Category: Asia Pacific

Real Estate technology startup stories from the Asia-Pacific region.

Optimise Agent Profiles
Asia PacificInterviews

Realtor Profiler: Optimising Real Estate Agent’s Online Profiles

Everyone who conducts business online knows how important content marketing is for online lead generation. However, perhaps due to property prices rising in recent years, the real estate industry has been slower to adopt content marketing techniques than other industries.

We sat down with Rod Smith, founder of the real estate profile automation platform, Realtor Profiler, to talk about his unique content marketing solution. Realtor Profiler is the world’s first rapid content generation service for real estate profiles. It lets real estate professionals, agencies, and portals transform their online presence in just minutes.

What’s the story behind Realtor Profiler?

Realtor Profiler really began in 2013 when I was looking for a house to rent in Australia. Like most people, I started searching for real estate agents to assess their qualifications and credibility.

I was surprised to find that most real estate agents’ LinkedIn and Portal profiles were incomplete and lacked key information. Instead of inspiring trust, most agents’ profiles felt like dead ends. So I asked a question that ultimately inspired the business: why aren’t real estate agents better utilising their online profiles?

I identified three key reasons:

  1. Time – real estate agents are often too busy to optimise their own profiles.
  2. Skills – most agents aren’t totally sure where to start or how to project themselves effectively online.
  3. Money – bespoke personal branding consultants are usually pricey (not to mention, they require agents’ time).

After three years in this space, my team has more than 30,000 hours of consulting experience and the largest capacity in the world. We’ve never stopped innovating and refining our processes.

Now, we’re launching an innovative content generation platform that makes it incredibly simple for real estate agents to transform their online profiles with unique, personalised, search-engine-optimised content. We offer live chat support as agents fill out our form, then we deliver fresh profiles within a business day.

Explain how the business works and what it does for agents?

We partner with portals and agencies, and also serve agents directly through our B2C site.

Agents spend 10-30 minutes filling out our optimisation form. From there, we craft profile content that fits specifically with any number of desired portals, and/or LinkedIn. In Australia, that’s five portals plus LinkedIn. In Southeast Asia, it’s currently three regional portals plus LinkedIn. The agents look more professional online, attract more listings, improve referral rates, receive more job offers, and save a lot of time (and money). For AUD$99, that’s amazing value for money and it really helps them to be more competitive online.

Our B2B partners also benefit from offering optimised profiles to their agents – stronger SEO presence, more online engagement, better metrics and more comprehensive agent services. Probably the biggest attraction is that we save our partners lots of time and money by quickly transforming their less-than-optimal agent profiles. Incomplete, lacklustre agent profiles are really a blight on portal and agency sites. We’ve got the quick cure.

Which platforms can you optimise?

There are really no limits. Currently, we can optimise the leading portals in the South East Asian and Australian markets. That includes the leading residential and commercial portals. We are talking with several smaller portals that see us as an opportunity to gain traction and compete. We are looking at North America later this year.

LinkedIn is also a big part of what we do. That’s getting more important with the acquisition by Microsoft, who are integrating LinkedIn with a number of their products like Outlook, Skype, MS Dynamics, and the rest of the MS Office suite. Junk LinkedIn profiles are getting less and less acceptable for professionals in any kind of sales role.

Agents who aren’t native English speakers are also really interested because we allow them to complete our form in their native language and then produce two versions of their profile – one in their native language and another version in perfect English. This has opened discussions with portals that have a country specific focus but want to attract foreign, English-speaking investors.

Do you also optimise profiles on agent rating websites?

We focus on portals and large agencies primarily, because they offer greater volume opportunities and we believe we are a better fit for their needs. Although we are open to possible partnership talks.

You didn’t have a background in real estate – what made you decide to focus on this sector?

I’ve been based in Asia for nearly 20 years and have started four companies focused on servicing niche markets in developed APAC countries. So I have have a lot of experience building solutions for competitive rates.

Speaking of real estate specifically, I actually did have some prior experience with the property market through a non-profit I founded in Cebu. Fair Go Sourcing helps single mothers who need a flexible way to earn and invest in their children. We connect them with property management agencies that need to transcribe property condition reports. Also, my family has always been active in the property market, so that’s also given me some insight into how things work in this sector.

I’ve learned by reading and engaging constantly with seasoned real estate and proptech professionals. Back in 2013 when I was looking for a home to rent and not really impressed with most agents’ online profiles, I delved into it. I’ve done a lot of research since then and I’m confident in my assessment and familiarity with the market dynamics.

Can you tell me how many clients you have / how the business is growing?

We launched a short test campaign in 2014 and saw over 30% month-on-month average growth. At the beginning we would spend 4-5 hours per agent. Since then, we’ve invested a lot of time in tech and content and now offer a more streamlined approach.

