From the first steps on the Internet, to the Proptech’s.
It is Wednesday morning and the sun is slowly but surely making its way through the fog, because without diligence there is no prize. With the sun as a role model and completely in PROPSTER manner we take the opportunity to take the stairs to the 5th floor, more precisely to the office of Markus Ertler. Less than 48 hours ago, Markus was voted “Business Angel Of The Year”. The award, initiated by Austria Wirtschaftsservice and the incubator network AplusB, was presented for the eleventh time and this time to a particularly active business angel, because his professional career and 30 start-up investments and holdings in investment companies and funds clearly speak for themselves. We are very proud that Markus received the award, because we are one of these 30 start ups. For us he is not only a business angel, but also a kind of guardian angel, who is always at our side when good advice is needed.
During the conversation we notice that passion is bubbling when it comes to Proptech and finally he confesses “I am glad that the Proptech’s have finally arrived”. In the middle of the 2010s the term appeared and in the meantime it has become an integral part of the real estate scene. Comprised of the terms Property & Technology, Proptech simply covers all technological developments in the real estate industry. This includes the introduction or optimization of procedures, processes or complete business models using the latest software and hardware solutions. Classical business processes are being shifted to the digital world and new business models are being developed primarily from the customer’s perspective. Proptech companies merge the offline and online markets and use digital technologies to improve the quality, flexibility and transparency of their clients’ service offerings in addition to pure cost savings. In this way, they also contribute to the long-term success of established real estate companies.
But let’s get back to our actual topic and thus to the interview with our investor and business angel Markus Ertler.
Propster: How does it feel to be a business angel, respectively how does it feel to be the business angel of the year?
Markus Ertler: It feels very good (smiles). Events with honors are a great way to shine the spotlight on the business angel scene. Attention and success stories are exactly what we need and can tell in order to inspire more people with capital about the possibilities that the scene offers. Such awards enable us “Angels” of course also a good media presence which we can direct to our start up’s.
Propster: What was the decisive reason for the investment in PROPSTER?
Markus Ertler: On the one hand founder Milan Zahradnik as an incredibly active, focused, determined and unstoppable personality and on the other hand the super business model that he actually had from the beginning and that was absolutely convincing. What I really appreciate about founders is that they are very self-confident and have a clear plan for where they want to go, but at the same time they take input from investors and experienced entrepreneurs, are always curious, ask questions and let them flow into their considerations. So a mixture of I know what to do myself, but I listen to other people’s experiences and then consider whether I should do it that way. Or a mixture of my own way and that of the advisor but in the end I make a strong decision myself. This is something that I have experienced with Milan in a very special way. A special gift that not many founders have, a great secret of success.
Propster: How long have you known Milan Zahradnik? Only when he introduced the project to you or already from earlier times.
Markus Ertler: I had already focused on his career during my time with Immobilien.net. At that time he was already successfully managing a company, namely the communications agency Crevo. Of course, it was a plus point that Milan had already gained a lot of experience as an entrepreneur. So he knew what was in store for him. The difference is that now he is entering the start-up dimension, where he wants to achieve bombastic growth in an incredibly short time. This experience combined with his willpower and the brilliant idea finally led to the investment.
Propster: Where do you see the future of PROPSTER?
Markus Ertler: You should actually ask Milan (laughs). PROPSTER actually has the potential to become a really big star in the start up sky. Of course it is a rocky road with a lot of work and many possible branches but the potential is 100% there. The challenge will be to set up this incredibly good and scalable business model with smart organizational development in such a way that we become the market leader in Europe.
Propster: 30 start up investments are quite a lot. Do you pursue purely monetary goals with it or is it possible that the future of the youth – or rather young entrepreneurs – is also close to your heart?
Markus Ertler: That is exactly what makes a business angel and distinguishes him from many other investors and venture capitalists. The fact that we Business Angels primarily bring in our expertise and know-how in a wide range of topics and our network. We are the contact person for more or less all entrepreneurial and strategic challenges that fresh founders face. The motivation of the Business Angel’s, and of me in particular, is to work together with young and young-at-heart talents on new ideas and to make them fit for the market. This is a lot of fun. Of course, the monetary aspect is not unimportant but it is certainly only the third motivation. The first one is to support young motivated people, the second one is the joy of bringing in your own experience and learning and the third one is to have economic success together.
Propster: What did you dream about professionally, how did the foundation of Immobilien.net come about and subsequently, why the exit in 2014?
