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We don't share the website with other sectors, whether that be commercial, industrial, established resi real estate, so we're essentially a one-stop shop with what we feel is the best content and the best listings in that off-the-plan space.

Episode 14

On starting a proptech business, what a good lead looks like and being coronavirus patient #93

Tom Hywood | Co-Founder & Sales Director | AD Group

Today’s episode features Tom Hywood. Tom is the co-founder and Sales Director of the AD Group (apartments & developments) – one of the most successful new start-up property technology businesses in Australia. Tom and his co-founder Jordan Catalano identified a gap in the property technology market for off-the-plan sales and created an online marketplace specifically for brand new apartments and house and land offerings. Created in 2014 their site has amassed a database of nearly 40,000 potential purchasers, created leads that have resulted in over $5B of sales and can claim that they have a lower cost per lead and cost per sale than the leading real estate portals realestate.com.au & domain.com.au. In this episode, Tom shares his insights on what it’s like to start a proptech business, what a good lead looks like and being coronavirus patient #93 – enjoy.

Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Tom, welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Tom Hywood:
Thank you Anthony.

Anthony Denman:
Was there sort of like an a-ha moment when you were working for Domain, you kind of realized, here’s a great opportunity to create something that doesn’t currently exist?

Tom Hywood:
For me, there was not so much an a-ha moment. Jordy Catalano who’s my business partner, the actual concept was largely his brain child. We were very close friends. I was working at Domain at the time in the residential or established real estate department and with quite a bit of exposure to the development team within that business, spending a lot of time with a few of the key people in there. I knew it was a space that I was interested in getting into. Jordie then approached me with a relatively loose concept on what he envisioned for the site and from there, we put our heads together and grew it into what it is now.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, so it’s essentially a site for new apartments only. Since then you’ve added a house and land component to it. What’s the advantage for purchasers to shop at a site like yours as opposed to the traditional real estate portals?

Tom Hywood:
I think for me, the way that we separate ourselves and the reason why I would say that it’s an advantage to search for property on AD as opposed to the other platforms is that we’re a niche portal, so we dedicate everything, basically, to the purchase off the plan property. We don’t share the website with other sectors, whether that be commercial, industrial, established resi real estate and so we’re essentially a one stop shop with what we feel the best content and the best listings in that off the plan space. Further to that, we’ve never really diluted the offering with any other markets or sectors, so if you are familiar with what people feel are the monsters in the market, being Domain.com.au or realestate.com.au, they have that commercial model with sections within the website share advertising space with car companies, insurance companies, banks and other industries, which aren’t necessarily property related.

Tom Hywood:
We don’t dilute our offering by giving that space to those other industries. It’s all property related and we also try and minimize the branding. So for a project, we don’t try and hero the real estate agent or the project marketer who’s selling that project and we don’t even necessarily hero the developer’s brand behind that project. It’s very project specific, which we feel gives the buyer the best opportunity to have a really impartial view on that project, whether or not it’s the right fit for them.

Anthony Denman:
Also with that content that you’re creating, educating, I guess, buyers to a certain degree as well, right? On the benefits and nuances of buying off the plan?

Tom Hywood:
Definitely. So it’s a really important part of what we distribute to the public and to our users. So we have an in-house editorial team and they do have their finger on the pulse in terms of what’s happening in the market, what’s on offer for off the plan buyers in terms of incentives, especially now during this climate, is there any incentives for off the plan buyers or first home buyers given that the first home buyer market is quite an important market for those developers who are building off the plan property.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I should give this conversation some context actually. Where are we? We’re in mid-September. I’ve got to say, poor old Tom’s sitting down there, been locked down for quite a number of weeks now, operating out of Victoria. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later on. I’m going to say the name of your company. Apartments and Developments. It’s a little bit like the name of this podcast actually, the Property Marketing Podcast and realestate.com. There’s something… Sorry, I should ask, who came up with the name and what’s the thinking behind it?

Tom Hywood:
Look, it was completely Jordy’s creation when it came to choosing the name. From memory, it was just about finding a name and a URL, which one, was available but two, was very specific. It explained exactly what it was. I think that the mentality behind it was not wanting to create a brand, which had to work even harder to educate people on what it was. There are a couple of brands that exist out there at the moment, which are like that and probably facing that challenge. Having the name being exactly what it is that we’re offering is quite helpful and makes theoretical sense to not only potential clients but also, most importantly, those people who are using the website to purchase property.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s the thing with search, isn’t it? You know what I mean, keep it simple. I think you just try to imagine what people would search for themselves, when they type something into their engine. So it’s like, yeah, don’t try and outsmart yourself, don’t be too creative and I think it was really interesting that Domain, I guess because Domain… Because real estate was gone, right? So they had to come up with something and I think that they did all right there but it makes a lot of sense to keep it simple. When I first met you, I half expected for you to turn up in a black turtleneck skivvy.