We have the capacity to serve 1,000 agents per day and hope to be hitting those numbers soon with a few large B2B partners rolling out. That’s more capacity than any other supplier, by far. We’ve already had over 30,000 hours of consulting experience and now have the ability to serve more agents in less time with much less overhead.

Do you have any competitors? (I was waiting to find a system like yours given the need for agents to manage online profiles)

At this stage there are no firms with our capacity or tech. We have spent 3 years focused on this one niche so we have a big head start and our location allows for us to service Asia, Oceania and Europe during daytime hours. We opened our first office in the United States last month.

What do you think is the future of real estate agents and how they will compete online? (given agent rating platforms, online agents, etc.)

Obviously, technology is helping, but also challenging and disrupting the way humans work. Real estate agents are not immune to this phenomenon. Your question actually underscores the importance of our solution because agents who have the ability to tackle novel situations, meet new market needs, empathise with their clients, and project and promote themselves as discerning, compassionate human beings will be the last to be replaced by virtual (machine) agents. Agents who do not adapt and brand themselves in this way may experience some uncomfortable pressure in the coming years.

What is the technology or skills that are behind your business?

We’d love to share, but we do guard our tech specs. I can say that we owe a great deal to our exceptional relationship with Vietnam’s most selective university, the Foreign Trade University, where we source most of our talent. Our staff are mainly young and excel at research and innovation, technical and research skills, problem solving, and customer service. These are what drive our product and underpin the quality of our live support.

We’re based in Hanoi, ranked this year by the World Economic Forum as the 8th most dynamic city in the world. Vietnam consistently ranks in the top 3 globally for outsourcing. The quality and availability of technical and English speaking staff here is amazing – both local and international talent.

Singapore IoT Fund
Asia PacificInterviewsIoT

Singapore IoT Fund: Accelerating the next billion in Sensing Cities

Singapore based venture capital firm and accelerator, TNB Ventures (TNB) has launched TNB Aura Fund 1, the only hardware / software focused fund in the region with a mandate to invest in IoT, Robotics, Machine Learning/AI and AR/VR. With a mission to become the next generation venture capital platform, TNB was founded in 2016 with the coming together of two very active accelerators and one Series A VC. In 2017 TNB will launch TNB Aura Fund 1, a SGD$50 million investment vehicle, that includes co-investment by SPRING Singapore, the Singapore government agency responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow.

TNB provides early stage startups with funding support in 2 ways:

  1. TNB Accelerator: 6-9 month acceleration program with S$40,000 investment per startup;
  2. TNB Aura Fund 1: provides funding support from Seed to Series A/B stages
    1. Seed Stage: funds between S$250,000 – 500,000 per investment (looking to invest in ~20-30 companies); and
    2. Series A/B: funds between S$1-3 million per investment (looking to invest in ~15-20 companies).

Beyond investment, TNB is assembling a strong ecosystem of partners to provide startups in its portfolio with strong technical support, access to top tier corporate partners and mentorship.

Managing Partner, Vicknesh R Pillay, explains more:

How did TNB get together?

The 3 partners came together having managed our own proprietary investment vehicles. I came from an investment banking and real estate background, having set up a real estate fund with German capital managing about €350 million. After exiting the fund in 2014, which led me to start investing in other companies, I came across Michael Yap, former Deputy CEO of the Media Development Authority, who was hugely involved in the development of Block 71 and Singapore’s startup ecosystem, and Kelvin Ong, CEO of FocusTech Ventures and Executive Director of the Holding Company for leading HDD component maker, Seksun Group.

Thus, we had complementary skills and as we started to form our thinking about a new venture, SPRING Singapore announced the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Grant. We then created TNB, applied for the grant, and were one of only 7 VCs to be appointed as their specialised accelerator and receive funding.

So what is your investment approach?

We do not invest into e-commerce or marketplaces. Our thesis lies in the combination of hardware and software – the time is ripe for the intersection between the physical and digital. We invest into the hardware (sensors) and the software (where the IP and visualisation sits) knowing that by 2020 there will be >30 billion connected devices, and the size of the big data and AR/VR markets will be worth US$60 Billion and US$150 Billion respectively.

We felt there was a gap in Singapore to create a VC which supports its investments via a holistic approach, creating an ecosystem for success rather than just providing capital. We want to provide follow on capital, bring in corporate partners and even help with recruitment.

Another area of focus is that we provide access to corporates. If we find interesting startups we will introduce them to relevant corporate partners. For example, we would introduce a VR company to our travel partner Chan Brothers Group which has a lot of industry experience that can be leveraged to help the startup fine-tune its product.

