This interview is part of our new Blockchain In Real Estate series, where we interview the world's leading thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between blockchain and real estate.
In this interview we speak with Stephen King, CEO of imbrex, to understand how his company is using blockchain to transform the real estate business, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind imbrex? Why and how did you begin?
SK: Previous to Imbrex, I owned and operated a commercial real estate firm. Regardless of how efficient we were, I found it incredibly cumbersome to process transactions from listing to close as the eight applications we were using had no way to communicate with each other. Thus, we would generate a listing and find ourselves in a continuous cycle of duplicative data entry and updates. Serendipitously, I came across the Ethereum white paper in late 2014 and thought it could solve the communication issue. Ethereum offered an unbiased storage and exchange capability that current technologies at the time could not. “Unbiased” was a key element, because Ethereum didn’t need to report quarterly reports to shareholders or make sure it was “hitting top-line growth”. That is the major disincentive structure for centralized cloud providers; they build up their proprietary walls making it difficult for users to migrate their data between disparate systems. I discovered that by combining Ethereum with the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) we could encrypt (lock) the entity (property address) onto the blockchain and distribute the attributes to IPFS. The person or brokerage firm uploading the data would be the one in control, not the application or cloud provider. The key could be shared at scale and I or anyone else in the industry could move data between systems without giving up control. This quickly gained the attention of my peers, and over a short period of time imbrex was born.
2. Please describe your use case and how imbrex uses blockchain:
SK: The use case is simple, it’s to give the consumer and real estate industry an easier way to transact. Imbrex specializes in three things to achieve this objective. First, using tegula, our open source protocol, we transform existing real estate data into a format better suited for the blockchain. During transformation, tegula generates an encryption or what we call an Owner Key; and once the data has been transformed and the user has their Owner Key, we move on to distribution through imbrex. In addition to helping users transform their data in a nontechnical way, imbrex assists with distributing the listing via their key so the user can obtain exposure and generate leads. Once the user finds a buyer, they are ready to close. Escrow Commons is our closing room where the buy and sell sides can transparently process the deal. We employ tegula as the backend so the transaction participants maintain control of their data throughout the entire process. Last, we leverage DAI, a stablecoin, for deposits, escrow, and processing.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has your service done for them?
SK: Our first partner was a national home builder, Toll Brothers. They were interested in the transformation and distribution of their listings. We’ve successfully processed their data through tegula and set up daily automated processing and distribution via imbrex. The next phase is processing these deals through Escrow Commons. In addition to Toll, we just on-boarded our first commercial real estate firm, SVN. We successfully completed the transformation and distribution process with transactions next on the list. It’s really exciting because Toll Brothers and SVN are the first companies in the world to store real estate data onto the blockchain. It’s been an incredible education and experience for us. Seeing the practical application from start to finish is incredibly exciting. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement of a large commercial deal we’ll be processing through Escrow Commons this spring.
4. What other blockchain use cases in real estate are you excited about?
SK: Data marketplaces. The blockchain gives the real estate industry the capability to own their data. Before the blockchain, we gave everything to the application providers and they were the financial benefactors. It makes research a nightmare and offers a disservice to all transaction participants. Data marketplaces will provide new research and monetization tools that will make the transaction more cost effective and transparent.
5. Where will imbrex be in five years?
SK: Imbrex will be recognized as the pipes that make real estate transactions easier for everyone. What I mean is, we are not trying to replace existing real estate applications or do every part of the transaction; rather, we want to facilitate connectivity between transaction participants and their tools. Tegula provides the first layer of connectivity via transformation and control capabilities. Imbrex will be providing scaled distribution so users can easily move their data between their systems, imbrex and other third-party applications around the world. Escrow Commons is bringing together transaction participants and their processing tools. Users may want to use DocuSign for signatures, Glide for seller disclosure, ZipForms for document templates. The point is, we want the user to be able to connect whatever application they need to make the transaction more efficient and cost-effective.