24 hours.
Moderator: That’s actually pretty quick. I think most of us used to be in the broker experience, go through paperwork and most of the people actually did that. So that’s an interesting insight.
And the first thing you talked about, additional contracts and the other part is obviously how easy the usage is and how fast it is – so that’s a very interesting insight. I want to ask you one more thing here. Let’s say you are at this stage of growth right now, you’re going to be breaking out, you’ll be having more customers. So what are those two three things, in terms of data points from a tech stack point of view, which become important for you to implement it?
The coming months, so maybe say retention, engagement. What is it exactly that you are looking at?
Sophie Jokelson: For a business at our size and life stage, I think it’s primarily still about growing the top funnel. I think we had this conversation actually over lunch. What I’ve seen happen in the whole kind of like MarTech engagement tech space over the last few years is just a huge proliferation and different software solutions, different tools, and frankly for a business of any stage, it’s almost like overwhelming.
Because you’ve got so many things you can optimize at every single point of the customer journey. So for a startup, I think what’s important is to focus on, what’s really important to you right now?
And I think for us, where we’re still kind of building our brand, we’re still, establishing ourselves in a lot of the markets. Like the main thing I look at, is still kind of, are we growing our inquiries on a weekly basis? And ultimately, are we growing on booking? So if people are actually booking our properties, . aAnd I think it’s important, to some extent not to over- invest too soon on such a diverse range of tools that are helping you to optimize like minutia across your marketing and sales funnel. Bbecause you are ultimately, you are gonna deliver more growth by growing the top funnel, by growing your overall revenues, rather than focusing on how do I increase this very specific conversion rate from X percent to Y. We’re not at the stage, probably unlike my fellow panelists, we’re not at the stage where that’s gonna deliver enough for us.
Moderator: Perfect, and you are sharing two data points – enquiries and conversions, so if you’re able to see that right now, that’s a good enough indicative for you. So probably in the future you want to build on it?
Sophie Jokelson: Absolutely and as you get bigger, you get more sophisticated and once you hit a certain scale, increasing your website conversions by a percentage point could make a huge difference to your overall transaction volume. But at our scale, it would probably be a distraction for my team to be too obsessed with those kind of micro matrix.
Moderator: Thanks a lot, perfect! Now I’ll move on to Vasu, and how many of you are actually going to NTUC, can I have a raise of hands? I’m surprised if it’s lesser than all. Some people actually did raise their hands, I hope they didn’t want to.
Vasu Venkataraman: They haven’t heard of the firm.
Moderator: Yeah that’s probably why Vasu couldn’t get through to them. So I’ll have the same question around tech stack, and your problem will be different from what Sophie had. Your company is already all of customers who know NTUC. So when it comes to tech stack, what are you looking at? What are those data points you’re trying to capture and how do you go on building this?
Vasu Venkataraman: Some context – so, one is from a macro perspective, I think that thanks to Covid and everything that’s happened over the last twofew years, the number of digital touch points that we have with other customers have been increasing. Today we have online grocery penetration that’s forever kind of increasing. And on the other hand, on these stores you can check out digitally through your app or in select stores, you can scan the product and just walk away without actually checking out.
So the number of digital touch points are increasing and in general the complexity keeps increasing, right? So anything from a Suez Canal issue to Russia Ukraine war to the chicken issue over the last few days has impact on our customers within a few hours. In fact, by the time we watch CNA and go to the FairPrice store, people are already stacking things up.
So the challenge is, the macro issue is obviously something that, everyone’s probably aware of. I probably don’t want to touch on that. I want to touch on something interesting, which is more at a micro level. I’m talking about micro trends. I’m going to talk about, Korean noodles and Indian mangoes and how it’s linked to our tech stack.
So some of the things that we’ve been observing. , Wwith a lot of Netflix and K-dramas,. yYou’ve seen that quite a lot of Korean snacks and noodles that are trending. And then there’s another story about some breedach of Indian mangoes, which are in season right now – which our suppliers and sellers have kind of gotten in, but then nobody knows of it.