We have also invested in this space by bringing on board PHDs in augmented reality and electronics engineering, and have our own talent management team which helps the startups with recruitment. It’s all about building the supporting infrastructure, so we are reinvesting management fees to create this ecosystem.

How do you access deal flow?

How do you access deal flow?

We are lucky to have Aura Group as our lead investor in the fund which helps to give deal flow from Australia. Plug and Play gives us access to the US, and Ruvento Ventures gives us access to Eastern Europe. Beyond that I would describe it as either natural or proactive deal flow:

  • Natural – being a co-investment partner of SPRING Singapore where we get a lot of deal flow. Secondly, we have deep roots with the research bodies in Singapore with A*Star, NTU and NUS. Finally, we have a good network of investors/VCs who refer deals to us as well.
  • Proactive deal flow – doing a global call such as this Sensing Cities Global Call & Accelerator Program 2016 to bring together a group of corporates with startups that are relevant to our investment thesis.

What is your strategy around corporates?

We want to provide corporates with a range of different options for their innovation objectives. Many of them spend millions of dollars to develop innovation strategies or they consider setting up internal investment funds. Our advice is to put a toe in the water via a platform like ours. For a sponsorship fee, they can get access to early-stage startups via the accelerator. Alternatively, they can invest in the fund (TNB Aura Fund1) and get access to everything we do. This doesn’t provide a full innovation strategy, but it complements it at a fraction of the price it costs to do it themselves.

As of now, our corporate partners include Chan Brothers Travel, Lignar Labs, A*Star, Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. We will soon be announcing partners in consulting and real estate.

What are you excited about in the property space?

Two areas:

AR/VR: We believe the way we view properties is going to completely change. Property sites will move from transactional to experiential, and there will be a lot of change in this space.

Estate Agents: There will always be a place for agents, but this will be reduced and the role will change to a service-centric role. It will be just like bankers who are paid a salary to assist you, rather than a commission on transaction.

What’s a good example of a successful exit your team has made?

One of our partners was a seed investor in Catapult Sports, a smart wearables company used by leading sports brands around the world. It listed on the ASX for a investment multiple of 15 times.

Finally, an update on the status of applications?

We have received >250 applicants for the Sensing Cities call, hoping to get 1,000 by 31 December when entries close.

Singapore PropTech
Asia PacificAsset Class

6 Signs Singapore’s real estate tech scene is on the rise

Singapore’s Property Guru is the dominant portal in this real estate obsessed nation. According to its own statistics, it commands more than 85% of all time spent on local portals and living here I would say that feels about right. The iProperty Group, which Australia’s REA Group acquired late last year for US$534m, can’t seem to make serious inroads with September 2016 traffic reaching 150,000 compared to Property Guru’s 1.5 million (according to www.similarweb.com).

Meanwhile, 99.co, which made waves here when it announced a fresh investment round of $1.6m in January 2015 (largely due to the participation of Facebook co-Founder Eduardo Saverin) promised a superior search experience based on a Google-like search. It has a more modern interface and an algorithm called ListRank which focuses on quality rather than sponsored listings, but the ultimate experience remains more or less the same – consumers are still sorting through listings advertised by Singapore’s 30,000 plus real estate agents.

So how much innovation is there in the Singapore real estate tech scene? Here are the top 6 reasons why things are about to get interesting:

Capitaland VC Fund

In June this year, one of Singapore’s leading property developers, Capitaland, established a SGD$100m fund to invest in real estate related start ups. Named C31 Ventures, $75m is mandated for global investments while $25m is earmarked locally. Of this, $10m was contributed by the National Research Foundation under its Early Stage Venture Fund.

The significance of this move is threefold. First, very few global developers have set aside this type of capital for tech start ups making Capitaland a first mover in this space. Second, as a developer and owner of retail, residential, office and hospitality projects, it will be interested in a very wide range of business models and will be able to provide its investments with access to its property portfolio giving them instant scale. Third, this sends a message to the local start up community which, in turn, should mean more founders moving into this space.

Government

Singapore’s objective to become a smart nation is well known and well on track when you look at examples like Jurong Lakes District, or a range of initiatives relating to public wifi, logistics and driverless cars. Specifically relating to property, the Minister for National Development was recently quoted as saying the industry needs to brace itself for Disruption so there is an awareness even at the highest levels that change is on the horizon.

On top of this, Singapore has declared its intention to become a FinTech hub, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore establishing a FinTech Innovation Hub, creating a regulatory sandbox for FinTech startups and sponsoring the inaugural FinTech Festival on 14 November 2016.

FinTech and parts of PropTech are interlinked. Crowdfunding or peer-2-peer lending for property is relate to both property and finance. Thus, for Singapore to become a leader in FinTech you can expect property related platforms will receive government blessing.