Tom Hywood:
Oh God.

Anthony Denman:
Do you see yourself as more of a tech entrepreneur than a property guy?

Tom Hywood:
Definitely not. I think anyone in our business would tell you that when it comes to me being savvy in the tech space is certainly probably not correct. That being said, I know my way around the space very well now but where I fit into place within the business is certainly from a sales perspective and a relationship perspective and that’s how it’s always been. In terms of the tech heads within the business, I’d say that turtleneck analogy probably is certainly more befitting of Jordy rather than myself, although he wouldn’t be caught dead in a black turtleneck skivvy either.

Anthony Denman:
I’m not even sure if it’s a thing. It was just… James Cooper mentioned it to me, I thought it was hysterical.

Tom Hywood:
No… Yeah, sorry.

Anthony Denman:
I asked him the same question. Is he an ad man or more of a tech guy.

Tom Hywood:
Yeah. I think James plays both parts really well. He’s very well versed on the tech side of things whilst also having that in-depth knowledge and strong personal relationships with his clients.

Anthony Denman:
Right on the nexus, isn’t he really?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Although he would look good in it. I think he’s look good in anything actually, James.

Tom Hywood:
James would look good in anything. I always tell James that he’s a dreamboat.

Anthony Denman:
Big shout out to James. Hope you’re listening, mate. I’m sure you are. It’s an interesting one. Real estate agents, although they don’t pay the bills, they pretty much determine where budgets are allocated so they’re a huge part of building relationships within our category. In fact, back in the day, in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, they used to drive around in their rebates from the Wentworth Courier. They were that attractive, like a lot of the media organizations work really hard to make sure that the real estate agents were very motivated to promote their media portals in fact and some of the stories that I’ve heard, and I’ve never been on one unfortunately but some of the stories I’ve heard out of Domain, what they did for some real estate agents on those junkets, traveling overseas and just going all throughout Europe and just having a great old time, legendary. In fact, I’ve actually seen some videos. Those people in those videos shall remain nameless. Yeah, I was just wondering, do you guys do any of that wooing of real estate agents to keep them interested in peddling your brand?

Tom Hywood:
I probably wouldn’t use the word wooing although we are very respectful of them. We are always really interested in the insights those guys can give us into our business. At the end of the day, they are the people who are receiving the inquiries or the leads that we generate. Their opinions on how we can better our offering is super important, whether it be the usability of the site and certain language that we use on the site to try and draw in leads and inquiry, we’ve always asked for input from our key clients who are project marketers or real estate agents. Look we do also offer those junkets, if that’s what you want to call them, as opposed to what the other portals are offering in terms of those kind of trips, it’s much smaller, a more tight knit group and we try and mix it up every year and for us, it’s probably less focused on rewarding agents for their activity on the site and more just using them as an exercise to put a bunch of our clients together in the same room and be seen as a brand or a platform, which helps integrate that property development community.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I think that’s great. It’s almost kind of like, in some ways, bringing them onto the team, I guess. Because you’re right, the insights that they… I mean, they’re at the coal face, right? I always say this, no matter how hard we work, they’ve got to work harder and they’ve got to work harder and at the times when we put our feet up. They’re talking to buyers on the weekend and after hours, getting those insights that we can only every hope to understand. I think the idea of bringing them along for the ride, I guess is probably the same, and getting them to share that information amongst themselves and I guess in the process also sharing it with you, which would be very valuable. Given that they are so, agents, they are so time poor, a good agent can take over 100 phone calls a day, I guess what’s really important to them is the quality of the leads they get so I know you guys have worked really hard on making sure that the leads you generate are as qualified as they can be. Can you give us an example of what a good lead looks like?

Tom Hywood:
Definitely. Look, I think a really simple answer to that question, and an example, is how we’ve structured our inquiry forms. So what’s really important to us from the get go has been making sure the information is correct, sorry the person who’s making the inquiry, that their information is correct. Naturally, sites like ours are going to have at least some level of inquiry that is low in quality, whether it be a spam inquiry or someone who is making duplicate inquiries across a bunch of different projects or someone who’s in the industry that is just wanting to learn more about what their competitors are doing. So there is going to be a level of inquiry always, which isn’t going to be as high as we would want it to be and there are things that we’ve done in our inquiry form just to make sure that the quality that the agents are receiving is as high as possible but also they’re receiving almost a lead score, if you will.

