This is the video of the full panel discussion at The Room Xchange Public Launch Event in Melbourne. We also have blog posts for all our keynote presentations and transcriptions. You can find them in the blog under the category ‘Events’. You can also view the entire event and the individual keynote presentations on our Youtube channel. Please subscribe while you’re there.
The panellists include:
- Ludwina Dautovic – CEO and Founder, The Room Xchange
- Greville Pabst – Chairman, WBP Property Group
- Chris Adams – Director, Advisor and Digital Strategist
- Todd Clappis – Premier and Cabinet, South Australian Government
- Ben Hall – Co-Founder, Free60
- Nick O’Brien – National Sales Manager, CV Check
You can read the full panel transcription below.
[Greville Pabst]: Welcome back Ludwina, Chris, and Todd and guests. I’d also like to welcome Nick, and Ben to the Q&A panel. Ben, who are you and what do you do?
[Ben Hall]: I’m Ben Hall from Free60 co-founder with Josh Wonzik. We’re essentially an app that connects people with items they no longer need, with people that have some sort of use for them. So, example, a guy rips his fence down, there’s a whole lot of firewood there. There’s a guy who has a country house who comes and collects it. The main aim is to being reduce the amount of hard rubbish that’s put in the landfill, and people with stuff that can benefit others.
Greville: That’s great Ben. Nick, who are you, what do you do?
[Nick O’Brien]: Nick O’Brien from CV Check Limited, National Enterprise Manager. Our mission statement is to provide our clients and partners with truthful information, or the verified information that allows them to build trust and relationships. It’s critical in a platform where we’re talking about a social enterprise or community base. Our checks range from police checks, all the way through to financial regulatory. We operate out of 190 countries and territories.
Greville: Thank you guys for joining the rest of the panel this evening. I’ve got a few questions. The first question for the panel – how can entrepreneurs harness technology and work alongside governments to create social change? Chris, I’m going to put you on the spot for this.
[Chris Adams]: I think that one of the things that are really critical, is that technology is getting easier and easier and easier to build, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I think that the key is partnering, and the key is looking at where you can solve a problem. I think that entrepreneurs who are looking to government to leverage technology, need to really lean into programs. Australia is amazing in its grants programs. It’s already on social entrepreneur without even calling it social entrepreneur. I came here 8 years ago and I couldn’t believe that a tech company or any company could actually get a grant for an MD, or a research and development grant. These are extraordinary things that don’t exist in Silicon Valley.
Now, it’s very hard for us to raise 100 million dollars in an A round, but I think the key is about partnerships, and if you look at something like The Room Xchange, that is a commercial business. It provides a value, it provides a really incredible service for a host and a guest. However, there are all kinds of social and government ramifications for this. Therefore, a company like The Room Xchange can lean into how to extrapolate and accelerate their business through government. I’m not a technologist. I work in the technology sector so I’m probably not the best person to talk about deep platforms. But, what I’ve seen over a 25-year journey, is that it used to be really hard to build stuff. Now, it’s relatively easy, and the IP is about speed and scale. It’s about providing value immediately for users. The government and social, particularly entrepreneurship can provide enormous user groups in which your technology can leverage.
Ben: When we first started Free60 we identified local councils as our ideal group of people we can assist. When you’re driving around, and it’s hard rubbish time, nature strips are loaded full of useable items that could be recycled, reused, repurposed by people that may be able to use it, as opposed to scooped up and dumped. So, we’ve partnered with one or two councils now, and the idea of being able to reduce the amount of landfill that is put in and dissolve a lot of these usable resources back into the community. We went straight to local government for that.
Todd: I don’t know if I’m an expert but from a broader perspective, you know there are things that government can’t do and the world’s going so fast that the government isn’t skilled to do things and there are endless opportunities for entrepreneurs and governments to work together. There’s a really cool initiative out of New York City called Civic Hall where there’s a pool of entrepreneurs who are doing government’s work for them. They’re cohabitating in the building and doing government’s work and that’s a cool idea that and that’s the way the future works. Governments are going to become leaner and shorter. They’re always about five years behind the rest of the society, so pounce on us early because we are always slow on the up take. If you can be first on the curve then no matter what your industry we’ll be part of it.