Orange Tee Agent Rankings

In February, Orange Tee, one of the leading residential brokers launched Singapore’s first agent rating platform called Agent Bank. Similar platforms, which operate like tripadvisor for real estate agents, are quickly gaining traction in the US, UK and Australia with Singapore seemingly a year or two behind this trend. In Australia, Westpac (one of the big four banks) recently invested in OpenAgent indicating how much they expect agent ratings to become part and parcel of how people transact residential property.

Online Agents

Online Agents promise to replace human agents, or at least substitute much of their role. For a fixed-fee rather than a commission, they provide professional photos and list them on the major portals and give you all the tools you need to sell your property.

This year both Snappy House and Direct Home have launched in Singapore. On top of that, ohmyhome specifically targets HDB (Housing and Development Board) owners, allowing over 80% of the population to trade their properties directly. While in their infancy, the online agent product has arrived and will undoubtedly appeal to the budget conscious end of market, and this segment will mature quickly in the next 24 months.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality hit the mainstream when Property Guru launched a pop-up VR showroom at Raffles Place (CBD) earlier this year. This allowed people to walk into their truck and view condo showflats via VR googles and proved that VR can take property mobile.  Earlier this month, another developer Keppel incorporated VR into its show suites when it launched its Highline Residences condominium allowing prospective buyers to experience their apartments using Oculus Rift.

Both the government and property media have now taken notice and are keen to see more of this from developers. Thus, VR will quickly become another weapon in the marketing arsenal, augmenting the traditional show suite launch experience.

Startup Diversity

Most importantly perhaps, the range of real estate related startups is beginning to broaden, moving closer to what’s happening in other markets. In addition to property search, Singapore now has platforms ranging from home design and renovation (Qanvast) to property management (Pegaxis),  property investment research (DREA) to agent bidding (Yotcha), and Internet of Things such as air quality sensors (uHoo).

This diversity will continue to expand, both as the real estate tech scene gains exposure abroad and the local ecosystem matures. Even last week we saw the launch of a smart cities VC accelerator calling for start ups in the areas of VR, IoT, robotics, big data an AI.

Government, capital, talent and industry awareness – the necessary ingredients are coming together and Singapore’s real estate tech scene has begun to simmer.

Homely
Asia PacificInterviewsResidential

Homely: the Australian property portal setting new standards in UX design

Homely is one of our favourite Australian PropTech platforms. It combines property search with neighbourhood guides and agent ratings wrapped up in a beautifully designed, easy to navigate site. Jason Spencer, Co-Founder and CEO, explains why Homely’s success is no accident.

Two brothers in the real estate tech business?

We come from a very entrepreneurial family with a strong history in the Australian mortgage industry. Our family business, called Interstar, was a pioneer that helped introduce the concept of non-bank home loans in the 1990’s. While companies like Aussie, Wizard and RAMS were the retail brands, we were the wholesalers behind the scenes funding the mortgages for thousands of businesses. It was a very successful business, ultimately sold to the Challenger Group. Later we launched several other B2B technology businesses in the financial services space but this all changed for us in 2007 when we had the idea for StreetAdvisor.

What started StreetAdvisor and is still operating?

So StreetAdvisor is a business that actually started with a poor experience that I had with real estate. It dates back to 2007. I had been quite disappointed with our home or more in fact the street, it was noisy, lots of traffic and we really didn’t get along with the neighbours. I’m sure many can relate to disliking their street in some form. So we decided to build a website called StreetAdvisor.com.au that would be like Tripadvisor, but for streets and suburbs.

This quickly took off here in Australia and also in the USA and became the biggest community of its kind where people could talk about what its like to live somewhere. Eventually the community started to ask us to add homes for sale and we built homely.com.au on top of the original StreetAdvisor community launching in early 2014.

Give us a sense of your growth since launch?

We have seen fantastic growth over the first three years, traffic doubling every year and over 90% of all listings submitted nationally. We are on track to have at least 10 million people visit our site in the next 12 months and we have over 90% of all agents signed up to our service. It’s been a lot of hard work to get the business where it is today. We believe no other portal has grown at the rate we have in the first three years.

Why the emphasis on design?

Our design team will tell you it’s not just about design, its also about the user experience. With the maturing of the internet consumers are used to seeing beautiful things often so it often comes down to a sub-conscious level whether something is designed well or not. We want consumers not only to look at homely to see a beautiful real estate search, we also want them to have a well designed experience. When consumers line our search experience up alongside the competition it’s important they can tell and feel the difference. And we think our recent international multiple Webby nominations validate our work.

Why did you move into agent reviews when the main function of the site is property search? Was it monetization and was that always your plan?

