Published June 2022
Smart apartments come in different shapes and sizes, but the goal is an enhanced living experience through internet-connected products. Traditionally, this required a costly and confusing infrastructure, especially in retrofit properties. Homebase’s apartment solution simplifies all of this.
Blake Miller, founder of Homebase, joined Robert Gaulden on the Solving for Multifamily podcast to discuss how a hubless approach to smart apartments can improve net operating income (NOI), apartment Wi-Fi and the company’s views on the future of multifamily living.
For more on this, listen to the episode, Solving for Community WiFi and the benefits of Smart Apartments. Also check out Miller’s podcast, Future of Living.
Who is Homebase?
Homebase is the only hubless smart apartment solution that connects your buildings with smart access control, community Wi-Fi, management automation, payments and more. Learn more at homebase.ai.
Robert Gaulden: Are smart apartments is just a stepping stone to smart buildings? How can WiFi contribute to your overall NOI? And what is a hubless infrastructure anyways? Today on solving for multifamily, we're joining Blake Miller, founder and CEO of Homebase. We'll be discussing these topics and a little bit more around the future of multifamily living. Full disclosure, Homebase is an Allegion partner. We hope you enjoyed today's episode, hit the like button and share with your friends.
Robert Gaulden: So Blake Miller, great to have you on the podcast. I know we've done this one or two times and you most certainly have been gracious with your time and having me on your show in the past. Thanks for the favor back.
Blake Miller: It's always good to chat with a friend and catch up and it's good to see you.
Gaulden: Absolutely. It's great to talk with you as well. Wanted to jump right in. Right. So first founder, CEO of Homebase, can you give us a little insight on what Homebase is, what you guys do, and how you're solving for the problems and issues of multifamily?
Miller: Yeah, absolutely. So we help in the simplest form, we help apartment owners and their managers make their buildings smart. Means a lot of different things to a lot of people, but really for us, it's helping them make their tenant experience amazing or the resident experience amazing, while finding new ways to generate revenue and obviously cost savings kind of as they're doing their digital transformation for their business. And our solution is a hubless software based solution for smart buildings. But we've built a bunch of kind of businesses inside of the smart building umbrella. And the first one is an access control system or business. And that's where we partnered with Allegion and Schlage to be able to offer a total access control solution across every door in the building, whether it's at the unit door or on the amenity spaces or the perimeter access. This is really important because it is the number one thing that you have to have to have a smart building if you can't get people in and out, that's what you're doing for real estate. So that's the core business. So that's one of the number one things. The other thing that we do that really we're finding a lot of excitement around is our Internet infrastructure or Homebase internet. And this is a solution that we actually, instead of using hubs, cellular based hubs in a building to make things smart, we actually deploy internet for the property owner that they own secure private networks for each unit as well as a mesh network throughout the entire building. And they're able to resell access to this internet to the residents and generate an extra forty dollars to fifty dollars a month in net operating income while doing it. And the resident gets this really amazing always on secure internet. And that obviously connects the rest of the smart building and all the other things that you want to do. So that's kind of just from a big overall what we're doing, we're really focusing on how to improve all these different things. And what we're excited about is some of the access control solutions that we're bringing out with self guided touring, what we call the access economy with our in home grocery delivery, with Walmart and a bunch of other things, exciting things coming out too.
Gaulden: So much to unpack. So many questions I have. Let's start with something you started off with. You talked about being a hubless solution. Can you explain what that really means? I mean, what's the advantages of being hubless?
Miller: I think one of the most biggest advantages of being hubless is there's not one more thing that you have to pay for to put in and make your building smart. And those hubs cannot disappear. They got to be replaced sometimes and they only provide value to connect those devices. That in a lot of times people are relying on a raised rent or a rent premium to see the ROI for investing in smart tech because some of the cost savings take a much longer time to underwrite. And so being hubless for internet based actually allows us to bring forward revenue for the property on our first, which is going to obviously impact their NOI. That then provides the kind of long tail as they do their digital transformation to really make the building more efficient with all the smart locks, being able to manage more units with your current team, all those other efficiencies that you're going to capture.