[01:00:59] Government and Policy
[Ludwina Dautovic]: Interestingly enough we are getting phone calls from government now, requesting meetings with premiers of state, which is wonderful and I see that primarily because they’re kind of stuck in the mud. They know that they have to create infrastructure and create solutions for the housing crisis. By the time they actually settle on what it is that they can do and then they built the infrastructure, the problem is going to be twice as big, because it’s five years down the road. I used to work in the education system and it was the same there too. It’s an elephant, it’s a behemoth to try to do to get the change. But one thing I love about South Australian and I was recently invited to speak there which was the event that time you guys put on for the share collaborative challenge, is that South Australia’s incredibly innovative. They are so far ahead of the rest of the country in regards to how they actually incorporate the community in terms of conversations in where things need to change and I think that we could take the leaf out of the book.
Greville: I agree and I think the government needs to be aware of this. I can draw on some experience from Canada with Toronto and Vancouver. Housing prices got so expensive in those two cities that it actually brought down a government. People socially just could not afford to get into the housing market. I think this is a problem potentially that’s going to happen here in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a social problem so I think it’s important for governments to get involved early.
Ludwina: It’s one thing for a house to be worth something; it’s another for people to have the money to actually pay for it.
Greville: Yes exactly. What are some of the challenges real or perceived to collaborative consumption? How can we overcome these? Nick?
Nick: One of the things I wanted to point out straight away, it’s actually wonderful to be here. I met Ludwina not too long ago and her inspiration and her enthusiasm is contagious. I’m actually going to take away from the question. I’m going to speak to one of the Tweets we saw just recently. One of the risks we talk about in terms of community-based platforms or collaborate based platforms is how do we protect those involved? We ‘re talking about a residential proposition. We are talking about people who own houses and those who are going to become residents for short periods of time or long periods of time. TheTweet actually stated, and I won’t point out who put it up there but I think it’s actually a bit of an elephant in the room, we should bring out and talk about. It stated, are we going to be inviting people into rob our houses? It’s a fairly interesting concept and it’s why Ludwina and The Room Xchange as a community-based platform has partnered with the likes of CV Check. The first and foremost concept for them is to protect the people involved and that’s where CV Check comes into play. I said previously we can actually do full background screenings on those that are either hosting or those that are going to become short stay residents. That can be everything from criminal history checks. We can even look into their employment verification, their education if that was relevant, even to that extent, their traffic history, if they are going to be driving the kids around. There are a whole host of things have come into play, and we are just one piece in making that rigour more enforceable. But definitely one of the things we really have to look out is those that want to adopt a new community-based platform want to feel secure in doing so and we are just one piece of the puzzle to help that out.
Discussion around safety and security
Greville: Thanks Nick. Well, safety and security was actually one of my next questions. Sticking with that theme of security, Ludwina what can you add in terms of that because I suppose it’s a concern for many people about having strangers come into their house and so forth. What can you add to give comfort to people?
Ludwina: I don’t know if any of you were old enough to remember a similar experience but when I was a young single girl and living in Sydney, to find a flatmate you went down to local supermarket and you would see an A4 with a bunch of tear offs at the bottom with phone numbers on it who were looking for a flatmate. You would rip off the number, go out to the local phone box, call them and go out for a beer or coffee or go to their place. You’d talk for half an hour and then move in the next day. There was no Internet so you couldn’t check anyone. There were no social media platforms, no mobile phones and most of those decisions were based on gut instinct and on the person right in front of you. You used all those things to make decisions about people. Today we need a whole lot more because a lot more is available to us. We understand that, so we do everything that is technologically possible to provide those vetting verification processes which is part of creating a profile. In addition to what some of the big sharing economy platforms who have gone before us in the real estate, accommodation space, we’re actually doing more. We have a $10 million insurance policy to cover both hosts and guests and they have to have a police check so we doing to two massive things bigger than what most of our people in the industry are actually doing. I think that’s really important because the more knowledge we have the more that we know, the more knowledge we feel that we need to have. We have that and it gives you that safety and security. But again, ask any of our hosts and guests here tonight how they feel about that and how they made that decision as well. It’s important but at the end of the day after you’ve done all the vetting and verification, you have to trust your own instinct like we did in the days of old.