We think reviews are a great way for agents to highlight their success, but more importantly consumers want to know as much as they can about who is representing their most important asset. It’s so important to be able to get more than just performance statistics and so late last year we launched our own agent review platform where vendors, buyers and landlords can review their experience.

We also worked with agents to ensure some level of validation of the person who is reviewing the agent. We see the problem with reviews on sites like Google is that anyone can write a review – competitors, trolls, the agent’s mum, you just don’t know and the agent often doesn’t know. So we don’t have anonymous reviews, we ask for the property address and we have a team of people doing moderation.  Reviews for us were never about monetisation, they are about transparency.

How do you think the industry is changing for agents with the growth of homely, openagent and ratemyagent?

Sites like ours and other ratings sites give agents so many ways to better promote themselves online backed up by qualitative content instead of just typical sales data. I know the industry is cautious about agent reviews but we believe with our 10 year experience in the reviews space we can protect the agent while still giving transparency to the consumer.

How ready are agents for the digital age and how prepared are they to pay to enhance their online reputation?

I think the majority are ready for the digital age, they really have no choice if they want to stay competitive. Of course we see some agents who really are too flat out selling homes to bother with online but most acknowledge that with vendors and home buyers doing the research online you need to be there. Providing they can see ongoing value, agents will be happy to continue to pay to promote themselves online.

How do you think homely has impacted the industry – eg. domain.com.au and realestate.com.au?

Homely has definitely pushed the mark in terms of building a beautiful product and we have shown agents that a free-to-list portal can work in Australia, that there there is an alternative to promote your home online. We tend not to think about the competition or what they think, our team is focused on creating something special and unique in the industry.

Have you received external funding or plan to raise it?

No external funding, all privately held.

Finally, any other exciting Australian real estate tech platforms you like? 

No response from me on this one, don’t wish to leave out any number of our current or future partners!

Fintech / Proptech platform LoanDolphin
Asia PacificResidential

Australian Proptech / Fintech Mortgage Platform LoanDolphin: Giving customers more control

The Australian home loan industry is worth more than AUD$1.4 trillion, with the big four banks some of the most profitable in the world. That suggests consumers aren’t always getting the best deal. Meanwhile, Australian entrepreneurs have caught the Fintech bug, with a rapidly developing ecosystem spearheaded by Stone and Chalk. One resident startup, LoanDolphin, has created an auction platform, introducing transparency and competition to the mortgage market. A Proptech / Fintech hybrid, CTO and Co-Founder Rod  Dutra explains their plans to change how Australians get a home loan:

What is the problem you have set out to fix with LoanDolphin?

We both worked for a big 4 bank here in Sydney (Australia) and during this time we were able to experience first-hand the power banks have over the consumers and the amount of savings customers were missing out due to the lack of awareness when it comes to effectively negotiating and finding the right channel to complete their property finance requirements. We saw that customers were at the mercy of banks and had to do a lot of work to get the home loan deal they deserved.

Mortgage brokers can help, but different mortgage brokers have access to different rates so the customer still doesn’t know if they’re getting the best deal. We thought it was about time the consumers had more control and that brokers and banks did the hard work instead so we created LoanDolphin to empower consumers with more choice, convenience and value.

What has been the biggest challenging in launching the platform?

It’s very similar to most startups. Building trust with the customers is probably one of the biggest challenges we have. We collect a considerable amount of information and, as a result, sometimes customers may be reluctant to give all the information out. We are still building our brand from scratch. But this is when early adopters and talking to our existing customers becomes very important. We love it when customers share their feedback with us so we can keep improving our product.

What was the process like in signing up the first bank and generally how have the banks responded?

We were able to sign up some banks early on when we were about to launch our MVP. It takes a lot or persistence and patience with the banks. Generally, banks are very conservative. Different stakeholders, inconclusive priorities and a lack of long term strategic thinking is very hard to tackle as a startup.

When you say lenders and brokers compete is it fully automated and how does that work?

There is a human behind all this competition. We believe that the home loan deal as well as the person who assists you with the application is crucial. Our ratings and reviews will help our customers choose not just the right product but also the most suitable person – whether it’s a bank lender or a mortgage broker. Also, all the bids are placed in an open and transparent platform so brokers and banks can see what everyone else is prepared to offer each customer, which means that the competition is very fierce.

How does a broker compete with a bank when presumably their loan is from the same institutions?

Goes back to what we mentioned about the lack awareness. Certain brokers are categorised as ‘platinum’ or ‘flame’ brokers. These brokers have special deals and certain privileges with certain banks. Likewise some senior bank lenders have anything from pricing discretions to the ability to fast track applications if need be. So as a customer if you go to a normal lender or a normal mortgage broker you might end up with an average deal for one of the biggest purchases in your life.

Do you have any direct competitors?

Our competitors range from comparison websites to DIY broker sites, all with fairly different offerings and value propositions from us.