These are all things that never come up when you look at a macro level trends and insights. But then when you go in depth, you see that there are some of these (customer) segments over there who are searching for these and probably go to the competitor, if you’re not having it there, right?
So, and it’s from a tech stack and experience perspective, how do we deconstruct this massive amount of data that’s there? How do we deconstruct and identify these micro trends? How are we able to personalize things and then provide an experience which is seamless? And that’s probably where the tech stack kind of comes into play and how do we do all of this at scale.
Moderator: So, thanks a lot for that and thanks a lot for illustrating a few of the problems as well. I want to ask you one specific question here in terms of tech stack. So at your level, what are those two- three things which become a necessity for you to have, especially as someone who is heading the digital and the growth part. What are those metrics and all the right tech stack which helps you to track those metrics or go about them, which is needed for you?
Vasu Venkataraman: So one of the complexities that we kind of are having to deal with is, you have users offline, online, across devices, across business verticals. So there are literally like n number of combinations in which customers can come and go. And these are happening offline and online.
And then you have like several teams within the FairPrice organisation where we’re all trying to optimize for their own metrics. Now how do we make sense for all of this? And how do we kind of have a very unified view of the customer and his journey across, lLike I said, I mean you could be going to the store right now. Tomorrow, you could be checking stuff on the app, could go and order a coffee.. All of this, how do I get a view of you as one entity and be able to generate insights out of it – I think that’s probably the problem that we’re solving.
Moderator: So unified customer, like single view of each and every customer. Is it available to see all of those teams as well? So are they able to see, say like an offline view is supposed to be offline marketing. Are they able to see the online view?
Vasu Venkataraman: Which is exactly what we’re kind of trying to stitch through. That whole customer journey so that there is one unified view across. It doesn’t matter if it’s an offline marketing team or an online product team, two very different teams but we would want to serve the customer in just one way. So that’s essentially what we are trying to optimize for right now.
Moderator: Perfect! One more question I have here, in terms of say a particular metric, I was discussing with you on lunch as well, about growth and digital. What is that one metric which stands out to you, maybe you can explain to the crowd better?
Vasu Venkataraman: So, I think, as we kind of grow across Singapore, we don’t have much of a top of the funnel problem. I think it’s a lot about continuous engagement and retention. So how do we kind of ensure that our customers are engaging with the app in a very deep manner and now that we are also having multiple business verticals and offerings, are they also experiencing these? Hence engagement and retention are like one of the key priorities for us.
Moderator: And about retention as well, how much of the problem is it when people drop off? How much do you fuss over it? So people who probably are not coming back on the app, how do you go on about it? Because we’ve seen one two teams who try all kind of things to retain customers. People who’ve dropped off, people who are not coming back. So how do you actually go about it? I mean, if you can highlight a few things.
Vasu Venkataraman: So, first thing is we try and identify is if we can get some insights on the ‘why’ right. That’s probably the harder problem to solve for. Understanding the ‘why,’ because the what is out there, I mean, you have tools and platforms to kind of, solve for it.
So the real hard problem is ‘why’. And the other problem is also to be able to identify them. A lot of these drop offs kind of happen even before they log in. So again, how do we identify the system back later whenever they log in and so on. So, indentifying the ‘why’ is probably the tougher problem. And once you’re able to do that, then I think the actionables that come out of it is a lot simpler.
Moderator: Thanks a lot for that, that’s actually a very interesting insight. The ‘why’ I think, that’s one of the problems that everyone is trying to solve. That’s the first step of how do you get the customer back and to understand why they dropped off at the first point.
Now we’re going to go to Rajesh, and obviously the question would be similar in terms of what the MarTech stack looks like, the entire tech stack and not just MarTech stack. So maybe if you highlight a few things on that.
And also one thing we want to understand is considering the rise of 99.co, could you elaborate what factors influenced the organisation’s decision for buying and upgrading your tech stack. So it would be great if you could highlight a few things.