Markus Ertler: The founding of Immobillien.net was not necessarily left to chance, but it just happened to happen. Because my father was a real estate agent, I was confronted again and again by my fellow students with the question of cheap apartments. I forwarded these leads, but at some point a serious conversation with my father followed. The students wanted to have the flats but didn’t want to pay an agent’s fee and so I learned that my father finally took over the students only for my sake. Of course this could not stay like this and I thought of a solution how my father would not work for free and my fellow students could still find apartments. In 1992 Vint Cerf laid the foundation stone for the World Wide Web, in 1993 he invented “Mosaic”, the first internet browser and in 1994 I set up my first rudimentary website, tapped into my father’s database and put the first 3,000 properties online. There you could find all information and also the note that a commission is due. The leads from the website were thus much more qualified and this study project became Immobilien.net, which I managed with my brother Alexander for 20 years.
20 years is also a very long time, we have achieved more than we imagined at the beginning. We were the first in Europe with a real estate online platform and probably even worldwide. We recently had a market share in Austria of over 90% of all professionally offered properties. It was a great time. My brother and I reached a point where this success story came to a good end for us and we wanted to devote ourselves to new tasks and challenges. At that time, Immobolienscout pushed into the Austrian market and wanted to get a good piece of the pie. The best way to do that is to buy the market leader. A win-win situation for everyone involved, so to speak.
Propster: How do you see the real estate industry, what is the level of digitalization and how important is the role of Proptech companies a la PROPSTER?
Markus Ertler: I am very pleased about the many activities and see the further development positively. Proptech is a term that has established itself in the industry and which has been given to itself in the course of the digital renewal and which it lives by. Apti is doing a really good job by bringing a lot of positive power and energy to the market through awareness and many events, so that people talk about Proptech’s and everyone can see how many start-ups and investors are already in the ecosystem. This is how a kind of centrifugal force is actually created around the Proptech theme. I am all the more pleased about this, as the real estate industry has always been a very traditional industry that has always been cautious and doubtful about major digitalization steps. I also remember many moments from the time of Immobilien.net. Digitizing the ad was absolutely no easy task for the many real estate companies. But I also notice some changes today, that many companies in the real estate industry are now waiting to take advantage of this pull and positive energy and work with these young start ups. However, predictions are always difficult in a time of galloping innovation and make little sense, otherwise you could actually still make a business model out of it (laughs)
Propster: Do you see yourself as a business angel or is there a bit of a patron in you? If so, what cultural, sports or art projects do you support?
Markus Ertler: I want to invest in future-oriented ideas that actually make sense. It doesn’t always have to be the highest profit, it can also be other meaningful goals, but at the end of the day the start-up must also have an economically meaningful framework! A patron in the startup world would need a really big cash box and a really big one at that! (laughs)
Propster: What does Markus Ertler like to do privately, as a balance to his professional life?
Markus Ertler: I have always enjoyed doing what I have done professionally. The idea that I urgently needed a balance, I simply didn’t have that urge. Almost everything in my life has always revolved around the Internet. Even when I wanted to distract myself, I dealt with the internet, or simply programmed something or searched for knowledge. I am completely satisfied with my habitat and even when I am on vacation my leisure time activity is to observe the system which surrounds me and to search for optimization possibilities. If e.g. the logistics in the restaurant does not work, I observe this closely and search for the error. My passion is to look for that one small cog that ultimately disrupts the smooth operation. Nevertheless I have to say that I also like to be out in nature. At the end of the 90s there was a very intensive period of work. I hardly left the city then. When I finally went out and saw the first green trees, I actually had tears of joy in my eyes.
Propster: You yourself mentioned that nobody talks about failures. How important is it to talk about failures?
Markus Ertler: What I have really learned to appreciate about the business angel scene in Austria is that it is possible to have a really open discussion between “angels” about what is going well and what is not. The bad moments are often the really interesting ones. Everyone gives here a certain personal experience, which in turn can be a good teacher for those who listen and an exciting hint. At an HR event for HR managers I once said “We can talk about every HR mistake, because I have probably made them all and therefore know quite well how not to do it”. In the end, I was allowed to iron them all out and thus gained a lot of important experience. Books that lead to success are definitely interesting to read but you would learn much more from books that contain the biggest mistakes. If you want to be successful, you should know how not to be successful, because success is individual and has to be found out for each person. Unfortunately, you cannot copy success paths, because really good success requires luck as well as diligence, and that means the luck of the brave!