REALtalk – with Hugh Kolias (yuhu)



On this episode of REALtalk, Hugh Kolias, CEO of yuhu, joins REALPAC CEO Michael Brooks and COO Carolyn Lane to discuss the state of technology in the multi family asset class, Canada’s progress in this space, and how leaders can equip themselves for the future.

The episode covers:

  • The state of technology in the multi family market
  • Canada’s relative advances and lags in this area
  • The value of tech during the pandemic, and how tech helped
  • Future thinking “must digitize” areas, and tips for asset owners
  • Innovations in Canada, US and Europe

About Hugh Kolias:

Hugh received a Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering from Queen’s University in 2012. Hugh left his job at a Toronto-based hedge fund to become CEO of his own company and launched Yuhu in late 2016. Yuhu is a comprehensive SaaS platform focused on improving and unifying property operations, processes and resident experiences to multifamily owners and operators across the US, Canada and Europe. Some of Yuhu’s client’s include CAPREIT, Boardwalk, Campus Living Centers and Hollyburn.

Podcast transcript: 

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Hey, Michael. So before we get started, here’s a little background on our guest today. In 2012, he received a Bachelor of Applied Science in mechanical engineering from Queens University. He went on to the job at a Toronto based hedge fund and after four years, he left become CEO of his own company and launched yuhu in late 2016. You is a comprehensive software as a service or SaaS platform, and it’s focused on improving and unifying property operations, processes and resident experiences to multifamily owners and operators across Canada, the US and Europe. Some of you whose Canadian clients include Boardwalk REIT, Campus Living Centers, and Hollyburn.

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Thanks so much for having me, everyone.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): All right, Hugh, let’s start with the state of tech in the multifamily owner market, and I’m using apartment and multifamily interchangeably today. You’re talking to multifamily building owners all over North America. Where are we in terms of relative sophistication in Canada? Can you give examples? What’s lagging behind and what’s seemingly up to date?

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Yeah, absolutely. It’s been an interesting journey over the last couple of years. And I’d say Canada’s definitely made a decent headway over the last two, three years, which has been fantastic to see. I think what is repeatedly articulated a lot of industry conferences is, you know, Canada’s five, ten years behind from a technology adoption curve. And as we have our conversations with property managers really across the world, I don’t know if that’s as valid today. And there’s been a lot of focus on the resident experience in Canada. So there’s a lot of companies and property management, owner operators who are focusing in on that resident experience through whether it’s apps or online portals, which provide a great platform for on the smart home side. I think we’re maybe a couple of years behind from an adoption perspective, but the US isn’t necessarily that much further ahead. There hasn’t been mass adoption and the players are really still kind of duking it out to find kind of that that industry standard. And I think that’s what everyone’s kind of waiting for. It’s a difficult problem to solve from a hardware perspective. There’s tons of different hardware providers across the spectrum. And really finding a provider that can consolidate all of those into one I think is probably the key to success there. So there’s a couple of great names coming out of the US, but Canada is definitely a little bit further behind from even just kind of jump starting at least kind of dipping our toes in as a as a as a country, I guess you could say.

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): So that’s probably the biggest area that we’re we’re behind that in terms of access to different technologies. A lot of what’s available in the US is available in Canada as well. And you see a big concentration. The biggest difference, I’d say, actually, is that there’s a bigger concentration of Yardi based clients in Canada than the US. So a lot of clients are kind of adopting the Yardi stack and then augmenting it with other point solutions or platforms like ourselves that kind of sit on top. So definitely when we first started a couple, was it four or five years ago now? I guess six actually almost. We we noticed in a lot of our conversations that there was a hesitancy to adopt cloud, adopt SAS and that conversation has definitely dissipated, which is being great. So that’s helped kind of accelerate that tech adoption curve within the property management industry. And it’s definitely accelerating. So lots of exciting kind of initiatives going on across a lot of our clients and within other prospects that we talk to within Canada. And I definitely say we’re we’re not as far behind as everyone would like us to think, which is which is exciting. I think that’s that’s great for Canada and and great for the industry.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Yeah, that’s interesting. When I think about REALPAC’s experience, you know, we and most organizations in Canada, with the onset of the pandemic, had to pivot to becoming digital immediately, every part of our operations and communications and banking and so on and so forth. Have you seen anything similar with the apartment owners? Have they have they learned about the value of tech during the pandemic? And if so, what have they done? What have they been doing and where has tech helped?

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Yeah, it’s it was I think just about everyone saw that that meme that was going around on LinkedIn about it was the biggest driver for your technology transformation plans. And it had a couple of options and it was one of them. And of course, covid was the answer. And that really drove a lot of companies, I think it just about every every vertical to adopt some sort of technology. So we saw a lot of clients adopt kind of WhatsApp or Facetime or any of the other kind of virtual video conferencing tools to do virtual showings, a lot of clients would set up kind of like payment portals and just try to try to bring everything online as quickly as possible. I think what that has caused, though, is a little bit of a hodgepodge. Let’s call it a hodgepodge of technology solutions that clients have kind of put together because they had to put it together really, really quickly over one to three month time period once covid hit. So now what we’re seeing is everyone’s kind of digesting their technology changes and looking to us or other providers to kind of consolidate some of the the point solutions or ad hoc solutions or providers that they put in as quickly as possible. So that’s been a very interesting, I think theme for this year is call it digesting of a massive change in such a short period of time.