How has Stone and Chalk helped your business?

It’s been great here at Stone and Chalk and we have found great mentors. The collaborative efforts within the community to help, share and support each other is absolutely priceless.

What do you think of alternative funding platforms like funding.com.au?

We believe that alternative funding platforms will have a part to play in the industry. There are plenty of problems in the market which need innovative solutions to tackle them. As long as no one is ripping the customers off (like the payday lenders saga) and there is a clear value add to the customers, alternative funding platforms will remain relevant.

What is the focus for the next 12 months?

  1. Expanding our team
  2. Release LoanDolphin v2 to the market in the next 8 weeks
  3. Get more direct banks involved

You have announced plans to expand the platform for mortgage brokers. Can you explain how this will work?

We already have mortgage brokers taking part in our platform. We are actively looking to expand our partnerships with Victorian mortgage brokers since we are starting to see a big uplift in our customer base from Victoria.

DREA Singapore
Asia PacificInterviewsResidential

Interview: Digital Real Estate Assistant (DREA) Singapore

Singapore’s DREA aims to radically improve the property buying process giving buyers access to market data analysis and insights previously limited to professionals, while giving agents highly targeted leads and a platform for digital marketing. A husband and wife team (seemingly the perfect combination with one an ex-banker, the other the CTO), we sat down with the later, Yuet Whey, to discover more:

What is the story behind DREA? Was it a lightbulb moment or a slow burn idea?

The idea for DREA started 3 years ago when I was looking to buy my first home in Singapore and was actively seeking information on the real estate market. I wanted a way to search for homes that would give me a minimum of 3% rental yield. However, it would require crunching through thousands of data points on Excel, a daunting task to many

Even as I shortlisted homes, I realized that there was an information gap in the market for real estate insights and more importantly, insights that could be accessed easily on-the-go. I then set about to create the first ever Digital Real Estate Assistant (hence the name DREA) that would offer any daily buyer, tenant, seller and landlord access to high quality, instant real estate information that is at the same time, easy to understand.

Tell me about the process of building the site (ie. first while working on it on the side, then to moving full time)?

When my partner and I first started designing and building DREA, we focused primarily on the consumer lens. Each time we had a house viewing or visited a show flat, we would think about what we would like to have as buyers and tenants. We then proceeded to create them. Being in the shoes of a consumer allowed us to identify gaps in the market and more importantly things that matter to the consumers. For example, the ability to search homes by drive time and the ability to get instant property insights such as supply risk and pricing around an area.

The product development process was exhilarating. We were essentially imagining possibilities, and then making them come to life. We took time to build up a truly differentiated and proprietary data set that went beyond common real estate data like prices. We also spent time talking to others and getting their inputs. More importantly, we took time to properly understand the industry to refine our business model. That is how we concluded on the need to shift away from the already commoditized market for posting online real estate classified listings.

I left Investment Banking when I knew we were ready to hit the market. Running a company is an entirely different experience from Banking. There was no one to tell me what to do. I had to learn new skills, set goals and be disciplined.

You are a husband and wife team – how does that work?

We complement each other by leveraging on each other’s strengths. It is not always easy and we recognize how critical it is to maintain clear boundaries between work and home. We constantly remind ourselves that the objective of working together is to build towards a common goal and (simple as it sounds) be happy. The focus on a long-term shared goal helps us look beyond individual moments of conflict which are unavoidable.

What are the key features your site offers in terms of market research?

  1. Location-based insights: anyone can flip out their phone anytime and instantly discover suitable units nearby, show flats nearby, prices in the area, supply risk and more.
  2. Natural Language Search: redesigning how one searches for information or homes by streamlining a wide range of search parameters into a simple and intuitive user experience. For example, try searching for price trends in District 9 or find me a 3 Bedroom for sale under $1.2m with a yield of >2.5%
  3. Price Trends and Supply Risk: ability to instantly retrieve detailed district-level price trends and triangulate it against upcoming supply in each district.
  4. Forward-looking SIBOR Rates: we offer consumers the ability to discover where SIBOR rates will be in 3 months time based on market expectations.
  5. Comparable Condos: DREA is designed to help consumers identify truly comparable condos (beyond area) in terms of tenure, age, price, drive time to your office or even walk time to MRT.

Where does your data come from?

We pull together data and content (housing, demographics, transport, interest rates) from multiple avenues including DREA’s proprietary dataset and from public sources like Urban Redevelopment Authority into a single source to enable new forms of instant analysis and insights on the property market.

What features do you offer to agents?