Ben: Who provides their name and address first then robs your house? It’s generally through a tech platform you have to be subscribed to.
Overcoming Challenges in the Sharing Economy
Greville: Good point. Let’s flip it back around to my original question. What are some of the challenges, real or perceived, to collaborative consumption and how can we overcome them?
Todd: From the government sector, regulation in some instances deregulation, with anything is quite new, there’s going to be winners and losers and how do we protect those people? I’m not talking about taxi vs uber kind of thing. It’s happening so fast and governments are notoriously not good at being agile, to use corny phrase, but we have actually grown with this thing and have adapted to it as it happens. If we don’t, we are trying to change regulation for something that we haven’t already experienced before. The other thing is this whole future of work idea. I’m conscious of the fact that the next generation of children coming through now won’t really know and won’t really experience jobs the way we’ve experienced jobs. It’ll be completely different. Thye will likely be making their money by delivering services on a series of platforms. There are all these things we build social systems around the traditional idea of jobs, welfare, superannuation all these things we need to rethink. In the same way, the increase in life expectancy, making the pension unsustainable, this kind of new way that we are trading in commerce, is actually blowing up all those social systems underneath. So it’s the government that needs to worry about that as well.
Greville: Where does Australia sit in terms of the sharing economy and how do we compare with the rest of the world?
Todd: I think we are more heavily regulated. We’ve got bigger protections that block these kinds of things. If you look at other countries and initiatives such as Feastly in America, which is about cooking in people’s homes, we’ve got massive road blocks. Ideas like that that have to work around health systems and safety. From our perspective, we block a little bit more than other countries.
Ludwina: One of the challenges we faced was getting the insurance in place. It was very difficult dealing with traditional insurers who are hesitant and uneasy about the sharing economy space. It took us eight months of conversations to actually get them to a place where we could get the kind of coverage that we needed. I think regulation in Australia definitely needs to change and service providers also need to change because there’s a lot of innovative ideas. Look at Airtasker and they came from Australia. I think they raised about $17 million or more and that’s phenomenal. We have that in this country and we have the resources to back it. I think Australians can actually get behind the Australian companies who are creating the sharing economy platforms. It can only but do great for our economic status here and also in terms of how we’re perceived in the world.
Chris: I’ll just speak for being the token yank.I’ve been coming here since 2000 but moved here in 2008/2009. The quality and the candor and character of Australian entrepreneurs is on par if not exceeding any place in the world and I was inside Silicon Valley. Because of grit, because we are a punter nation, you know… two cockroaches going up the wall, 50 bucks. There is a proclivity and it doesn’t just mean that we need to punt on digging a hole in the ground and building a house on top of it; the spirit exists. I hear everything that’s going on but I also, believe, if I can very humbly speak for the world, I am continually amazed and impressed and blown away by the inventiveness and the inventions and the entrepreneurship and the companies that come out of Australia. That’s not because I’m here and I have to back. There are companies here that are doing what no one else in the world is, no one else in the world. We invented Google Maps. We invented Wi-Fi here in this country and we are all amazed by this because this is tall poppy syndrome hangover. There is this island nation hangover; this tyranny of distance hangover and it doesn’t exist anymore. The incredible thing is that we have mature entrepreneurs; people like Ludwina. She’s 50. If you’re 50 in Silicon Valley you better be a billionaire. You don’t get to start a company in Silicon Valley if you’re 50 years old, here you do, because you have experience because you’ve been there, because you have an origin story. I just want to stick my hand up and say that… as an American… who has come here and has embraced the tech industry and has been involved in everything from private to listed companies. I’m continually blown away I think we should celebrate that.
Greville: I agree and well said, Chris. Chris and I were talking a little bit earlier about how I go to the US every year for a conference in the banking and real estate industry. They’re 10 years behind us in terms of the amount of regulation they have and in regards to innovation… they’re ten years behind us. We have got a lot going for us in this country.