Tom Hywood:
So the first thing we’ve done is made sure the phone number, the email address and the name fields within the inquiry form are mandatory. We’ve also got tech that’s embedded into that inquiry form, which to the best of its ability can then reject any inquiries, which they see that the name, the phone number or the email address is fake or not legitimate. That’s a start. Secondly, we’ve enhanced or optimized our inquiry forms to include data that we would want the agents or the developers, whoever’s receiving the inquiry to receive, so when they go and reach out to that potential buyer, whether it be via text, email address, phone call, they already have information on that person and what their requirements are as a buyer. So we have fields there, which ask for the person’s time frame in which they’d like to buy, what kind of buyer they are in terms of category. Are they a first home buyer, an investor, a young family? And then we also ask for their budget. So because AD organically has a strong quality of user, being that we are just looking after that off the plan apartment market and the name suggests that, our users are already pre-qualified so they’re not confused over what they want or why they’re there.

Tom Hywood:
So 75% of the time, that inquiry form is filled out in its entirety and so that gives the agent a highly qualified lead with a bunch of good information on that buyer, 75% of the time. We also do, further to that, lead verification. So when a new user on AD makes an inquiry, they’ll be sent a text message, which basically asks the user if they are the person that made the inquiry and would they like to be contacted by an agent? So if they respond with yes, then the lead will go through to the agent and they’ll be told that this is a verified inquiry, this person is ready for you to call them. If the person doesn’t respond for whatever reason, the lead will still go through to the agent, however they’ll be notified that this is non-verified, so it means that they’ll still have all the information that was in the inquiry, however they’re told that this is at risk of potentially being a lower quality inquiry.

Anthony Denman:
That’s so much more professional than your competitors and I think when we talk about competitors, we talk about the existing, large, monstrous mega machines that are Real Estate and Domain.com.au because it’s a completely different mindset, isn’t it? Buying off the plan. There’s a whole set of different circumstances that you’ve got to be wired into. First one being that hey, I can’t live in it or rent it out for a couple of years, so being, just right there aunderstanding the timing around buying new I think is a huge thing. It must be very frustrating for agents getting inquiries from Real Estate and Domain who are thinking they’ve missed the artist’s impression on the CGI, thinking they can move in tomorrow, there’s potentially a 10 or 15 minute phone call right there that’s a waste of time.

Anthony Denman:
So once you got your head around new apartments and new developments, you then spotted an opportunity in the house and land market. Can I ask the same question? Why shop in a portal that specializes in house and land as opposed to the traditional portals?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, I think the same principal applies really for people who… Why would people shop at a shop for house and land products at a place, which is specifically for that type of product rather than multiple sectors? It came to our attention that a number of buyers, when it came to purchasing an off the plan product, were undecided between a house and land product or an apartment product. That was probably more the investment category who were purchasing an off the plan apartment or a house and land product as an investment. Also, given that it was a space we were always wanting to move into but it was difficult for us to do it because the name suggested that we were really only in that developments that were apartment development space, so in creating that house and land section, we also had to rebrand slightly.

Tom Hywood:
The original brand was Apartment Developments. So Apartment singular, developments plural. So when launching the house and land section within Apartment Developments, we then rebranded to Apartments and Developments. Very small change but in the bigger picture of wanting to have both offerings in our website, it was important for that slightly brand change purely to help users understand that we weren’t solely focused in the apartment sector, but to answer your original question, the same principal does apply for when we launched Apartment Developments back in 2014, being that having a niche portal dedicated to one sector of the market, we feel that we’re able to offer more relevant and better quality content for those users who are in the market for a house and land product.

Anthony Denman:
You’ve had a little bit to do with print media and I know you’ve had a partnership with Broadsheet Publications. Do you think print’s still a viable way to sell real estate?

