Over the past decade, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, economic storms, and mergers and acquisitions in the tech industry, few startups have maintained an unwavering presence. 2024 marks the 10th anniversary of Rotterdam-based real estate tech company Chainels, whose story is one of resilience.
Celebrating a decade of healthy growth in an industry where many startups stumble, Chainels stands tall as a tenant experience platform provider with a loyal footprint in seventeen markets across Benelux, DACH, Italy, France, CEE, Turkey, United Kingdom and Nordics.
Chainels cater to a wide range of asset types like shopping malls, residential apartments, student accommodations, coliving buildings, inner cities and districts, office buildings, business parks, airports and train stations. Among its client portfolio, Chainels has commercial and residential real estate giants like Multi Corporation, SCC, G City, EPP, CBRE, Vienna Airport City, Amvest and BPD; as well as municipal communities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Malmö and Gothenburg.
What started as a graduation project at the Delft University of Technology has become a major player in the PropTech world, employing more than forty individuals including an in-house development team. Co-founders Erwin Buckers and Sander Verseput led the company from humble beginnings to securing a Series-A investment from Aconterra and Capricorn Partners in January 2023.
‘’Steady growth is a challenge for all companies. We owe our legacy in the PropTech & UrbanTech landscape to believing in the huge potential of tech adoption in real estate, no matter how slow it may come. As they say in Rotterdam, ‘Niet lullen, maar poetsen’ (don’t talk, just do it)… that is the only way tech adoption will stick around and show impact,’’ says Erwin, Chainels’ co-founder and CEO.
Their story of navigating stability and growth is an inspiration to their industry, as well as to the entire SaaS community.
From a Business Networking Platform to a Comprehensive Tenant Experience Solution
In January 2014, Chainels opened its doors at the incubator YES!Delft, initially with a product intended as a generic business networking platform. ‘’Over the years, we worked on narrowing our focus. We witnessed the need to make communications easier in multi-tenant buildings and inner-city management. Choosing built environments as our main market made the most sense,’’ says Erwin.
‘’We’ve been a direct witness to the shift in the market from traditional placemaking to very tech-savvy, sustainable and tenant-centric property operations. Our product reflects this transition as well, as Chainels is now an end-to-end platform where you can manage a wide range of property operations, not only communications,’’ adds Sander Verseput, COO.
The real estate industry is changing for the better, agree both founders. Landlords care about the social value and convenience that their buildings offer to people living and working in them. At the same time, gaining the trust of big whales in the built world takes time. That is why Erwin and Sander focused on building trust in the Dutch retail real estate and inner city management verticals and opened up to international markets and other asset types later.
‘’If the first tenant experience platform was launched twenty years ago, it would not be a success. Ten years ago, it was a nice-to-have. Today, it is a must-have. In terms of market maturity, PropTech is only now catching up with FinTech. Compared to five or six years ago, many platforms these days are customisable and easy to integrate. This has accelerated tech adoption in real estate, and helped landlords own their tech,’’ remarks Erwin.
Maintaining Long-Lasting Market Presence
If there is one thing that Sander and Erwin care most about, it is building something that will stand the test of time. For nine years, Chainels maintained healthy growth without needing to raise capital. The Series-A investment in 2023 came as an accelerator to expand brand visibility in the European market, employ top-level talent, and improve product quality.
‘’We critically evaluate how we can spend our resources to make the most impact. We don’t enter a market where we don’t see proven potential in tech adoption. We grow with a ‘land-and-expand’ strategy – start a pilot project with a new client, create a good customer experience, and roll out the software to their portfolio. We take it day by day, stay patient, make sure that our product responds to landlords and tenant needs, and that it improves every day,’’ says Sander.
‘’As Chainels started as a graduation project and developed at an incubator, we could focus on building a high-quality product, rather than hitting financial milestones – which is the pressure that many startups in our field experience. Looking back at those days now, I’m glad that we did not join the hype of raising capital fast, or we weren’t greedy towards international expansion,’’ adds Erwin.
Speaking the Language of People
Both co-founders agree that product-buyer alignment between real estate and PropTech still needs to develop further. Most PropTech products are too complex, and the market is full of products without a real use case, while real estate is still learning how to use smart building technologies, they underline.
‘’Tech is for ease and convenience. Products in PropTech should help property staff do their jobs more easily. They should help landlords hit real estate KPIs and automate the most important tasks they would otherwise have to do manually. That is key to sustained relationships with clients because your product will keep on selling itself,’’ remarks Sander.
‘’From the tenants’ perspective, whatever tech tool they use must provide the level of convenience that Uber, Spotify, Netflix or Airbnb provides. When tenants want to talk to property staff, report a problem, give feedback, book some shared spaces, or you name it – it has to happen on one platform that is user-friendly, easy to navigate, and made for people. In diverse areas of the world like Europe, tech products need to support multiple languages too. That is why our platform already speaks ten languages and we will be adding seven more in 2024,’’ adds Erwin.
Re-architecting renting around tenants, – that is the mission statement of Chainels, and that is what they continue to motivate in the market. ‘’Tenants build strong relationships with their neighbours and landlords thanks to Chainels. Offering tenants the best living and working experience – that’s what we care about the most,’’ says Sander.
Co-founders foresee that the second decade of the company will be about positioning Chainels as the central platform where ERP systems, mobile access keys, parcel lockers, energy consumption tracking tools and other property tech solutions can be integrated. ‘’Our focus this year will be on integration partnerships,’’ comments Erwin in that regard.
As a plus, Chainels plans to enlarge the use of the platform to new real estate asset types and full neighbourhoods, as well as align the product offering to ESG benchmarks.