  1. For agents, we offer the ability to select, target and actively reach out to potential home buyers or tenants based on their housing preference. This is a 180-degree shift from the “post listings and wait for leads” business model adopted by most real estate portals.
  2. In addition to that, we offer agents a full suite of information and analysis so that they can address every client ask. In the past, an agent may need to spend hours pulling data from URA and then analysing them just to find out something as simple as future supply in a given area. Today, DREA processes all this and presents this to an agent in a matter of seconds. In a market where there are more than 20,000 agents, the ability to provide fact-based answers at the snap of a finger is a tremendous competitive advantage for agents.

How do you compare to property portals like property guru / iproperty?

We have a different business model and revenue model. For DREA, our content and information tools drive traffic. DREA is not about listings and we do not have to first build a large inventory of listings before we can attract users to our site. Users come to DREA mainly to assess whether a property is in a good location, has good amenities nearby or whether it is appropriately priced.

Similarly, DREA monetizes subscription to content services and for the purchase of detailed property insights reports. For us, listings are free and forever will be. We are currently testing other products which are unique to DREA and will be rolling them out to the market soon

What stage are you at in terms of funding / revenue / growth?

We are currently in the middle of discussions with several Series A investors and we are already revenue generating thus far.

What is the long term ambition (5-10 years)?

We envision a future where every consumer walking into a show flat or house viewing will look to DREA for information. And that they will use DREA to differentiate facts from sales-pitch, ask educated questions and use it to negotiate effectively.

On the commercial front, we see ourselves being a global player who has materially accelerated the shift in real estate advertising spend from traditional to digital. Our goal is to be a sustainable and profitable business.

What’s the hardest thing about being a startup in Singapore?

Competition for talent. We compete against MNCs, SMEs, larger tech companies and other startups for talent. With the lean business model most startups have, it has become increasingly difficult to attract the talent startups require to scale quickly and efficiently.

Proptech in India
Asia PacificCommercialInterviews

Interview: Propstack co-founder Raja Seetharaman

With a massive market, easily understood product, strong team and upcoming favourable regulatory change, Propstack looks ready to seize the commercial PropTech opportunity in India. We asked co-founder Raja Seetharaman to bring us up to speed.

Tell me about your founders and how you started?

We are three co-founders with backgrounds in Commercial real estate (CRE) (Insignia, JLL, Colliers), Banking (Deutsche Bank, Kotak), Analytics (Fractal) and residential group buying (Groffr). My personal background has been 15 plus years with Insignia (acquired by CBRE), Colliers, Ascendas (Singapore government company) and JLL as their National Director of Corporate Solutions.

We realized in early 2013 that there was no transparency in the Indian CRE market place and clients always referred to how decision making was inefficient, subjective and difficult. At the same time, we were also aware of data information sites in the US and how they could be a great enabler in some ways and disruptor in others. CRE is the largest asset class in the world and also the top two cost center for most corporates depending on the office location.

We saw this as a huge opportunity and decided to start Propstack.

What stage of growth are you at and how has the journey been?

Our journey has been very exciting. We started Propstack in June 2013, raised angel funding and covered data in Mumbai. We raised our Series A of USD$3.10m in June 2015 from Daily Mail Group (DMGI) with minority participation by Real Capital Analytics (RCA). We are now present in the top seven cities in India and cover 100% of all investible commercial buildings in the country. Our clients are funds, corporates, Developers, brokers and high-net wealths.

Did you have any previous startup experience?

Yes, two of the co-founders ran a boutique real estate advisory business while the third co-founder ran an online residential group buying firm for couple of years prior to starting Propstack.

What have been the biggest learnings in terms of starting your own business?

Personally my fear of failure was easily outweighed by my hope and expectation for success. Professionally, commercial real estate has been a slow adopter of technology. That said, it’s been an exciting journey thus far and I am loving it. We’re at a nascent stage of intersection of CRE and technology in India and it has its own unpredictability. When we find a solution to a specific problem, we are adding value to our business as well as the industry.

How have you found the challenge of hiring staff as you grow?

We’ve had hiring challenges especially for specific functions like sales and senior tech talent who can quickly grasp the CRE tech industry. As a young company, it’s important for us to not only find talent with the right skill sets but also find them at the right cost.

What is the business model?

We are a SAAS platform and our business model is subscription based.

Can you give more details on how your clients use the data – is it mainly for acquisition due diligence? Rental benchmarking?

Propstack conducts expansive, ongoing research to produce and maintain the largest and most comprehensive database of commercial real estate information in India. Our suite of online services enables clients to analyse, interpret and gain unmatched insight on commercial property values, market conditions and current availabilities.

Propstack covers the commercial real estate hubs of Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, NCR, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Propstack’s online service provides subscribers access to a diverse range of commercial real estate information: detailed building information, analytics, client stacking, availability/vacancy, transaction details and trends – catering to all Commercial real estate research requirements.