Rajesh Sangati: Before I start, Vasu and I moved from selling bubble tea at 1:00 PM to now selling homes, so there are a lot of differences. So if you look at real estate, the journey is much more nuanced and over a period of time and it’s not something which I push. Bubble tea is much easier than selling a home.
So the hypothesis that we’re working on in 99 is – , iIf somebody comes to 99, tries to find a home, did their work, and if they have come back and have to do the same work again, then we feel like we lost him or her. There is a part of it, which is the personalization on the portal side. But the second thing which we are working on now is personalization on the channel side.
Time, price, and product. So how do we go about doing this? So there are multiple layers. First, do you have all your attributes and the user attributes, are you able to track them properly?
Second part we look at is do you have a point of view in terms of how you want to get them back in terms of retention. So do you have segments that you’re looking at and say that, if you do this, they might come back. Third part which we look at is the intelligence.
So when I say intelligence, it’s about creating the context with the right product, in such a way that people take desirable action. If you have these things in terms of a view point on the user and how you want to approach the user and what the channels and what the time affinity, product affinity and the price affinity – then the retention tends to go up. I mean, not linearly, but non-linearly, but in every sector there is a nuance. I’ll give an example.
So I was in a startup which was focused on mothers. So this is apparel, footwear and accessories for children in the age group of 0 to 12. We built the marketing stack, we did all our work, and the metric we were looking at is personalized recommendations. So the user metric that we’re looking at is the number of products the user views before he adds to cart should go from, let’s say 15 products to eight products.
But in one another segment, it was actually going in another direction from 15 to 45. So that’s where we close the loop with the user research. So when we talk to the mothers, and this was happening for mothers who had infants, I’m sure most of you know that some of the mothers go through postpartum depression and the way they cope with that depression is browsing through childrens clothes, more and more.
So in those kind of new nuances and scenarios, the idea is not to push for a transaction, but actually wait it out and to provide a better browsing experience so that they place an order at a later time. So ultimately, the retention stack is about how do you bring about your blended cost from the first order to the second order, but with nuances added.
Moderator: So, thanks for sharing that very interesting example. I have a question around retention. Something you maybe Sophie, you can also answer it later. But the question is, since you’re in real estate and it’s very unlike say NTUC. For NTUC retention is if the customer is coming say every three days, four days, seven days it’s much faster. But in terms of a rental company, what is retention metric? How does it look like? how do you define it?
Rajesh Sangati: So, ultimately with retention, we’re trying to try a metric which is basically with the overall acquisition cost, right? So if I get a user on a paid channel for the first time, and if I can get him another channel, which is less expensive almost – what I’m basically driving at is if the design action is an inquiry, then the blended cost for inquiry should go down.
From X to 0.1 and the blended cost. So that’s what I at metric. If I’m looking at a marketing stack for retention.
Moderator: I have one more question and I’m going to get back to you, that especially on retention, say if the user is converted right, he’s booked a flat, taken up a rental or on your website, Do you give it 12 month, 14 month window for the user to get back or for that the user cycle is done? How do you look at it, just wanted to understand that.
Rajesh Sangati: So the real estate tends to be different from e-commerce in this sense. So at the point of having the home, the journey stops and the next journey might start at three years later or four years later. But there are multiple other touch points with which you can engage with the user. For example, how do you furnish your home, how do you do your paperwork and lot of other things, but within the transaction of first home itself is not a one month journey. It can be multiple months’ journey primarily because for most of the people, common people like us buying a single home is a once in a lifetime decision, right? So it’s a very involved decision.
But if the user comes to the portal and goes away and he doesn’t come back, or he comes back to an experience which is as fresh as the first time, then you have almost lost the user. So that’s how I think about it.
Moderator: That’s perfect. Sophie, coming on to you, is your experience a little similar? How do you guys define this metric?
Sophie Jokelson: Yeah, so unlike e-commerce where retention is often about repeat purchase, right?
