Product | People | Potential – our chat with REalyse
We caught up with Gavriel Merkado, Founder & CEO of REalyse as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. The REalyse Platform uses a web-based interface to give access to every dataset on UK residential property, and the Platform’s powerful analytics tools make it easy for anyone to understand the data.
The purpose of this series of articles is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Jake @ ADLIB: Hi Gavriel, great to meet you. Would you be able to start us off with an introduction to you and REalyse?
Gavriel: Hi Jake, my name’s Gavriel Merkado, Founder & CEO of REalyse which is a big data analytics platform for residential, real estate investment, development & lending businesses. We give big companies access to a really intelligent data system that helps them to understand where they should be building things, buy things and find out where the markets are heading in terms of how much things are worth and what the competitors are up to.
Ultimately, get them to make better decisions faster.
Jake @ ADLIB: Thanks, Gavriel. Can you talk us through the process of founding the business and what inspired you to set up REalyse?
Gavriel: REalyse started off as a big spreadsheet on my work computer and it came about as I was quite frustrated with not being able to get accurate, timely data about what was going on in the market after I’d made that transition from finance to real estate.
The evolution from it being a spreadsheet on my computer into being something a bit more tangible and ultimately, starting up a company took about 18 months and started with just a series of conversations with different people who were thinking about it as well.
To start, it was me not really knowing how to make it into something tangible, so I put a lot of time into meeting people, having conversations, and seeing what I gained from those conversations. This eventually led me to join a well-known tech accelerator programme and that’s where it really kicked off.
Jake @ ADLIB: Which tech accelerator did you use?
Gavriel: It was PI Labs.
Jake @ ADLIB: How was that experience and would you recommend them?
Gavriel: Absolutely, they’ve always been ahead of the curve and they are the first, and still the best, PropTech specialist accelerator in the UK. Because of that, they’ve probably got the most experience and exposure of what’s out there today and that was a few years ago. I know they’ve done a lot since then. On the whole, I would absolutely recommend them as they are a good team with excellent knowledge. They help grow companies from zero to one at least!
Jake @ ADLIB: Could you tell us a bit about your founding team and the steps taking it from Pi Labs into the market?
Gavriel: When I was at Pi Labs, it was just me working there in a basement area. The team started with outsourced software developers working out of Tottenham Court Road & Creighton. The first proper Software Developer came from a strange connection because he was my flatmate’s sister’s boyfriend who came on as “first-person”. After then it was a Senior Back-End Developer, then a Full-Stack Developer who’s now our CRO, and then our CFO. It’s just started growing from there!
Jake @ ADLIB: So, you’re around 20 people at the moment?
Gavriel: 21 now.
Jake @ ADLIB: Speaking of People, what has that experience been like in terms of growing that team from 1 to 20, and what challenges did you have to overcome?
Gavriel: One of the really interesting challenges was something completely unexpected, which was in growing a team from six people to 12 people to then 21 people, and how methods of communication really changed and that things that worked at different stages previously no longer work once you get bigger.
I read a really interesting book over the weekend which explained why that was and it’s to do with how many people one person can reasonably keep in mind and that number is 5. Then, expand that out and it gets to 25 which you can kind of keep track of, and then to 45, and then to 150 but at that point, you can’t really keep track of who’s doing what or what their names are.
In that jump from 5 to 20 we found that all our informal communication that consisted of spinning around your chair and ask them to do something no longer worked because actually, you could now be on the other side of the room. Now, we’ve had to work out more ways of doing that formally.
Jake @ ADLIB: And growing the team?
Gavriel: We’ve actually become pretty good at it. We make sure that whoever is the most relevant person who should be doing the interview is doing the interview.
Jake @ ADLIB: It sounds so simple!
Gavriel: It does, but it’s really taken us a bit of time to get to that point and it really is a lot of work.
Jake @ ADLIB: Culture is a pain point for a lot of founders, especially as they scale. How would you define “culture” at REalyse and how would you ensure that it’s retained as you grow?
Gavriel: It’s a really good question. The truth is, I don’t really know. What I do know is that whatever the culture is within REalyse, it’s working really, really well.
What’s been really interesting to see over the past couple of months with the ongoing crisis is how the team has really come together by supporting each other and working incredibly well together. I think this is a result of who they are naturally and then the culture within the firm.
Trying to nail down culture after building a team is like trying to nail down mist and waving your arms at it, good luck actually capturing any of that. Those values are what we are trying to distil at the moment. It’s not perfect and it’s still not quite crystallised yet, but we’re getting there.
Jake @ ADLIB: Going back to those values, what are the typical characteristics of someone who come on board at REalyse?