We’re basically blown up Twitter tonight! This is a question from Twitter. Ludwina. can you share the process that you go through in matching guests and hosts?
The process of matching guests and hosts
Ludwina: The first thing you do is register on the site. You’ll then be contacted by us. We’ll hold your hand through the process. We’ll ask you a series of questions. I’ve been told is not that different to a dating service! When you think about it, we need to match the host with the guest based on personality and value types and how they like to be in a household as well. It’s understanding how the household and the vibe of the household work. We work that out and find out what you like before we actually match you with someone. It’s also based on what you’re willing to do, what the guests and the hosts require you to do, location is important, whether you like pets or not; all these sorts of things coming into play. And then it’s like…that person would be great with that household. So far our experience has shown us that we’re a hundred percent spot on. This will eventually be turned into an algorithm which we’re working on with our tech team. At the moment it’s a handheld process and once we become bigger and it does become more automated, there will still be that hand-holding service, at a premium, should you like to have it.
Access to housing, childcare and social inclusion
Greville: Chris, what is the role of business in addressing some of these key issues in our society such as access to housing, childcare, social inclusion would say about that?
Chris: I think there was a light green washing that came out of populism by the Nuvo Rich around the world that built tech companies. Young and corporate environments started to pretend that they were socially relevant when they were actually trying to do something else. I think that that’s largely going away. I think that businesses have a responsibility to the people that work in them and that sounds quite heavy, but you can’t hide anymore. This is the reality. You cannot hide… social media, mobile, all the communications technology we have means that we are transparent whether we like it or not. I think that to the degree that the business community, as it relates to economic growth, as it relates to bottom line, as it relates to wealth creation and value creation in GDP, to the degree that they embrace the sharing economy, they embrace families, they embrace housing, they embrace sustainability, they’re going to win. There are a zillion studies that prove this but you just look at our lives right, it doesn’t matter how old you are… it’s tough to be a parent or to be elderly, have elderly people in your life, to be a friend. It’s tough to live in the suburb that we want to, it’s really hard and business and community need to come together. I think that it’s happening but the pressure needs to be kind of a pincer move. What Todd was talking about from government. But also there’s a hysteria that comes in social media that needs to be focused. Look at America. The hysteria about the incumbent president right now and nothing is being done about it and I’m not saying for or against. But I think if you have government coming down and you have have grassroots coming up, you’re going to meet in the middle and ultimately it will level out. I think that business has a responsibility to be broader.
Ben: This should also take a pioneering role because as Todd mentioned earlier, governments are sort of a little lagarde with staying up with the times. I think utilising private enterprise and innovation to fill that gap and take up the slack with what the government can’t deliver or back up where the government can’t meet the needs of the social.
Greville: So now is the time for the audience if you have a question.
Audience Question #1: You mentioned that you’re looking for partners. Is there a particular industry or partner you need that you don’t have at the moment? There seems to be quite a few people on board?
Ludwina: When you think about the broad range of our user base there are lots of potential partnerships. I want to give one example. We’ve have Anne- Marie Cross here tonight who produces the podcast show for us. She’s a communications partner. If you go to the TheRoomXchangepodcast.com there are five episodes on iTunes. Anne-Marie produces the whole show including the branding, music… everything we need to produce the show. Then we have Ben here from Free60. Our businesses share the same target market. We are looking for partners with food products, entertainment but also businesses who share similar values. I was speaking to someone tonight from the aged care community and I thought that would be a fantastic partner where we can work with the people that add value to what you’re doing and where we can add value back to us. We are like most startups; we are boot strapping but if we can find people and businesses we can work with that can provide a win win both ways then we all win. If you talk to Aisha Hillary, she’s incredible at developing partnerships. It’s a great question but it’s a broad one. There are Communication partners, services, there are all sorts. We like to be very targeted and focused but because of the broad range of who our hosts and guests are there are a lot of opportunities there. If you do have an idea and want to have a conversation with us and play ‘what if’ and if it works great! We are willing to have that conversation up front.
Audience Question #2: “Chris Adams, why are you behind The Room Xchange?”
