Prove tech can fix problems to win trust
Speaking to PlaceTech shortly after raising €30m in Series B funding, WeMaintain’s Benoit Dupont said his company is growing within a part of the market where tech solutions often collect data and tell landlords what the issues in a building are – but fail to deliver the solutions themselves.
Benoit said: “You have a lot of players trying to aggregate data. Very few have the end-to-end solution that really helped fix the problem.”
WeMaintain is trying to do that with an operating system that manages regulated parts of a building – lifts, HVAC and automatic doors – while also providing the service to fix those things.
The company offers what it calls an agnostic solution, which means landlords can install WeMaintain’s IoT devices to any of their buildings. This allows them to manage and control the building infrastructure from one place, regardless of how many lifts from different manufacturers they might have in their portfolio.
WeMaintain, used by Allianz and JLL, got its start by tackling the problem of lifts in buildings. Part of the reason was because, as Benoit said: “Elevators are the most common mode of transportation in the world.” Their maintenance is a $35bn global market – and it can be a pain for landlords.
The majority of lifts were built by a small handful of companies, each of which has tried to build its own maintenance platform and procedures, Benoit said, creating “industrial silos”.
Because a landlord cannot choose which manufacturer’s lifts are in their building, they can end up with multiple competing systems in their portfolio that become difficult to manage when they start to break down or need maintenance.
“You had industrial silos that were created on purpose by very big industrial players, which made it extremely complicated for building owners to operate their assets,” Benoit said.
Fixing the lift problem
“We’re able to put our IoT solution on a lift that is in a high rise in the middle of Canary Wharf in London or in low-rise residential in the middle of Paris,” he said.
The WeMaintain operating system can run the entire building operations of a property portfolio through a smartphone, which helped the company land Allianz’ Paris portfolio early on.
“The reason they gave us the entire portfolio is because on the operational side we were able to reduce call-back by 60% using the operating system,” Benoit said. It took just two weeks to connect all the buildings, have the operating system up and running and have engineers dedicated to each building.
Although the reams of data the devices would start to collect would be useful in managing each property (something landlords became especially aware of during the pandemic), the selling point was the immediate practical use.
Benoit said: “They were able to see real operational efficiency and data flowing in the platform that they could play with in dynamic and direct manner.
“People want to see things in technology that are actually fixing operational issues.”
Following the latest fundraise, WeMaintain has a valuation of about €100m and is looking to become the first property unicorn in Europe.
Benoit said that while an American company might get away with saying it has ambitions to reach a $1bn valuation, “when you say these things in Europe… it’s sometimes seen as very arrogant.” But he added: “We have to allow ourselves to dream sometimes in Europe.”
WeMaintain recently expanded into Singapore and has plans to cross the Atlantic to the US by Q1 2022. In the UK, it recently struck a deal with British Land to provide lift and escalator maintenance at Ealing Broadway shopping centre and in office space at Appold Street.
Benoit said he thinks WeMaintain has the potential to be the first – or one of the first – property unicorns in Europe because of the sheer size of the market and because the problem of industrial silos in building infrastructure is a global problem.
“Technology is really powerful for these kinds of solutions that are global and not multi-local,” he said.
But Benoit’s focus is not specifically on reaching that €1bn valuation: “We’ve seen a generation of companies where people want to be number one – why not? – but at some point, we’ve seen that there is a limit to just being number one. The same limit is true for unicorns. I mean, what are we trying to achieve? Are we just trying to build as big as we can and then just sell it and do something else? Or do we try to use technology to be a solution?”
If the focus remains on building a purpose, a solution and a common company culture, Benoit said he expects WeMaintain could reach its ambitious valuation goals: “If we keep doing this, we have a chance to be there in a few years from now.”