Blok, listed as one of the Hottest 100 European Startups by Wired UK, has secured several renowned investors to promote the company’s product development and marketing in its second round of financing.
The Helsinki-based startup company aims to revolutionize the housing market through automation and artificial intelligence. Blok believes that the future of the housing market will be on the Internet, where intelligent technology is opening up new opportunities for disrupting traditional business models.
The company has secured an international group of investors, including the €100 million German investment fund Picus Capital GmBh; former Supercell marketing executive and angel investor Erlend Christoffersen; and one of Evli Bank‘s founders and main shareholders, Henrik Andersin.
Samu Hautala (Lead Developer), Olli Gunst (Head of Marketing), Rudi Skogman (CEO), Kimi Miettinen (Head of Customer Service), Juha Jokela, (CTO)
Blok automates the home sales process
The company’s virtual estate agent, launched as a beta version and developed quickly in early 2017, makes the sale of homes simple, affordable, and secure. The AI-empowered service automates the routine work associated with home-selling. It takes care of property-related data processing, property marketing, and the generation of sales documents and other related documents.
The service is gaining popularity in Finland. Currently, it lists more than €20 million worth of apartments for sale. Flats sold through Blok’s virtual estate agent have been sold three to five times faster than similar flats in the same residential areas, often at higher-than-average prices. At the same time, homeowners have saved more than €225,000 in real estate agency fees, thanks to the 0.75% fee for Blok’s intelligent service. This is considerably lower than traditional real estate agent fees. In addition, Blok does not collect any fees if a sale doesn’t take place or if the seller wants to stop using the service.
How the investment will boost Blok’s growth
I asked Blok’s CEO, Rudi Skogman, how they convinced the investors to join in. “It’s a combination of luck and good connections,” he said. “The investors saw how little innovation has taken place in home sales and housing, and how this is the last industry where startups have not entered. The industry is ripe for disruption, and we are among the first to do something new. This investment round will definitely help us move to the next stage. Our intention is to make us known in Finland and validate the service model.” Blok’s goal is to sell 50 properties per month through their virtual real estate agent by the end of 2017. The company will use its new funds for both technical development and marketing. Slightly more than 50 percent of the money will go to technology and service development, and the rest will go to marketing. “It’s clear that in this business, marketing and R&D go hand in hand.”
Blok has four founding members. Rudi is the CEO, Olli Gunst is responsible for marketing, and Samu Hautala and Juha Jokela are technical developers. Kimi Miettinen has joined as Head of Customer Service. He takes care of sales and is also a certified real estate agent. The next recruits will include a brand marketer; the technical team will double in size, and possibly one more person will be hired for customer service.
Rudi explains their technology development needs: “Our goal is to be fully automated. There are still some parts of the process that require manual input, e.g., reading the data from a house manager’s certificate. We’re looking for machine vision algorithms to automate that as well. Another development area is our pricing algorithm. The seller must be confident that the suggested price is as correct as possible.” Blok also wants to be among the first to make real estate data accessible and meaningful for the consumer.
I asked Rudi how Blok has been able to move so fast in an industry that is otherwise slow to change. “I think it’s the combination of a strong founding team and ability to anticipate and avoid possible pitfalls in building a startup. I, Juha, and Samu have been among the key organizers of Slush over many years. In addition, our concept is simple and easy to sell,“ Rudi replied. “Getting rid of the real estate agent: that’s an easy-to-grasp idea.”
Blok’s service stands out from other virtual real estate agent services. For example, in the UK, some companies have taken agents out of the field and placed them in front of a PC. They do things manually, making 50 sales in a month, compared to 10 in a traditional process. However, with Blok’s technology, Kimi could make 500 or even 1,000 sales per month. His only duty would be to check out that the sales agreements are in order.
Blok participates in the Finnish government’s flagship initiative for the built environment: the KIRA-digi program. Rudi is grateful to the program for providing opportunities to present their idea at several events, get feedback, and get Blok known in Finland. They’ve also received funding through KIRA-digi.
Blok’s ambition is to take over the Nordic housing market in the next couple of years. The market is quite similar in each country, but growth outside one’s own country is always challenging. “We want to be local in every market. We’ll hire a local team of three to four people. They will take care of marketing, sales, and customer service as it is accustomed in that market,” Rudi explains. “We have many contacts from our Slush background. That will help us tremendously as we extend the business abroad.”
For more information, contact Rudi Skogman, CEO, Blok Enterprises, rudi(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)blok.ai, tel. +358 50 3533813