Salter Brothers Private Equity Fund made an investment in PropTech company, DisplaySweet in 2019. Co-CEO, John Paige talks here about DisplaySweet’s competitive edge in the real estate market and how during a challenging 2020, the company has pivoted to launch its new online platform, OpenPlans which is delivering further innovation for developers to enhance their residential property buyers’ journey.
Tell us a little about your background prior to starting DisplaySweet.
Until I was 25, my life revolved around music. I was a bass player in a rock band but with a little nudging from my wife, I decided to settle down and ventured into the property industry. I got started as a sales assistant at Hocking Stuart (now Belle Property) in 2008, working mostly on resales but after working on a few developments I decided to move directly into development and went to Caydon Property Group to manage their project marketing.
How many years were you in real estate?
It’s been over 12 years now.
Did you always have a desire to start your own company? Or was there an ‘aha moment’ where you decided to go out and do it differently?
Establishing my own company was never my main motivation, I was always more interested in making a significant difference to the property industry. The reality is to disrupt any industry is a high-risk venture and I didn’t see any other way of doing this effectively other than by going out on my own.
Where did the inspiration come from for DisplaySweet? How did you recognise the need in the market?
I am obsessed with creating the perfect buyer experience and sales tool. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours talking with sales consultants, agents and buyers, I have lost countless weekends secret shopping every display I could and have attended numerous property investment seminars. Back when I was working at the property developer, one rainy Saturday, I was with an investment group and I came across a display Steve (Steven Mieszelewicz, DisplaySweet Co-CEO) and his interactive art agency had created. It was a drastically different experience and I immediately knew that leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience provided a solution to the problem I was looking to solve. I went on to work with Steve on two projects and in 2014 we decided if we could somehow productize the concept it could transform the industry and DisplaySweet was created.
Tell us a little about DisplaySweet, what you do, what your point of difference is in the market?
We create interactive solutions for property developers that enhance the customer experience. Our DisplaySweet platform is used to create immersive technology from touchscreens through to fully life-scale projection rooms that enable buyers to experience their new property in a tangible and engaging way, as if they were standing in it.
Tell us a little about your unique offering and why everyone (particularly larger real estate agents and developers who have the capacity) aren’t doing it?
We service one in seven of all apartment developers in Australia as well as many of the leading land and house and new estate developers. Until recently our team reached capacity and we were unable to service any more clients. It was a good problem to have and meant we had relied on repeat business and word of mouth for new business rather than traditional marketing methods. We recently finished rebuilding a scalable version of our platform and are about to commence our first-ever marketing campaign to reach and educate those developers not yet using us. It’s a really exciting new phase and has already allowed us to expand into new markets such as the UK.
How did you go about the product development, who was involved?
Initially, we spent months designing the product and figuring out what exactly it was. Since then feedback from clients and buyers has been integral in us continually iterating. This has made us flexible and responsive in a fast-moving market. Most importantly, we’re proactive in the development of new enhancements and improving our services; our approach is to imagine what the world will look like in the future and build for that now.
What has been the response from the market to your core product since you launched it in 2014?
When we first went to market it was really difficult, very few people believed they needed to do things differently. But, over time, the reported conversion rates from clients who used our platform were so phenomenal that word-of-mouth spread and sales consultants who used it with great success started telling the next developer they were working with about the exceptional results they had achieved. These agents became advocates, urging new clients that they had to use DisplaySweet and it kept growing.
It’s been a year since the Salter Brothers investment. What has the investment allowed you to do?
The investment from Salter Brothers allowed us to rebuild our entire platform and fast-track the release of a new end-to-end web-based digital product, OpenPlans, to further service our clients.
Tell us about OpenPlans; how you saw the need for this originally and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, how it has been the necessary and perfectly timed pivot for you and for the industry?
The original plan was to release OpenPlans in September. DisplaySweet enhances the customer experience in the display environment but the moment a buyer leaves the display their experience reverts back to a traditional method involving emails and PDFs. We saw an opportunity to make that at-home experience engaging while enabling sales consultants to present to buyers remotely, from anywhere in the world. It was a natural extension for us and naturally, due to the current lock-down environment we took the opportunity to fast-track OpenPlans to market.
Speed to market is critical with new products and you seemed to have got this right with OpenPlans. Tell us a little about what you believe is the key differentiator of the product. Is it about the product itself? Or is it about the DisplaySweet team? Or time to market? Or all of the above?
Technically speaking, our incredible real-time 3D digital building models which allows near-instant rendering is a big differentiator. With OpenPlans buyers can load high-quality buildings, masterplans and properties instantly online. This capability means developers can showcase their products around the clock in a timely and efficient manner. It reduces the risk of losing a buyer due to a connection or product misunderstanding. But more holistically speaking, I think it’s an excellent example of how deep our understanding is of our market niche and our vision. This is not a quick fix in response to current market conditions, this is part of our long-term growth and aligns with our vision of creating the perfect platform for selling new developments.
So now you have a company with 2 core products for the real estate development market. How will your customers benefit from both products, particularly post-pandemic?
The market is moving very fast and there’s been near constant change since March. At the beginning of the pandemic we had a lot of clients purely interested in buying OpenPlans as soon as we launched but since May we have found an uptake in existing clients taking up both DisplaySweet and OpenPlans. Developers of house and land estates and new apartment projects know that displays will re-open and see the value of a buyer walking into a sales gallery, having a wonderful experience that can be extended into the home. Plus the practical benefits of using OpenPlans to sell interstate and overseas in an engaging way is emerging as a very real benefit.
Is there anything you’re seeing in the current pandemic environment and the impact it’s having on the real estate / property development industry that you’re particularly excited about?
Putting aside the heart-breaking health consequences of the pandemic, I am excited to see how quickly our industry adapted and transformed. In times of crisis like now, patterns of behaviour that block more productive ways of doing things get removed and opportunities present themselves. I always believed we’d move towards a more online model, but our current environment has fast-tracked the evolution of selling new developments and it will remain permanently more online. That’s exciting.
How big a role do your customers play in your strategy and product development? What are they looking for at this time?
Property developers are always looking to sell faster and provide a greater customer experience. That simple reality is an easy way to keep strategy and product development aligned. In this climate, sales cycles will increase for a lot of developments and by focusing on improving the customer experience for buyers to positively influence the closing of more sales is going to be front of mind for every developer.
What’s ahead for the future? More complimentary products for the DisplaySweet portfolio and real estate development customers? An expansion to new markets?
Over the next 24 months we will be expanding our service offering and geographic footprint. We believe we haven’t even scratched the surface in what we can do for this industry, it’s going to be a very exciting time, this really is just the beginning.
OpenPlans by DisplaySweet now available at
Salter Brothers proudly introduced OpenPlans by DisplaySweet last week for our residential townhouse development, Everlea Keysborough.
Recognising that home property buyers currently have more time at home and online, this new innovative VIP platform quickly shows prospective buyers the detail around our Everlea townhouse development, all in one place.
With an interactive 3D masterplan, zoom-able floor plans, detailed property information and a Keysborough suburb report, buyers can further explore the Everlea development via the VIP site – giving them even more confidence in their prospective home purchase.