Tom Hywood:
I really do believe in our print partnership with Broadsheet. Honestly, I do really value print products myself as a consumer. That Domain Magazine is still one of my favourite physical magazines that is free to read. Free to read in the sense that it comes with in Melbourne The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald and nationally, the Financial Review. I still really enjoy going through that magazine and getting my dose of real estate porn and the same with Broadsheet, who we’re partnered with. I think that specifically that publication is really prominent in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It really is an untapped resource in terms of speaking to a certain type of person in a certain area for people who are wanting to advertise property. By partnering with those guys and having our section within that publication, we’re able to speak to a really unique pool of people, those who have disposable income who are spending their money at high-end restaurants, at high-end bars, at expensive hotel, whether it be in Melbourne or on holidays outside of Melbourne and usually young professionals, most of whom are yet to buy their first property, already live in those northern or north of the Yarra suburbs, your Brunswicks, your Fitzroys, Carltons, Collingwoods and that’s where it’s a really development heavy market.

Tom Hywood:
It’s very saturated in terms of how many off the plan apartment products are popping up there and so by partnering with the guys at Broadsheet, we’re able to really cement ourselves as the place to go to search for property amongst that pocket of Melbourne. Look, it has reached beyond just the inner north and it has helped us to generate inquiry for products outside the inner north but that’s just an example of how we’ve helped leverage our brand and been able to utilize access to a certain type of market and a certain type of person within Melbourne.

Anthony Denman:
I’m with you on that. I think it’s bizarre really. Everyone has a different point of view on it. In the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, the Wentworth Courier, there is still a lot of really highly successful agents who will not list a property without putting an ad in there and on the off chance that someone’s going to be flicking… Sort of counterintuitive in a way. It’s like you said, real estate porn. Like on the off chance that someone’s going to be flicking through this magazine and they’re going to see something they just can’t live without and it happens. It still happens today. That was really interesting to hear that you still see it as an important part of the media mix.

Tom Hywood:
I do also really value the content within publications, like Domain, for example. They’ve got that section, which is property of the week. I’m not sure the exact terminology they use but let’s call it property of the week. You know, it’s more often than not a really great piece of real estate, which has some interesting aspect to it. Even right now, where there are so few, at least in Melbourne, so few residential established properties on the market. They still manage to produce a really solid piece of content on a property that is on the market. Even if you aren’t in the market to buy, it’s just still really great to read and look at. I do think the print has its place and certainly those real estate focused publications.

Anthony Denman:
The business being born in Victoria and now you’re looking to transition into New South Wales and other states, how’s that going for you?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, well we’ve been in the New South Wales market for some time and not without our challenges. As a Victorian based business, the growth there has relied on someone from the team being in that market every week or every couple of weeks, which requires quite a bit of travel and having the inability to have someone on the ground permanently, certainly in the early stages, was a challenge, especially when you’re trying to build rapport on a constant basis with a lot of the key players in that market. I suppose it was a bit of a chicken and the egg situation with us where it was just all about getting stock on site, going out to the market and saying, “This is who we are. This is what we’re trying to achieve and this is what we’ve done in Melbourne,” and then allowing people the ability to trial the portal and test the quality of inquiries that we’ve been able to deliver and then they can make an educated decision on whether they want to continue the relationship with us and it has been a success.

Tom Hywood:
Queensland has been a slower mover than New South Wales and that’s purely just because we face the same challenges out there that we did originally with New South Wales, in which now we have full time people in the Sydney market who are able to keep AD relevant and keep the stock on AD fresh at all times, where in Queensland, we haven’t exactly got someone who can be there full time for us right now. Being a startup, not having the same amount of resources as some of our larger competitors means that we do face those kind of challenges where if we are wanting to venture into a market, we have to really choose the right time and if we are going to do it, do it properly, rather than just dip our toe in the water, and so New South Wales expansion is going well. The performance that we generate in that market is now comparable to Victoria and then Queensland will be the next challenge for us but early signs are that it’s a market that we can perform in.

Anthony Denman:
Great. Just in terms of partnerships, apart from Broadsheet, you’ve created a relationship with a company called Real Estate View, which I was really interested to find out actually have all of the listings on their site and quite a significant database as well.

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, they do have a very significant database. This is a partnership, which I’m really excited about and the partnership makes sense for our clients, not just for us from a commercial perspective. So essentially, we’re bolted on our real estate views, product inventory onto the AD offering at minimal or no charge and this is just adding a string to AD’s bow, which we haven’t had up until now. So AD has prided itself on the quality of its database, the quality of our users. However, what we haven’t had is that sheer volume. Real Estate View, to its credit, generates anywhere from 1.2 million to 1.4 million users every month. They’ve also got a national database of 380,000 people and so for us as a very hyper-targeted and high quality business, the ability to access the sheer volume component is really exciting and so that’s where the benefit lies for us. For them, they haven’t got a development product. Their bread and butter has been the established real estate market, and they haven’t got a product to cater to developers and off the plan projects, so by partnering with us, they’re just able to play in that space, which they haven’t been able to in the past.