Gaulden: Very good. And then I guess next question then, do you have to invest in that community or broad based WiFi system to enable some things that your company enables? So do I need to put in the internet solution to have Homebase access or can I step through those? Can you talk a little bit about that journey?
Miller: That's one of the things that we recognize, especially kind of post Pandemic was how do we make specifically access control for retrofitting buildings, which is what everyone was really in need of. Like it was a painkiller, not a vitamin sort of thing. They needed a way to get people in and out, self guided touring, vendors, all that without actually coming in contact. One of the benefits of our access system and frankly working with you all with Schalge is all Bluetooth based. So it actually is independent than the rest of the smart building. We kind of approach it as you can do a full access control system and at some point when you're ready to actually adopt smart buildings, then you can come in with Internet and thermostats and all these others. But our solution with the Bluetooth based and battery powered and everything that's kind of an offline solution is you send a virtual key, you're able to use the Homebase app to be able to get in. And we've actually even rolled out new solutions where you can put a QR code on any door and somebody can scan it. And they don't even have to download the Homebase app because we're leveraging the instant app or app clips from iOS and Android that has just come out. So it's a really simple, quick and dirty access and it almost becomes like a call box or an intercom system in your phone kind of virtual intercom system.
Gaulden: That's really cool. And for those who haven't had a chance to see how Homebase actually has solved for these problems, it's really slick. So I'd encourage you to go check it out.
Miller: Team has been awesome, really just continuing to kind of think through all the different aspects of what you have the access system. Once you have the infrastructure in place, what else can we do with it? More than just getting people in and out, that's table stakes, right. Or getting the right people in and out that's table stakes. But what else now can we do and enhance the experience? Whereas just we can finally kill the key or the Fob? Gaulden: Yes. I love what you guys are building on. And maybe another thread to pull on is you started right off with smart building, but so many in this space think of smart apartment. Where are you different? And are we really just seeing the advancement of smart apartment really transforming into smart building? My opinion on it is I think when you invoke the entire building, that's where the dollars and cents really accelerate. Give us a little insight on what you're seeing around that.
Miller: Yeah. So I think a lot of kind of where proptech got super successful was it was almost smart homes for apartments, right? There was a lot of folks that helped create the category jumped out ahead with cellular based hubs that were able to provide that smart home experience inside the apartment unit. I think we all recognize really quickly was great. That's a crawl version of this. How do we get to the walk or run version of what a total actual smart building is? I think we've continued to innovate on is focusing on the access system all the way around. You can't just have control at the door. You got to have control of every door. And what else does that enable? You got to be able to connect all the things. How do you do that across the entire building, except instead of just in one certain area? And I think as we're going, we see it kind of periscope continued out a little bit. Is it's apartment buildings? It's mixed use buildings. People are already starting to add a lot of different commercial and residential in the same area. How does it even periscope outside of it where the smart building itself starts to not contribute to a smart city? And that's really where being able to come back. A lot of my roots in deploying the smart city in Kansas City, which is still today, one of the largest in the world. By footprint, these buildings become basically node on the network. As they become more connected, as they become more online and more efficient and better experiences, they actually can contribute to what's happening outside them. And that's what I think is really cool and kind of the next phase and evolution of what we're doing inside the building.
Gaulden: Yeah, I know you've got a lot of passion around Smart City. I can see where now getting down to the fundamental building blocks. If you can enable those buildings to contribute to the city, the city can contribute to an overall efficiency play. There's so much happening today. The next big thing I'm seeing on our radar. I'm hearing more and more as we have conversations or contributions around ESG. Right. That energy efficiency and the environmental play. I think there's a lot there. So if I can recap, then what you're saying is the end of the day Homebase provides an opportunity to contribute to your revenue stream by offering Internet as a service. You don't then have to also look at additional hubs to enable better access experience and then other experiences around energy. Right. Whether that's a thermostat lighting or other things. Is that fair summation?
Miller: You nailed it. So do you want to sell for us?
Gaulden: Yeah. Well, we'll figure that out, maybe, as we continue to move forward. But I think that's really cool. I love that fact about it. And it sounds like then those things enable for new collaboration. So could you tell us a little bit about, for example, what you're doing with Walmart?
