BIG INTERVIEW: Matterport
Digitalising the entire built world, creating 3D ‘digital twins’ of every building in existence, is a monumental task but one Matterport is on a mission to complete. Years of growth – and a busy 2020 in which Matterport nearly doubled the number of spaces it’s captured, launched an iPhone app and grew its customer base six-fold – culminated in the most significant deal yet for the business.
In February, Matterport announced it was going public through a merger with Gores Holdings VI, a special purpose acquisition company. Set to close in Q2, the deal gives the combined company an equity value of about $2.9bn. With $640m in cash and placement proceeds earmarked for growth, Matterport is gearing up for serious expansion, both in the size and global footprint of its business and in its products.
On the corporate side, 2021 will be about finding ways to reach new markets – it already has subscribers in more than 150 countries – and developing the enterprise side of its business. Major property players like CBRE, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield and Colliers all work with Matterport to some degree. Now the company wants to deepen those connections, embedding itself into the future of how they operate.
And what about on the product side? PlaceTech caught up with James Morris-Manuel, MD for EMEA at Matterport, to discuss what’s next for Matterport, to get his thoughts on the changing nature of property, post-Covid, and even the idea of democratising art through tech.
What opportunities has the business combination created for Matterport? What changes are you making to the platform?
This is the start of the start. Of the four billion buildings in the world we believe that there’s approximately 20 billion spaces that can be captured – and we’re at 4.4 million. So, we’re right at the beginning. With the recent news, the opportunity we’re really leaning into is – how do we digitalise the $230tn property industry out there?
We don’t want to be known as the 3D tour company. We are creating digital twins of every single property in the world, and that all sits inside Matterport’s 3D platform.
[But] having that 3D model is just the beginning. It’s – what more can you do, once you’ve got the digital model, to really derive value?
That 3D platform is going to have platform partners. So, for example, if you are refurbishing a space, you can go in, capture it with Matterport, you get a 3D digital twin of that model on the Matterport platform, and once that model is there, you might be able to use our platform partners to enhance that model even further.
Can you virtually stage the model? Can you add IoT? Can you add points of interest in there? Can you use that model for virtual snagging, and the ability to go in and make notes and annotate? These are some examples of platform partners that we’re looking to sign up during the course of this year as we launch our platform marketplace.
What are you developing within artificial intelligence?
We have an AI engine and a machine learning engine called Cortex, and Cortex does a lot of things. The biggest one is it gives us the ability to take a 2D image and make it 3D, and that is completely unique to Matterport.
Now, when you upload a 360-degree image of a meeting room, our AI can be like; ‘Oh, this looks like it’s a desk in the middle of the room.’ And it can immediately add the 3D data behind it if there’s 3D data missing. But it can also recognise the object – ‘This is a desk’ – and it can recognise the room – ‘This is a meeting room’. So that’s where our AI Cortex is at the moment, but [we’re] developing that even further, and the sky’s the limit.
The applications for object recognition I think are really interesting. If you look at facilities management, for example, the ability for somebody to quickly scan their entire portfolio. ‘How many fire extinguishers do we have in the portfolio of 100 buildings?’ They click a button, and all of a sudden, the AI’s recognised: ‘You have this many fire extinguishers, this is where they are.’ Those are the kinds of features I think will become very, very valuable.
2020 was undoubtedly a busy year for Matterport. What were some of the highlights?
We launched Matterport for iPhone. Now, that’s quite a big – I would say a really tectonic – launch, because it means that any user could make a digital twin of their property just using their smartphone.
It really helped democratise creating a digital twin of your property, because now that you can just do it from your phone, all of a sudden everyone can do it.
It doesn’t matter what industry you were in – home owner, thinking about moving, re-planning your space, whatever it was. Just showing your home office to your friends, you could literally just scan it with your phone and send it to your friends and say: ‘This is how I’ve set up my home office; I’m on the dining room table.’
Last year, our subscriber base grew more than 500%, and it now comprises over 10bn sq ft of space. Those spaces are made up of many different properties: they’re houses, they’re offices and museums, schools, and factories. Hospital started getting captured so that they could get ready for Covid. A lot of retail stores [were] figuring out ‘I’m a physical shop on a high street. How do I become a digital shop online?’ So, a lot of retail stores got captured as well.
With so many new subscribers, have you found new uses for Matterport?
Retail has really had to reinvent itself. It was already getting a lot of pressure from online, but I think Covid and the lockdowns were quite a big hit. And we’ve seen a lot of retailers using Matterport to help show their brand, tell their story, take their physical high street store and put it online.
‘Back to school’ is another big trend that we’ve seen. A lot of schools are under pressure from the parents: how are you going to bring my kids back? How is the classroom set up? In the hallway, do you have one-way walking this way and one-way walking back on the other side of the hall? Do you have sanitisation stations? Do you have entry and exits, to reduce the number of people passing each other? So schools have really used Matterport to help them design their back-to-school strategy.
A lot of museums are using Matterport to get online to help people have access to this artwork. And actually, I think for museums it’s very interesting, because it really democratises people’s access to art. So I can now visit an art gallery in any country I want – if it’s been Matterported. If I’m a school, and I want to take my school kids on an art trip, and I want to go to the Louvre in Paris, I can do it digitally now from the classroom. I don’t have to take everyone on a field trip to Paris. So I think it’s really democratised the public’s access to art, which is really great.
What changes caused by the pandemic, lockdowns and new ways of working do you think will stick in the long run?
I think that when Covid hit, it really put a lot of pressure on the residential industry and the commercial industry to get a bit more serious about how their businesses were working.
A lot of businesses at that point had a level of introspection and really thought: ‘What do I need to do to change my business and how is my business going to look in the future?’ And tech was a big answer to the majority of those questions.
I think some of the changes that have been made for Covid reasons will also be here to stay long after for sustainability reasons.
One of the angles that a lot of companies were taking pre-Covid as well was: ‘does it really make sense if we’re going to go do a viewing of a property that we drive there, the agent drives there, the valuer drives there?’ All of a sudden there’s four cars turning up. That’s eight journeys there and back. Then you want to do a second viewing. Okay, now it’s 16 journeys.
It’s quite a big carbon footprint when you really look at how the property industry functions. When Covid came and you couldn’t do physical viewings, virtual tours and 3D models, digital twins all became the epicentre of how a lot of these buildings were transacted.
What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
Workwise, it’s a super exciting time. Like I said: this is the start of the start. How are we going to digitalise four billion buildings in the world and how quickly can we get there? That kind of perspective is the thing that excites me the most for 2021: thinking about and putting in place all of the strategies that are going to get us to four billion buildings captured with a digital twin.
How long do you think that will take?
I don’t have a good answer to that. How long do I think it will take? The whole point of this announcement is so that we can really bend the curve and lean into it. ASAP is the answer.