Anthony Denman:
No, that’s great. It’s a great, great relationship. It’s really good when you find two like-minded businesses run into each other like that where they can complement each other and between the two of them, create a sum, which is greater than the two parts. I had a chat to James Cooper about artificial intelligence and really interesting insights there. I was just wondering if you see it being part of your business moving forward.

Tom Hywood:
I would like it to be. I’m not exactly sure how it could be from an integration perspective, as least for now, at least from what I know, internally or within our direct competitors, I can’t see it being utilized. We use the same principal of AI, we just have human intervention, by which we use the data we have on someone to serve them the products we believe are of interest to them. We use the data that we’ve collated over the last six years and we can use that to understand and learn about what our users want but beyond that, what specific or certain users want and by knowing that, we’ve able to serve them content that we know is going to be of interest to them. As I said, the way that we do that requires human intervention and so it’s not technically AI but we do use the AI principal in terms of what the goal, what the outcome needs to be.

Anthony Denman:
I mean, it’s very exciting. It’s scary at the same time though, right? Just how intrusive that whole area of technology can be but nonetheless, we need to be aware that it’s out there and to try and use it to our advantage, I guess.

Tom Hywood:
I think so. Look, I do believe that purchasing real estate is such a monumental decision for most that I believe that it’s probably going to be the hardest market to crack or the hardest market for AI to be successful because there are so many different factors that can prevent or propel someone into buying property and the decision usually isn’t made in a split second.

Anthony Denman:
No, it’s not. We’re not selling chewing gum, that’s for sure.

Tom Hywood:
No. We’re not selling phone covers. We’re not selling exercise equipment, which you can pull the trigger on straight away and there might be a 50/50 chance you’ll ever use it. This is usually the biggest decision one will make in their entire life, the AI equation. It’s an interesting one and we’ll see what happens.

Anthony Denman:
That’s such an important decision, the machines would have be as intelligent as yourself and Jordy, I think, for that to happen. That’s what I love about what you’re doing. I think that genuinely, in our space, to create something that is so informed, and that’s what it’s about. It’s about being informed and being deep in the space and having all that knowledge around it and identifying that… I use this analogy a lot and that is that in New South Wales, general agencies like Rugby League and off the plan project marketing, like Rugby Union or Victoria, ones like Aussie Rules the others likeGaelic football.

Anthony Denman:
I think they, on the surface, to somebody who doesn’t really know much about it, they kind of might look the same but they’re actually two completely different disciplines. So it kind of makes sense to have a place that caters for that, like a shopping mall, an online shopping mall that caters for that. I definitely get the logic behind what you’re doing. This Development ID business, this is kind of again another, well I was going to say string to your bow but it’s more like something that’s certainly a lot more significant than that. Do you want to talk us through that a little bit?

Tom Hywood:
I’ve love to because Development ID is a really exciting part of our business and even talking about it brings a smile to my face. The shelf life of ID is actually probably the same amount of time as AD. It’s been something, which we started thinking about almost at the same time that AD was conceived. We just had to wait for the right time to launch it and build it and get it to where we wanted it to be and a lot of that is largely thanks to Tim Fleming. So Tim Fleming is ex-REA and came on board with us two of three years ago, as the entire group’s GM but his main role is to deploy Development ID and expand that arm of our business into something bigger than it was at the time. So he came in and basically turned that model on its head from what we thought it was going to be to something that is way user friendly, way more usable from a customer perspective and looks really, really good and operates in the exact fashion that we want it to and to put it into context for people, finally, it is basically a platform, which is a stock management, inventory management tool firstly, for large scale developers or most importantly, project marketers but then it also connects…

Tom Hywood:
It acts as a marketplace and can connect property with our expansive network of channel agents and those channel agents are based offshore and they’re based locally and they’re highly engaged. So it just serves as a platform for people to manage their stock and then used it as an allocation platform to promote it to either at a public content, all of our channel agents, or they can allocate certain amounts of certain types of stock to certain selected channel agents that they work with on a regular basis.

Anthony Denman:
That’s great.

Tom Hywood:
So that’s me trying to explain it in its simplest capacity. I’m sure Tim would be kicking me under the table in the shins at the way I just explained it because I’m sure he’s got a much better explanation of it but it’s a part of the business, which we’re really excited about and it’s growing rapidly. We’re now working with Colliers International on a national basis. So their entire residential projects program. Their entire residential projects department in all states. The same, we expect, will be rolled out for other large scale project marketers. Stay tuned which ones they are, and it already is being utilized by a lot of high volume developers. To name one, Geocon, who are arguably at the moment, the biggest developer nationally when it comes to off the plan apartments.