Because typically someone’s landing on your site and if all goes well, they’re making a transaction. Because it’s much more of an impulsive purchase and the customer has a need and they typically want to buy there and then. So I think when we talk about retention in a kind of like fast moving goods environment, it’s about bringing people back in two day’s time to buy something else.
Whereas, similarly to 99.co, we have quite a long customer journey. We do rentals, not house purchases. But typically our customer journey is about five weeks. And somebody would normally interact with our website on average three and a half times before they actually inquire about a property.
So for us, retention’s a lot about that pre journey up to the moment where they decide to actually commit and go and view, and then ultimately book a property. So it’s how do we, you know, we always assume that our customer is looking at our platform and maybe also looking at 99.co and maybe also at a few other platforms.
So how do we make sure that after that first research trip onto our website, they’re more likely to come back to our website as opposed to, sorry for coming back to 99.co. You guys are a bit bigger than us. For us it’s why I spoke about kind of the customer journey being so important. For us it’s a lot about understanding what are the different steps that our consumer goes through, because it is a considered purchase.
So the first trip onto our website is maybe just to kind of, understand their budget. So they’re looking at, how much does a rental cost? What kind of different locations are there? The second time it might be because they saw something they liked the other day but didn’t have time to really get into detail on it.
So they want tospend a bit more time. Maybe they want to show the photos to their mom or their partner to get their opinion. I really like the point that you made about, using consumer research, because I’m marketer by background, not a tech person. And I think with all the different kind of options you have to build your tech stack these days, it can be tempting to kind of just pick the shiny new toy and put it into your tech stack.
Because it has all these promises about what it can deliver for your tech funnel, for your sales funnel. But I think you know within this choice, it’s super important that you start with what’s your consumer need? What does that consumer journey look like? And then what are your business objectives?
And I think if you start there, you can make smart choices about what tech to implement. I think if you are too driven by just what is the tech platform, you can often end up investing in a solution that either doesn’t meet the need of your consumer or is not aligned to your business. So there’s no point having like a really fancy CRM system that does really sophisticated or has the potential to do really sophisticated EDM campaigns.
If you don’t have a team internally that can support that, right? That can create the content, that can analyze the data, that can set up the customization. And this is especially true in a startup, where we have quite limited resources. So I think my big learning is always to kind of start with the consumer, translate then into those objectives, and then select the right tech tool.
Moderator: Thanks for sharing that and as you correctly said, and I think even Vasu and Rajesh also shared that the right tech stack is all use cases and business objectives. So you don’t need any more than that. 10 use cases in 20, you don’t need so many features, you probably don’t need that initial platform with all those fancy things. You need something basic, which can help with use cases that will help you get the ROI.
So my last question, and this is actually for all three of you today. Why don’t you tell me how the marketing engagement stack has evolved over the years from a point of view of a consumer brand. And maybe all of you can add any anecdote or key insight from what you’ve seen. I’ll, start with Vasu and then I’ll come to Sophie and finally we end with Rajesh.
Vasu Venkataraman: I’ll probably share one of the insights that our learning that we’ve been discussing over at lunch as well. And it’s a counter point to what Sophie was mentioning. So I think from an evolution of the tech stack and tools perspective, I think I also agree that today we have a lot of tools and platforms that can do all of this. But inadvertently, I think what has happened is the cost of sending an email or a push notification has come down drastically right. Which means practically you can just bombard anybody and everybody. And what do e-commerce platforms do? Blast it out to the entire user base with some vouchers and offers and six six and seven sevens. Interesting, right?
So what’s the use of a tech platform if all you’re using is just burning money and not really leveraging the capabilities that are out there? It’s a lot easier to just send you a full blast push notification, but it’s probably a bit more tricky to say – let’s say last two weeks, you’ve been with FairPrice. You shop something and last two weeks you’ve not been shopping right now and today’s a Thursday. You seem to be like a beer lover looking at your past transactions. Today is a Thursday afternoon, it’s hot. Tomorrow you’re already planning for your weekend. So right now, let me send you an offer on beer.