Miller: Yeah. So this has really been an exciting year or so that we've been working both with Walmart as well as Schlage really closely. And how do we both securely and efficiently get people, the right people through the door? So the solution that we've innovated on is taking the entire access system, which you have all these connected Bluetooth devices, you're not relying on Pin codes because Pin codes could be faulty or they get out and all these different things. So you don't want some random delivery driver using a Pin code that may or may not get wiped at some point. You got to use a really secure Bluetooth credential. People will do that. It was a really important thing. And there was some other safety measures that we took with us, too, where the delivery drivers needed to be able to wear body cameras so we could watch a delivery in real time. But now, through the Homebase app, a resident can authorize Walmart in home service, which is about $19 a month. This gives them a lot of great benefits from a membership perspective with Walmart, but also gets an unlimited delivery of groceries inside, literally into the refrigerator. They'll put stuff away for you. Sometimes they can take an expired milk away, throw it away leave a nice note, doggy treat on the counter and leave and lock the door. And you can watch the entire event through a camera, through the livestream of the body camera. So it's been a really exciting new service that we've rolled out, hugely well received and the pilots that we've been running them. And it's led to us developing a couple other kind of new solutions on top of it, obviously bringing new services next year to the platform, things like laundry service, house cleaners, dog walkers, all of these are revenue generators for the property owner because it becomes a marketplace that the property owner is allowing these services to be in. And anytime a services render, the property owner is able to capture some revenue share off of that deal. So a dog Walker might cost $10 for the quick walk. They might make a buck. Well, three times a week, four times, three times a week, twelve times in a month. That's an extra $12 in revenue that you just generated from that unit, all from capturing a different share your residence wallet, and all because you made the investment in smart infrastructure. So there's that. And then the other kind of things that we took is the body camera. And actually now have developed a solution in partnership with Eagle Eye Networks that allow the maintenance staff to go check out a body camera as they're on their way to go do a maintenance ticket. And when they click unlock to get into the door, the resident gets notified that Robert, the maintenance guys get in there fixing the leak. They can watch the live stream or it'll be available in the maintenance ticket for summary. When they lock the door, the video stops recording. And right there, you got this entire transparent event that happened for both sides. A lot of accountability there, but you also end up getting a lot of information there, too. So all of these things are enabled now by these extra solutions that are all working together through our system.
Gaulden: Yeah, I think that's really cool. I've been a big fan of expanding on new services to drive new experiences that are also generating new revenue streams for the ownership, while just being a great experience for the resident. And I also love the fact that when you do that, you can tie back into the local economy. So you're really building into your community, which I think goes back to some of the things that you're passionate about around citywide applications and things along those lines. But part of the barriers to the entry there, I think, is around this technology adoption. It's no longer the technology, the technology is there. It's around a major theme of solving for trust. So I love the idea of the body Cam and notification back to the resident and they can see what's happening live. Right. Because I think once you get past that trust side, good security and bridging back to great convenience. If you can solve for trust, you enable all these other new downstream plays and really applaud what you're doing there, not only with Walmart, but just even the whole maintenance side, the maintenance ticket. It makes so much sense.
Miller: Super appreciate that. One kind of fun little anecdote story is we started noticing that in home deliveries that people didn't really watch as many videos as we thought that they would. So we started reaching out, going, something wrong, like, are you not able to access it or whatever? And a couple of the responses were, I know Roy the delivery driver, and I've seen his delivery, so I don't need to watch anymore. We're good. And that coupled with the fact that it's not just some random driver, it is actually something that's on a route or a part of a route. It was something that also kind of solves for that trust, where now this feels like a concierge service versus just some delivery driver that's coming in. I applaud Walmart to that effect of they were really thoughtful in the service and how they were doing it. They weren't just hiring random people in their stores to go do this. It had to be somebody that had been with the company for 18 months and kind of earned the ability to go do this kind of new service that afforded them a lot of new opportunities as well. So it's really a really cool service. The way that they've been thoughtful about it, we've learned a lot from it and we're excited to really take it forward.
Gaulden: Yeah, I think that bridging of the human element. I'm much more apt to trust the UPS driver that I've had a relationship with for the last 15 years, and he knows my name, I know him. You know, those type of things versus just the absolute random never met you before. So I still think that vetting process, maybe the ability for the owner to participate in that vetting process and building some of that trust will then kind of be that first big step for the residents mass adoption. You're always going to have the early adopters and those that are willing to lean out there. But I think getting to mass adoption and really unlocking the rest of it, really good work by you and your teams and your partners, Walmart and others in helping kind of bring these solutions to the market.