Anthony Denman:
That is exciting, and it’s accountable, right? In that you know exactly how many dollars, in terms of dollar value, how many sales are being made through it.

Tom Hywood:
Absolutely and a really exciting part of that for us is the reporting that that system offers to the people who utilize it. Really comprehensive reporting and able to break down what channel agent’s performing the best in certain property categories or certain property types in certain areas, does all the sales numbers for the sales team in that channel market and from a retail market if necessary and it’s able to provide really comprehensive reporting for the developer and for the master agent who uses is for their internal sales team to work off.

Anthony Denman:
Is if over 5.5 billion in sales today? Is that correct?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, over 5.5 billion. That’s always climbing. I think it’s probably closer to six now.

Anthony Denman:
Is there a particular project that you’ve worked on that you’ve found to be more interesting than some of the others?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah. The answer to that question’s quite obvious and it wasn’t the most financially rewarding campaign that we worked on but for me personally, it’s a stand out. I see it on a day to day basis. I’ve been able to watch the progress over the last few years and it’s the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, being Australia 108. It’s got the golden starburst three quarters of the way up. Sold by CBRE, developed by World Class Global and it’s just a big, big tower. It looks fantastic and just being able to have contributed to the sales campaign through the activity that it ran on AD and being able to be part of the journey, even externally, given that I was walking around looking at the progress day by day from the view that you can see from the botanical gardens. It is definitely one that stands out for me and probably one that I’ve always kept a close eye on purely because it’s just been on my walking route.

Anthony Denman:
That’s great. I’ve actually had that answer a couple of times, kind of these monumental landmark buildings that dominate the landscape. They’re daily reminders to everyone, whether they’re walking around the botanical gardens or driving across the bridge, there’s that thing.

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, further to that, you’re spot on. I remember texting… I was walking around it one day and it must’ve been the perfect time in the morning where the sun hit that building but I texted Andrew Leoncelli, who’s the agent at CBRE and he’d worked on… He’s still working on Melbourne Square, which is being developed by OSK and then from the angle I was looking at it, it looked like… About 10 centimeters to the right was this epic building next to it, being Australia 108 and then smack bang in the middle was The Melburnian, which is another iconic building developed years ago, I believe it was by Mirvac. It was just this incredible backdrop of two epic, new buildings, which Andrew has worked on and then this old school building, which is really highly regarded and I just texted him saying, “Mate, you’re really putting your stamp on the Melbourne skyline.”

Anthony Denman:
On the flip side to that, has there been any projects that haven’t gone so well that you’ve learned a lesson from?

Tom Hywood:
I think I’d be biting the hand that feeds me if I was to answer that question, Anthony, but look, everyone within the business learns lessons every day around the best way to work with our clients, whether it be developer, project marketer, media agency and some things go your way and some things don’t especially right now in a time where everything is so temperamental. Campaigns are being pushed back daily due to the restrictions that are being enforced in Melbourne, so it’s so hard to get a read on the pipeline and get a read on what will be launching and when these projects will be pursuing a campaign on AD or if they will ever pursue a campaign on AD. Certainly this period has taught me patience.

Anthony Denman:
The only thing you can be sure about in our space is that you can be absolutely sure of nothing.

Tom Hywood:
You hit the nail on the head.

Anthony Denman:
And let me tell you, it’s fucking frustrating. Especially in a business like yours, which is growing and stuttering because of the cycle of COVID or whatever else. We’ll talk a little bit about cycles later on. I gave up on budget forecasting about 20 years ago.

Tom Hywood:
I was going to say now because we’ve done the exact same thing.

Anthony Denman:
You just don’t know. Especially in this market. So tough but there’s always a green tree frog or something that’s going to stop you in your tracks. It’s a highly unpredictable space, let me tell you. Not that I’ve got anything against green tree frogs. In fact, I am a green tree frog fan. I’m a big fan of nature. I just want to make that clear. In terms of learning, I’m a big fan of this idea of infinite learning, that you can never stop learning. There’s just so much information out there, it’s unreal, right? So I guess in your life, books, mentors, is there any particular source of learning that you found to be more valuable than others?