Quickly tying up with a supplier and so on. Seems like a fairly easy use case as such, but to execute this, there are like 10 different systems that need to come together. Starting from a CDP to our search trends and offline data, online data, engagement platform, analytics platforms, a lot of these things need to come together to serve this one single use case right? So hence I would say modern day tech stack becomes modern only the way you use it. The tech stacks are out there, but the way we use it, makes it modern or obsolete.
Moderator: Thanks for that, and I have a quick question. You talked about using the tech stack with its full capability. Not just say lasting emails, push notifications. I have a lot of my customer success team here from MoEngage and all the tech teams have customer success teams. So I want to understand from your point of view, does the onboarding and the close work with the customer success team of the tech company also become important in learning that company.
So like a lot of people say, call it humanizing tech. So do you think that also becomes important for you?
Vasu Venkataraman: It’s a very relevant question. So typically what happens is, there is one person who’s championing the cause of this tool or platform, but then at the end of the day, it’s being used across teams, across your minus ones and the managers and so on and so forth. So that’s one angle. The other is you don’t have these customer success folks who are out there on the other side who probably see things in terms of best practices and so on right. So on both sides. I think one, internally, how do you get to drive the ownership levels up so that you know the why is answered and it’s not just get another shiny tool that you can put on your profile.
So can we think or go deep is one. Second is, like I think you had rightly mentioned. There are enough and more folks in this ecosystem who’ve seen that done that, for us to be able to leverage all of the insights that are out there. For example, having this kind of a conversation on this event, I’m sure everybody will go home with at least five or 10 insights that they can implement in a very different industry. So this is also crucial where we kind of learn from each and for us as buyers of these tools is also to be able to push these tools. Otherwise, I see a lot of features which ultimately never get used because of all these reasons that I mentioned.
Moderator: Thanks, I think that’s a counter point on a platform with a lot of features is, how does the company also help you utilize it. Does a tech firm ensure that you learn it and you get ROI from that? I’m going to come to you quickly, so, from your understanding of say marketing, could you share some interesting examples of what can make an impact? Not in terms of digital purely, but say in terms of marketing engagement, how do you see it evolving and what are you doing currently?
Sophie Jokelson: We’re just seeing as I mentioned before, a real proliferation in automation tools. You asked for an anecdote before, so I think my main reflection when I think about the role of kind of tech in marketing is, you’ve got to make the tech work for you and not the other way around.
And I think examples of where we’ve got it wrong is where we haven’t. We’ve forgotten to be consumer led. We’ve forgotten that, ultimately our job is to serve our customer and to deliver for them what they need. I think a lot of marketing tech tools, and rightly so they focus on efficiency. And I also care a lot about efficiency as a shareholder in my company, but it can’t be at the expense of the customer experience. And so, when we first started the company, we were really obsessed with how do we replace property dealingsfeelings with a fully digital experience.
It’s not efficient for us to have a sales team out in the field, show people properties. So let’s just get rid of it. Let’s use VR tools! Let’s use all this tech, and it made total sense from a bottom line point of view for the business. But ultimately, when people are renting a property for six months, a year, they need to know what they’re buying. And no matter how hard I try, people want to go and see the product and ultimately, so should they, right? Like they’re signing up to spend but their income on something every month, and so it’s absolutely fair if they want to see it.
So I think you’ve got to get the balance right between ease and tools that help drive efficiency but actually still meeting the needs of the consumer. And what we found at the end was rather than trying to eliminate in person property tours, we could just build a front end that did most of the work for them. But the final viewing was something that we still did with them in person. So in the traditional real estate model, you might go with an agent to 15 properties and finally choose one.
What we try to do is we narrow it down. We give them all these tools so that they can choose the one place that they’re really likely to want to actually book. And then we do a final viewing with them and our conversion rate that feeling is very high because they’ve actually used all of our tech tools to make sure that they pretty much do what they want. They just want to make sure that it’s real, that it’s not a scam or anything like that.