Miller: Totally. And to your point, we're working with a lot of big national brands to bring these services to the marketplace, but we've also developed this in a way that it's a quasi open marketplace, if you will, where the property owners themselves can bring those localized community services or businesses into the marketplace, vet them themselves, make sure that they're all comfortable. And then a lot of the veterans, I've been working with them for 15 years, the dog kennel or the dog Walker down the street or something, or maybe actually it's a resident that is trying to offer that service. And now they can use some of the background that they've already tried to do. And now you're enabling real small business and entrepreneurship literally in your community. And those are things that we're really excited about.
Gaulden: I'm going to switch gears on you for a second because you're always thinking about tomorrow. In fact, I think you guys are the future of living.
Miller: Future of living.
Gaulden: I love that tagline. But one of the concepts we heard a little bit about is the digital renter. And so are we moving into kind of a new time period where boundaries are really kind of being eroded and melted in ways and work from home and the ability to choose where you want that to happen is it more important to connect now back to your renter, but still provide that freedom? Just some thoughts around from your personal view where you think some of this may be going and maybe where Homebase can participate.
Miller: Yeah. So something that we're doing, we launched this at Optech a couple of months ago. We're filming this in December of 21. But we launched our entire booking engine. So again, taking your access control system, that singular investment that you've made. Now to have every smart lock, every door in the building have a smart lock. We've now turned the ability not only to take your self guided tour. So you found a unit that you kind of want to go check out. I can get approved for it. I can actually pay for it if I really like it. So I can literally reserve the unit through the Homebase app and pay for it right there. And then once I'm in there, I can take and reserve individual the amenity space rooms. I could reserve the gym for just my own personal trainer and pay $100 for that hour. All of these things are around automating the leasing process as much as the property owners or managers are comfortable with. And doing it in a way that it frees up your leasing agents to be able to be a little bit more community focused. Right. Community manager focused. So that's where we're really looking at ways to kind of continue to push that forward, but also give access basically to anyone, to anything or anywhere that they are approved to be. And I think those are some really exciting developments around kind of identity and access and where you're supposed to be. And where we're looking at in the future, working with a lot of really cool companies that are doing some of these things is around branded living. I think people almost paying a membership to be living somewhere, they pay their monthly rent of wherever they're actually at. You might spend six months in Kansas City and then you might spend three months in New York or three months in Florida and all of it for different reasons. Right. It could be for work, it could be for play. You just need to change the scenery and you can go work remote work wherever you want because that's the new reality is we all know that we can spend some time there and we're trying to find even though a lot of people are working harder than they ever been, they're trying to find more of that balance and trying to find more of that. And I think this new kind of remote work, this new world that we're in enables that, and that's where I think some of these companies that are offering the ability to kind of have the same experience or know an experience wherever they're at is something that's really exciting coming forward and I think that's the digital renter concept, it's going to be cool.
Gaulden: Yeah. I think that contribution back to work efficiency, right? So that property managers operators can focus on the tasks that are critical to their mission while automating the things that are consuming so much of their time is really cool. But to play on what you just said there, the ability then to capture a resident for life, right? I mean, we're seeing more and more of that mobility. It's going to blur the lines between multifamily and hospitality and what this really means for a lease or a stay and things along those lines. So really cool. Love the time, love spending time catching up with you. Always looking forward to our conversations. If people want to know a little bit more about Homebase, where can they find you and how can they connect with you guys?
Miller: Yeah, so you can find us at Homebase AI online and then you can find me at ImbMills on Twitter I-M-B-M-I-L-L-S pretty active over there and little chirpy sometimes and you can contact me by email Blake at Homebase.ai love to connect.
Gaulden: Hey, Blake, thanks for showing up today. Looking forward to our next conversation and love to have you back.
Miller: Always a pleasure.
Gaulden: So thanks for joining today's episode of Solving for Multifamily. If you liked the episode hit the like button, share with your friends. We'll see you next time.