Tom Hywood:
It’s funny you say that about there being so much information out there because I have been getting increasingly stressed about not consuming enough information. There’s a documentary on every single different thing, which are all so interesting to me but I haven’t watched one of them and it stresses me out. I’m like, what information do I need to consume? What’s the most important? How do I prioritize them? But seriously, to answer your question, mentors, yeah there have been definitely a few along the way. Probably the person that jumps out to mind is Jordy, although probably not the traditional mentor it terms of the age gap, him being only one year older than me but he’s a person that I admire a lot and will always go to to seek advice from and I’ve just got so much admiration and respect for the guy. He’s just wise beyond his years and his ability to navigate through a crisis is something, which I’ve learned from a lot.

Tom Hywood:
His ability to just naturally have that gift of managing people is something that I’ve learned a lot from. He also played a big part in the rebirth of the hotel that his family own up in Byron Bay and watching him do both things at once and the way that he treated people who were working for him up at the hotel being Raes on Wategoes certainly taught me a lot about how I would want to be treated but also about, when managing our staff, how I should treat them. He’s just a very impressive guy.

Anthony Denman:
I Haven’t been to Raes for a while. It was certainly there before the Catalano family owned it but I had a Snapper there. I don’t know if they still do it. It was one of the best pieces of fish I have ever eaten in my life. Absolutely love that place. Such an idyllic part of the world.

Tom Hywood:
It’s incredible and they know it and they’re so proud to be the owners of that property, as they should be. It’s beautiful. Every single time I go there, I love it and it’s great, having that tiny, little involvement where someone needs to get a table, I can get them a table and I look like a complete hero.

Anthony Denman:
Right, just let me write that down, hang on. Table at Raes. Good. I’ll keep that. Anyone else? Any other mentors in your life?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah. Definitely there’s quite a few and probably too many to name. I suppose I do have quite a large social network and a large part of the social network has been through people that I’ve worked with that either I’ve worked with or have been my boss or worked with in the same company that I worked for. Two of those people would be Trent Casson and Antony, Jordy’s dad, Anthony Catalano. Antony gave me my first gig at The Weekly Review when he launched that magazine and that really set me on the path to where I am now. Antony and I have had a lot of fun together along the way and then Trent, who was Antony’s 2IC at The Weekly Review and then went on to be one of the GMs at Domain, he has been a really big mentor of mine, someone I spent a lot of time with personally and I think Trent’s really helped me understand the gift of kindness, as cliché as that sounds, and making sure that you treat people as you would want to treated and making sure that everyone deserves the same amount of time and attention.

Tom Hywood:
It’s something that I try and integrate into my day to day life and some days I’ve better at it than others but yeah, he’s definitely a person that’s been important to me. Then, of course, my old man Greg. He’s just someone that I probably take for granted too often than not but I go to, whenever there’s a problem personally or professionally. He’s a man of great wisdom, so picking his brain is something that’s very special.

Anthony Denman:
You’re very lucky to have such a significant suite of people to learn from. Yeah, look I’ve got to say, I was on my way into a meeting at CBRE in North Sydney and I got a phone call from the marketing manager there and she said, “Mate, you can’t come in. In fact, none of us are going in because there’s some marketing guy that was in here that had coronavirus,” and I’m like, “Fuck, I hope it was James Cooper.” It turns out it was you, case 93 of coronavirus in Australia and in fact, you wrote an opinion piece to the Sydney Morning Herald and I saw some of the comments that were written in respect to response to that. Would you think twice about doing that again?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, definitely. I suppose that’s the thing of putting yourself out there, that more often than not, you’re going to get smashed. Look, I think I was probably harshly done by. The title will really set me up for failure there. It wasn’t created by me. It was created by them. It was a bit of click bait. I think it read something like, “I had coronavirus and I’ll be fine,” which I never said, nor did I ask them to use it as a title but I think the principles within that piece, I still stand by, which was that I was never underplaying the disease and the severity of the virus. I was simply saying that for me personally, the health inflictions were not severe, and I felt that many people should treat it as such and the people who we should be concerned about are the people who are likely to be at risk, which are the elderly and the health compromised. I think that people thought that I was just saying, “What’s all the fuss about?” When that wasn’t what I was saying.

Tom Hywood:
I just thought that the fuss should be more concentrated on the people who are just like likely to effect and since then, we have seen, especially in Victoria, there have been people who have been unhappy with the state of the economy due to the severe restrictions that have been put in place, not that I want to get into it. I don’t want to get too political.

Anthony Denman:
So you reckon I could’ve gone to that meeting.