Chris: The very quick answer is.. it’s obvious. It’s obvious because I’m a dear friend and love Ludwina and she has been such a supporter of mine, but if The Room Xchange sucked I wouldn’t be here. It’s an amazing idea that when you get your head around it, it’s obvious. The sharing economy has been built by very commercial and at a very big level like Uber and Airbnb and when you just realise that what Ludwina is doing is so simple and so valuable and so broad and so universal. It’s just obvious and one of the things I love and one of the blessings of my career is that I’ve been involved in very obvious things that I have seen very very early. People ask me, “So Chris, when you were in Facebook in 2006 when there were 200 people in the company and there were 6 million users did you guys know that it was going to have 2 billion users?”, the answer is yes! You knew from day 1. Everybody has a different story. When Ludwina talked to me about The Room Xchange I went yes. That doesn’t make me a genius it makes me a feeling person who gets something. I’m involved because I believe in it and it will work and that’s why it is working. It’s obvious there is a problem out there that a lot of people are trying to solve in one way. Whether that’s Expedia or Airbnb; it is a commercial transaction. There is an obvious solution that is not just about a credit card and it’s bigger than a credit card and when you get your head around that you realise.. holy crap! This is gigantic!!! And so I want to support her the entire way.
Audience Question #3: There are a lot of Australians backing other large companies that are going to the U.S
Chris: My view is that countries like Australia that has 20 million people here or 23 or whatever generation you’re in think we have to go some place else. America is tough; it’s really tough. It doesn’t mean you can’t crack it. I think Australians have a unique advantage to America. Australia is the only country in the world nobody hates, honestly, because everybody is so nice. I think there is a natural proclivity to want to go to America whether you’re a tech company or a big corporate. The reality is, Australians can but they need to decide whether they should. This a western nation that is an Asian nation and the only western country that can do business with China. I’m not saying that that is where you should go. I just think that there is this legacy that is being quickly and rapidly broken down which leads to this drive to go to America. I see it all the time in the entrepreneur community. People raise some money and build something and think it won’t be useful here so I need to go to Silicon Valley. They get creamed, not because they are not smart, not because their idea is not any good, not because their value proposition isn’t any good, but because they think that they can survive in the culture and the culture is terrible. It’s competitive and terrible. and also Americans share everything, whereas the first thing you do in Australia when you start a business and then spend a million dollars with a patent lawyer and a copyright lawyer before you have built anything. These are legacies we need to overcome. I think your question is about globalisation and I think that Australia is unbelievably poised to be global because no one hates us, and we produce goods and services and ideas and technologies and products that the world loves. Sorry if I’m being presumptive, but I think that Australia’s biggest challenge, which I hope to someday be apart of when my accent smooths out, is just to get over ourselves. There’s no reason in the world why we can’t occupy a global stage right now and the thing slowing us is our own legacy feelings about ourselves. But we are out there, look atAatlassian, look at some of the biggest companies in the world that went yeah well we can do it.
Audience Question #4: Why are entrepreneurs wanting to go to the USA?
Chris: I meet entrepreneurs all the time that have that mentality but it may be something that is very easy to break. It may be something really easy to overcome. If it’s not, it’s deep rooted. I’ve only been here 8 years so I don’t know any better. I just go in and say…you can do it.
Audience Question #5: Chris, there was an article last week that said Singapore is becoming the new Silicon Valley, especially for Australian tech because it’s much easier for us as we have a whole market waiting there for us. What are your comments on that?
Chris: Every place is the new Silicon Valley. I’d just be very interested in what you guys think because over my 25 year tech career every 2 minutes there’s the new Silicon Valley. It’s Berlin, it’s Israel, its Venice Beach, and then its New York and its Soho and then it’s Adelaide. Adelaide is the new Silicon Valley, except if you go to Surry Hills in Sydney and then they’re the new Silicon Valley and then the Valley in Brisbane. Look at West End, Vulture Street it’s ripping. I think the great thing is that everywhere is Silicon Valley.
Greville: Whoever has the lowest tax rate is the key thing too.
