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5Q PropTech Interview - Shelli K. Trung Managing Partner at REACH

March 1, 2022

1. Could you tell us about your professional journey, from a career in marketing to real estate, to startup funding, and how these experiences have informed your current role as Managing Partner at REACH Australia?

I’ve often referred to myself as a career chameleon. I believe this has something to do with my addiction to that steep learning curve of “I don’t know what I don’t know” and riding the upwards wave to “unconsciously competent”.

I actually graduated with a science degree so asking lots of questions, testing and figuring out the most effective and efficient path comes naturally to me. This is a skill set that I have carried into my early days of marketing which were really change management roles through to now assessing startups in a range of industries that I may not have deep expertise in.

My corporate roles really anchored me on how organisations work - both small to large in terms of managing risk and change. After graduating with a major in neuroscience, I had an appreciation of how humans learn and perceive risk but seeing how this played out in a work setting from junior staff through to C-suites was eye-opening.

These early lessons on overcoming “hearts and minds” has been incredibly important when I assess founders on funding and observe how they get deals done. You may have the most earth shattering piece of tech but if you’re unable to communicate it in a way that brings people together for a common purpose, then it won’t go very far and this applies to careers also.

2. What are the main challenges facing the Australasian RE Market and what role does PropTech play in addressing these challenges?

Lots of the themes that have probably been discussed at length globally and is no different for our region is climate tech and remote access given our current challenges with both rising sea levels and the pandemic. However, what those outside of our region might not be aware of is the intensity of the need.

A few headlines include:

  • Indonesia moving their capital city from Jakarta to the island of Borneo given the city is sadly, slowly sinking into the ocean.
  • Singapore has declared its ambitious goal of not just being a smart city but a smart nation.
  • China is building completely new green cities from the ground up including Tianjin Eco-city.
  • Australia continues to hold its top spot on GRESB for the 11th year running. GRESB is a leading ESG building benchmark.

While the rest of the world is talking about it, Australasia is getting it done frequently without much fanfare! These ambitious can only be achieved with a massive integration and adoption of technology across the entire real estate sector. It’s really exciting to be back operating in this region and seeing all this after my expat stints living in the US!

3. As a successful businesswoman, do you have any guidance for young women or minorities looking to develop a career in Real Estate Technologies?

I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been challenging at times and no doubt these challenges will continue for at least my generation. I was the first of my family to graduate high school let alone a university degree and so I was oblivious to what was appropriate and inappropriate in a business environment.

However, I was extremely fortunate to have had a succession of amazing bosses throughout my working career who really supported and guided me. They were often the only executive women at their level and I learnt a lot by watching them handle themselves and those around them with complete professionalism, integrity and care. Their trust in me built my confidence over time.

Then what I lacked in real life, I topped up with an avalanche of professional development books, audio and events. I am very good at admitting I don’t know something and then going out to find the answers, ie. I take responsibility for my own learning.

When you accept that frequently a lot of people don’t know what why are doing but doing the best they can, this frees you up to focus less on yourself and more on helping others. Real estate tech is new so is a fantastic opportunity for all of us to break new ground together.

4. In your opinion, which PropTech vertical has the most potential currently and why?

In addition to those I’ve mentioned above, I see a lot opportunities to merge aged tech and proptech. I hope that by the time I am physically a very old lady (as opposed to mentally right now!), I would be able to live at home comfortably and the floors can detect I’ve fallen over or need assistance. I know this technology already exists but it has yet to be massively adopted. An apple watch can also already detect a fall.

I’d also like to see more safety tech created to make women feel safe. While there are concerns with privacy, a lot of computer vision tech attached to buildings/precincts can already pick up anti-social behaviour but usually, that is after the fact.

How can we be more preventative to allow for women to move freely in our social and work settings? Women make most of the purchasing decisions in the household and now makeup 50% of B2B decision making too so this is a huge untapped opportunity.

5. Last year you were included in the 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians Awards for your contribution to growing diversity within your industry. How can programs such as REACH help to foster diversity in the industry?

Diversity is easy to talk about but hard to implement. Having worked in a number of change management roles, one of the key things I see missing is putting in some effort to measure and set a goal. Then creating the steps needed to get this done with a team where possible and reporting back.

It sounds simple but even on an individual level, few of us write our goals down and consistently review! One of the steps I took when I joined REACH, being a data geek, was to start measuring the number of women and culturally diverse backgrounds that applied and then successfully received an offer into our program.

The measurement needs to be at the start of the funnel as it challenges you to think more creatively. It also has to be a collective team effort. I’m happy to report that in our first year, we achieved 30% on both metrics which carried through to the final class. Our 3rd REACH Australia class which we have just finalised is the most diverse yet where for the first time, we accepted more international founders than the Australian ones! Still plenty to do.

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