Tom Hywood:
I reckon that… Well, potentially-

Anthony Denman:
I reckon I could’ve gone to that meeting. I reckon I could’ve-

Tom Hywood:
It depends who it was with. If it was with, I think Dave’s probably immune to everything.

Anthony Denman:
That’s right. Nothing can live inside Dave’s system.

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, so I don’t think that he would’ve passed it on but if it was anybody else, maybe you should’ve just sat it out.

Anthony Denman:
How does it feel, seriously, being locked down for that long?

Tom Hywood:
Look, it really is a challenge and I’ve definitely got it better than most but those who work for AD, we speak regularly and luckily not many… I think I’m probably the only person who does live by themselves within the business and I’ve got my son every second weekend and every other Thursday but being able to have someone to live with has been really important for most, from what I’ve been told. It’s extremely repetitive and for me, every day’s been different. Some days I wake up completely spiteful at the state government and Dan Andrews and I’m ready to go and stand outside Parliament House with a flaming torch and a picket and the next day I wake up and I’ll be extremely sympathetic. He has a real C-U-N-T of a job and I think that he’s just doing his best under the circumstances. My opinions are literally changing daily.

Anthony Denman:
How do you run your business?

Tom Hywood:
We run our business, everyone works from home. We’re in constant communication via Zoom, via Slack, via email. Whatever way necessary in order to do our jobs efficiently. I don’t want to say luckily but because the industry has slowed down as a whole, we’re able to still be as effective as we ever would be, not being in the office. Things aren’t as crazy as they are normally, but I just think it’s really important for everyone at AD and I can probably speak broadly, I think, in all businesses that would usually be in the office having day to day interaction, that you just stay in touch and make sure that you’re asking each other how… You’re asking your colleagues how they are, making sure they’re okay.

Anthony Denman:
Do you think things are going to change for you? Do you need an office, moving forward? When things get back to normal.

Tom Hywood:
I think so, yeah. I can’t see us ever not needing to be in an office environment. We’ve proven that we can survive and function working from home but I certainly don’t want this to be the new normal. I’d like to be in the office and all the feedback from our staff has been that they can’t wait to get back in.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I think the thing is with cycles generally, the only thing that changes is the cause, duration and the depth. This has been fucking unbelievable what’s happened this time around with the amount of causes. It’s just been constant, right? One after the next, then it all accumulates. It all finishes, hopefully, with this virus. I think we’ve probably covered it to a certain degree and that is how you feel about cycles in our space, and how you manage and navigate your way through those cycles.

Tom Hywood:
Look, this question, I feel, it’s not as appropriate for me to answer as maybe some of your other guests where this is the first recession that I’ve ever experienced. This is the first negative cycle in the property market that I’ve ever experienced because this is the first business that I have started or been an owner of, in 2014. Even before then, I only finished school in 2009, the ebbs and flows of the property cycle never really affected me and haven’t really until now, we launched in 2014 and it was the hottest time in the property market that Australians had ever experienced and that continued that trajectory until the credit crunch of 2019. Then that then drifted into or merged with coronavirus or they coincided, so this is the first time I experienced it and we’ve doing everything we possibly can to navigate our way through it and we feel that we’ve done a relatively good job and we’ve taken on advice from people who have experienced cycles like this before. We’ve been really diligent in making sure that the necessary costs are cut from the business and now we’re just trying to absorb all the learnings and get out the other side.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, and that’s all you can do. I think there’s no better way to learn. You were talking about learning before. You know what I mean, this is the very best way. You learn from these moments. It’s really interesting, I’ll be interested to maybe reconnect with you in about six years, seven years when you’re flying again, just to see how aware you are that it’s all going to come crashing down again. Maybe not to the extent, hopefully, that it’s come crashing down this time, and I think that’s the true test of how much you learn from these dips, is how well you handle the highs and how well you prepare in those highs for the next dip.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, so look mate, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and have this chat. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m a big admirer of what you’re doing and I think you’re onto something that’s really good and it’s really good for the category. So hang in there, right? I’m sure you will but hang in there, because the good times are coming. Make no mistake about that. Is there an easy way for people to get into… What’s your preferred way of people getting in touch with you if they want to reach out?

Tom Hywood:
Yeah, sure. So I can be contacted myself at our email, Tom@AD-group.com.au or you can just give me a buzz on the mobile on 0425-532-092. Look, thanks for having me Anthony. It was a pleasure to chat to you and I had a lot of fun as well.

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property professionals, unearthing their tips and providing insights on how to create the most successful place, property, corporate & personal brands possible.

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