Nick: I think one of the other things you take away from this, and this is probably from being out on the road a fair amount nationally, is the amount of incubator schemes. Shared work spaces and collaborative work spaces are popping up day in day out. You’ve got major banks that are offering shared work spaces for free, to not only attract their current customer base but also they’re new customers. You’ve got one of the biggest in Sydney with 130 incubator businesses operating out of one building. Everyone can talk about Silicon Valley and people moving away but there is a very very solid proposition around building tech based businesses. Ideas, collaboration in Australia, from my perspective, I deal with a lot of them everyday and it’s hot and it’s moving forward. We have seen it today with Ludwina. But there are a lot of good ideas coming out of here and I think the ones chasing the American dream are chasing a different kind of industry sector.
Audience Question #6: Is there any particular demographic or group that is more comfortable in The Room Xchange?
Ludwina: I haven’t experienced that yet, not to say that it’s not going to come up. As I said we just did our soft launch about 3 months ago. What I’m finding is, it’s based more on the person’s values and the personality type than it is about, what country they’re from or a particular background. Where it’s very clear and evident to us from being straight up when we speak to somebody, is if they are right for The Room Xchange or not. We can pick it straight away just by certain questions they ask. If you are a person who is open and you like to share your space and you’re a people person, you’re likely to be ideal. There is no one special country or culture that actually fits that, so across the board, it’s based more on the personality type as opposed to where they’re from.
Audience Question #7: Who’s an ideal investor for The Room Xchange?
Ludwina: What kind of people do we want to work with? Nice people is good. People who can relate and understand the vision. Companies would have to be in line with our values. For example, we wouldn’t go for a petroleum company because it is not good for the environment. We would consider where the investment comes from and we would also appreciate the investors who could contribute to The Room Xchange in terms of support, contacts, networks, their own intelligence, personal values and help to steer us in the way that we want to go.
Question #8: Discussion around homelessness, mission and goals
Ludwina: The question was about homelessness and is that a part of our mission and goal. We want to be a mature company and to be able to have the resources behind us to make an impact on homelessness. Where I see it, a lot of people become homeless purely because of life circumstance not because of extreme circumstance. There is social welfare available, there are a lot of wonderful groups, that can help to deal with those situations. But when I hear stories of, for example, a woman who is over fifty and almost homeless because of the fact that when she was divorced, left with very little and didn’t have enough superannuation to be able to afford to pay to live, being a guest on The Room Xchange for a year while she gets herself back on her feet is a preventative to her not becoming homeless. That’s where I see us being a precursor homelessness, when stuff happens in your life and you just need a soft place to fall and somewhere where you can land and just take a breath, not have to worry about whether you have got a roof over your head, food on your plate, by just helping out around the house. The support that you also get from the people that are your hosts is wonderful. Guillaume, who lived with us for 18 months, used to say it’s like he’s got a second family. He didn’t realize how much it would impact him emotionally and how much he would learn about himself. Nicola and I had some great conversations and if you ask her I’m sure she’ll share some of those with you in terms of how we give to each other’s lives. People should never become homeless because of circumstance and nobody in this country should be homeless because of bad luck. There was a story in a Canberra paper about a university student, Sarah Walker, who was homeless for 64 days because she couldn’t afford university housing in Canberra. It’s insane that it happens here. We should have more viable options. The Room Xchange is an option. We need more viable options to come up with solutions for people who are struggling with the high cost of living. It is ridiculous. When I was living on my own as a young woman paying $100 a week rent, I was making $400 a week, and it was viable; it’s not viable today. We need to do something different so that doesn’t happen. It’s a mission but as a for profit company with a social impact. Right now it’s very much about developing the company and making it a mature company so one day soon we can sit back with the resources that we have developed and say, “what can we do with this to help make an impact?”
Greville: Thank you Ludwina, I just want to thank Ludwina for sharing her story with us tonight. I would also like to thank all of the panel members who have given up their time and have been very generous with their knowledge. I would like to thank The Room Xchange for their kind hospitality. I’d like to thank the audience for coming along and wanting to learn more about the sharing economy plus you will walk away with a better knowledge of the housing crisis that we have in this country and some of the options that we have through The Room Xchange.