Gavriel: We’re a little bit closer on for sure. We know that, for example, people have to be resilient; they must be able to deal with difficult circumstances in their work, complications, and be able to deal with it with a smile on their face, because it’s a challenging environment.
People who come on board early on have to be quite intelligent and driven in what it is they’re doing in order to be successful. They have to have their own authenticity, their own integrity, and, most importantly, they come on board knowing they can be allowed to be whoever they want to be.
Ultimately, whoever they are, they need to be completely open and honest day-to-day in their work; that seems to be quite effective!
Jake @ ADLIB: ‘Resilience’ is always something that most founders find people in their teams need, that’s the nature of working in a start-up!
If we move on to Product? Can you give us an overview of the REalyse platform and what problems it solves best and for what kinds of customers?
Gavriel: If you are involved in anything to do with property, development, or investment you need to make decisions about what you should or should not invest in and how much things are worth. All the answers to these complex questions get written into these long reports, and people have many meetings to decide if something is a good idea or not. The problem, fundamentally, is where information comes from and is presented.
Before REalyse, that information was very, very fragmented, it was incredibly difficult to get hold of, and had enormous variations of quality and consistency. There was a lot of work involved in preparing that information to then be interpreted to get to a decision.
What we do is that we have a huge automated data pipeline that brings together all of the information that someone would need to make an investment decision into one place. In one view, they can completely understand the market, different buildings, and demographics, economics of different areas, etc.
It’s provided to them through an online interface, and they get a quick, really clear, and easy picture of what they need to know. The user logs in to our system, scrolls around and can click on different buildings or areas to see all kinds of information. If they want to do some further analysis, generate a report themselves, or send information to their colleagues so they can export out that information as well.
Jake @ ADLIB: How did you find the customer/product-market fit and what was the reception like from the market?
Gavriel: It was a constant trial and error. As an example, the very first version of the system, a usable interface that I put together, was incredibly slow to load and only presented information that I wanted to see.
When it started, it wasn’t really that useful for anyone other than a handful of people that only wanted to see that same specific information as me. You get people to try it, you get feedback, you feel disgruntled about it for a little bit, and you get over it and try and adapt to what people actually want.
The feedback is the most important part of the constant cycle of product development: two steps forward, one step back. Just doing that again and again and again.
Jake @ ADLIB: Did you have a light bulb moment of validation?
Gavriel: I think certainly from a standpoint of market acceptance, the past nine months have been quite phenomenal in terms of take-up from the market of the product.
I think that’s partly due to the evolution and improvement of the product through this continuous iteration process, but also from the evolution of the market itself, where companies have come to accept that they do actually need to have faster and more intelligent information systems at their disposal.
I think the last nine months, have sort of been akin to a light bulb moment. The “yeah, this is actually really working and really working well”.
Jake @ ADLIB: Does that up-tick coincide with your last investment round back in January 2019?
Gavriel: We did our Series A at the end of November 2018 and it was announced officially in January 2019, and it really did help with accelerating the growth of both the product development and the team.
Jake @ ADLIB: Can you tell us about the round and a little bit about your investors?
Gavriel: The last investment round was £3million and it was by a VC called Anthemis Group that focuses mostly on early-stage financial technology companies. While we could be defined as a property technology company or an information infrastructure system, the tech really works closely with banks and other financial institutions, so it still sits within their remit. Behind them is a company called XTX Ventures, which is the venture arm of a big financial market maker, and that was further backed with some additional follow on from previous investments.
The obvious benefit of that is that we had a whole load more money to hire the people we need to do the things that we wanted to do, so the team grew significantly. We actually started the hiring process before we got the money in the bank, which led to a very strange two weeks where we had a whole bunch of new people who had just started but we didn’t have the money.
Jake @ ADLIB: Quite risky!
Gavriel: It was, after that two weeks was over and we’d received the money, the new hires said that they were wondering if it was going to be the shortest job ever, but it all worked out.
It resulted in hiring a bunch of great people doing interesting things, whether that’s sales, marketing, product development, or customer success.
Jake @ ADLIB: Finally, coming to Potential. What’s the ultimate aim for REalyse?
Gavriel: The ultimate goal is to deal with all of the information and the inefficiencies that exist within real estate globally.
How does that then translate into actual practical action?
If you put yourself 20 years in the future and imagine you are a real estate professional, I would like it to be a world where somebody sitting at their office or at home, just say, in Mexico, can log onto our system and easily understand everything about the Parisian real estate market and where people in Paris can do the same for Japan, for their own market and understand their own portfolios.
What we want to do is create systems for real estate in much the same way that financial professionals can do today!