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): But it’s super commendable. I think a lot of our clients went through just insane amounts of change from a technology perspective. They probably did five times more initiatives. It’s maybe a bit of an over exaggeration within that time period than they would have within like a couple of years, which is which is great to see. And now we’re kind of just digesting that through. So we’ll have a lot of interest on the payment side. I think that’s a piece that everyone wants to kind of bring online and really directing residents and their inquiries online, because that saves a lot of time from a site perspective. And coming out of the pandemic, no one really knows what kind of social norms are going to exist, whether people are going to go back to kind of that site office initiative experience or we’re going to transition more to self serve and more people are more comfortable towards that, which is, of course, our bet. So that’s definitely been an exciting shift and change, I think, that we’ve seen over the last year. And I think kudos to the industry for really driving that change forward and meeting the needs and putting safety first.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): So, Hugh, what’s the way forward and what are some of the must digitize areas of the apartment industry? Do they have a payback period or how should owners drive what to digitize next? What are the next steps?

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Yeah, it’s a great question. I think now that we’ve gone past kind of the pandemic and doing the must haves in terms of health and safety, the next step is, as any any business owner always thinks about, is is ROI and payback. And that can come in a number of different ways, whether it’s a bump in rents because you’re providing a better service to your end users or it’s a savings in costs. So whether that’s the tech is allowing you to operate that save on the operational side of your business. So what we see as themes, I think a big part of it is centralizing some of the administrative overhead. And that’s really what we’re we’re gearing towards and have kind of built our platform around is focusing in on as an example on the leasing experience. There’s a lot of administrative overhead in terms of approving applications and consolidating a lot of that into a head office role instead of having your your site staff perform that on the maintenance side as well, trying to provide a more centralized way of of scheduling and dispatching and instead of having dedicated staff per building, being able to increase essentially the number of units per staff member on the maintenance side. So those are some great kind of areas and initiatives that take both technology and a change in operational processes to move that move that forward.

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): And definitely some some exciting things that we’re working with, with clients and prospects on rental payments, as well as another big one that I think we’re just in the early innings on. A lot of residents are still paying by check and going to the side office. So there’s not only administrative overhead there, but also in the age of covid trying to minimize that as much as possible. I think having an online payment portal at the very least, I think really helps with with that transition. And then, as we mentioned, kind of in the first opening, I think that the smart apartment building component is definitely a great area to explore. Companies in the US are seeing kind of rental bumps for units that have kind of that. Smart apartment asks features and functionality, and there’s also operational aspects that when you merge that with one of your operational platforms, you’re able to consolidate some of the processes, such as the twenty four hour notice of entry on the maintenance side, being able to automate that whole process, give the maintenance technician the ability to type in the code. That’s one time once the permission is granted and accessing the unit, little things like that actually add up to quite a bit from an ROI and cost savings perspective.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): And is there anything really innovative going on in Canada, the US or Europe in regard to digitization in the multifamily space?

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Definitely. I’d say the the smart apartment access control that whole realm. I think there’s there’s lots of activity occurring there on the payments and even insurance side. There’s some interesting developments there, whether it’s deposit insurance for the smaller mom and pop landlords, there’s even a full kind of rent insurance. So if the resident defaults on rents or destroys the unit, you’re essentially fully covered for a certain number of months, upwards of six months to a year. And so it’s neat to kind of see some of the fintech related aspects that have really kind of been spurred, I think, as partly through the pandemic and the smart home and smart apartment piece has been going for the last five plus years. But it’s really up until the last couple of years where you’ve seen a big movement there. I think SmartRent is IPing over the next couple of weeks, which is exciting. So they’d probably be one of the leaders in the space from that perspective. Latch has some some beautiful hardware. So definitely those two areas I think are are areas to watch from an innovation perspective. And then there’s lots of, I think providers, ourselves included, that are really kind of focusing in on that resident site staff and even the physical property experience, because they’re all kind of tied into one one area and trying to really optimize that for for the future, which we’d argue is almost four for the current state. I think a lot of the conversations are focused in around, you know, how far behind is Canada from the US. But I think another way of rephrasing that is how far behind is the industry from where the consumer behavior is today? And from that vantage point, I’d say we’re definitely five or 10 years behind. And that’s really what’s spurring a lot of these providers. And even the larger, you know, the yards and the real pages of the world are also really focused on trying to bring the industry forward.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Terrific Hugh. Thank you very much for joining us today. We’re so pleased that we have a Canadian flag bearer with yuhu in the space, we’re so pleased that you’re keeping us up to date on a technology point of view. And I’m hoping there’s a lot more upside for you going forward. We’ve been speaking with Hugh Kolias, CEO of yuhu.

Hugh Kolias (yuhu): Well, thank you so much for having me, Michael and Carolyn. Really, really appreciate it. It was a great conversation.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Well, this is Michael Brooks and that’s it for this week’s episode of REALtalk. Be sure to visit us at Realpac.ca/REALtalk and subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcast. If you have an idea for a topic or a guest, please send me an email at podcast@realpac.ca. And if you like what you hear, give us a five-star rating. Thank you for listening and tune in next time.