So yeah, I think my big learning on the marketing tech stack is start with what your consumer wants and needs before you kind of get too hell-bent on efficiency. I think another example is things like, chat bot technology which promises a lot., But I’m yet to use a chat bot that I’m convinced does a better job than a real person talking to me. So, I always want to try out these new tools. I always want to test them, but ultimately the consumer should still be our boss.
Finally, I’m coming to you. Maybe you can share a few examples about the marketing automation engagement. You actually used an example from the mother’s app/website which you were working on. So maybe we can talk from that point of market automation engagement has changed the tech stack and how you’re using it in your current firm.
Rajesh Sangati: So the way we think about the marketing stack is, we need to have a viewpoint about how we want to engage with the customers and how we want to bring them back and what’s the experience that they should have and the marketing tech stack, is it tooled towards that? But what we need to understand is, how are our viewpoints valid and how are they evolving? For example, we have certain set of assumptions about the users and then some logic and we reach a conclusion. So this part is assuming that those assumptions, stay the same. So how do we close the loop on the assumptions part?
How do we keep on validating those assumptions using user research? For example, during the Covid time, everybody thought 3D modeling of the house was like a coolest idea., Bbut now nobody wants to look at the 3D model because everybody wants to go out and see. Not because, it’s like a tedious process, but now after Covid, it’s an enjoyable process. So the marketing stack will not tell you why people are not looking at the 3D house, the user research does. So, if the assumptions change, we need to be sensitive to those assumption changes and make sure that the marketing stack can help us move in the direction very fast in terms of responsiveness. That’s how I think about the evolution of the stack.
Moderator: So again, you’ve shared an example from a consumer research point of view, right? These are not things which any digital platform will capture. So that’s interesting! I hope if there’s any entrepreneur, you can probably start your consumer research, SaaS platform which can help with these decisions and insights and make it easier for all the partners.
Finally, we’ve got another 5 minutes left, probably a little lesser Saurabh has been indicating over there. So, any closing thoughts before we end the conversation? Anything you want to share with the audience?
Vasu Venkataraman: Just one thing, while we spoke about the consumer angle quite a bit, right? So one of the things that these platforms can also be leveraged is to drive culture. So in a lot of cases, where we leveraged a tool, not because of its pure play capabilities, but it’s also about how do we as an organization become a lot more data driven?
How do we question?, how do we go deep? How do we have the same set of language within the team? And how does marketing, product, analytics, all of the it talk to each other? The tool actually facilitates these, right? So we end up driving culture as well. Sometimes, it’s not just about the consumer angle to it, this is the other angle, which is also what these tools are for.
Moderator: That’s actually an interesting point. Anything from your end?
Sophie Jokelson: I’d agree with that. I think one of the things we were discussing over lunch was also, when you’re implementing a new tool, I think often these tools do touch many parts of the organization. So I think sometimes we underestimate it, even if it’s a marketing tool, you still need the support and buy- in of your tech team, of your business intelligence team. Because again, what’s the point in having all this data if you don’t have people actually generating the insights from it. So I would agree that you know that there’s definitely a benefit to bringing the different teams together. It’s also a watch out for me as well to make sure that when you’re embarking on the investment into these new tools and softwares that you’ve got a complete organization approach to rolling them out.
Moderator: Totally makes sense, it has to be complete. The people who integrate, the people who use, the people who get insights from it in the company. So last worlds from you Rajesh?
Rajesh Sangati: I think the marketing stack also depends on the maturity of the organization, whether it’s product- market, fit stage, or it’s a scaling stage. So I think there’s a point at which it becomes imperative to have a marketing stack, and there’s a point at which it doesn’t make sense. I think it depends on the stage of that organisation.
Moderator: Totally makes sense, I think Sophie also highlighted a little bit on that, how it changed from a company’s growth perspective as well. So I think with that, I’d like to end the session and I would like to thank our amazing speakers for today. Thank you foir this amazing session and I’ll pass on the mic to Saurabh.
Before we do that, it’ll be great if we could have a loud round of applause for our speakers!