We are proud to serve a wide variety of professionals working in corporates, funds, rating agencies, brokers, owners, developers and vendors. Propstack is relevant to anyone who has a professional interest in commercial real estate.

Who are your competitors in India or globally?

Our platform is globally scalable and some of our products are customized to India centric requirements. In the current form, we are not aware of any other company in the world that offers a similar tech platform. That said, there are a few companies that currently offer products similar to ours. Exceligent, Costar and Compstak are some of them. We offer real time data and analytics covering supply, demand and vacancies at a macro and micro level. Propsense, which is our analytical engine is one of its kind globally. Our COMPS data are abstracted sale and lease information from registered agreements with the Government of India. It’s important to note that these are registered/verified data and not crowd sourced or based on ‘hearsay’.

How similar are you to Compstak in the US?

Propstack and Compstak are neither competitors, nor similar. As mentioned on www.propstack.com, we provide all kinds of data on Indian commercial real estate which includes verified rent and sale transaction data. Some points to highlight:

  1. Propstack’s philosophy is to provide transactions based on verified sources
  2. Propstack solely focuses on office assets
  3. Propstack additionally provides real estate intelligence in terms of research and analytics to paid subscribers
  4. Access to data at Propstack is paid because of the premium nature of the data

Your data is from government registered leases – does that mean all commercial leases are registered with the government? Is that the only source of verified information?

Yes all commercial leases need to be registered with the government to make it ‘legal and valid’ and that is the only source of verified information. We are the largest repository of this information after the Government of India.

Do you have expansion plans beyond India?

Yes, we are currently beta testing data for 2 other countries in Asia Pacific. While our tech platform is scalable globally, we would like to stabilize our India operations prior to expanding overseas.

Does your data verification approach mean you can only expand to certain countries? Eg. In Singapore leases are confidential.

No, it does not limit our expansion plans. We are well aware of potential country specific challenges and have concluded that our platform and technology is scalable. I’d prefer to not get into specifics at this stage.

Do you plan to raise more capital?

Yes we are planning a Series B round in the next 6-9 months.

How would you describe the evolution of proptech in India?

India may be a notch below the US but a notch above Europe. Also, I believe that residential tech is more evolved in India than CRE Tech. While we have seen significant funding into a few residential tech companies, CRE tech has been slow to get off the ground. That said, with the imminent introduction of REITS and few other policies by the government, we expect CRE tech to catch up soon.

Propstack video overview link.

 

 

 

 

 

Asia's Pop up Platforms
Asia PacificRetail

Asia’s Pop Up Platforms: A Difficult Road Ahead

Pop up retail as a concept is here to stay and it works because it serves all parties. For consumers pop ups provide variety, for landlords they represent additional income and a point of difference, while for the pop up retailers themselves they offer a low risk, low cost platform to launch products and increase brand exposure.

From a proptech perspective, the immediate opportunity was seized in 2012 when a number of US/UK based platforms launched platforms best described as Airbnb for retail. Storefront (US) and We Are Pop Up (UK) were two of the big names in this space, raising $8.9m and $2.7m respectively. The concept was simple: find spaces willing to rent on a short term basis, whether whole shops or just a hanging rack or table, list them on a marketplace website and charge a small commission for making the introduction/executing the lease.

Asia joins the race in 2015

In mid-2015 there was nothing happening in Asia, then by the end of the year 3 almost identical platforms had launched. Popscout (HK), Spaces Genie (HK) and PopUp Angels (Singapore) were online with literally a handful of locations listed. The spaces were usually an empty gallery in a trendy part of town, but they have grown to include retail mall ‘casual leasing’ space (empty spaces usually used for events or sales).

The challenge for these platforms in Asia is that the retail scene is different from that in the West. Retail is dominated by shopping malls, whereas in cities like London and San Francisco there is a more dominant ‘high street’. Shopping malls have high rents and high set up costs (fit out design, construction, licenses etc) making quick turnaround pop ups more difficult. They are often owned by REITS which prefer a guaranteed, ongoing rental income with less concern about who the actual tenant is.

Street retail, on the other hand, is often owned by individual landlords who are more flexible and want to avoid an empty shop front. Good locations command daily foot traffic (unlike the 4th floor of an under-performing mall) making them better suited to pop ups wanting maximum exposure. There is also something more original and uniquely ‘pop up’ about unexpected spaces or street front retail.

The other challenge for these Asian platforms the pop up concept remains relatively immature here so it requires a high level of education. Running a pop up marketplace will require significant time to identify potential spaces, get access to the landlord then explain how the whole thing works. The head of leasing at Capitaland will get it, but the owner of a suburban coffee shop could take more convincing. Furthermore, companies like Storefront found that tenants typically want only the best locations with very high passing traffic. This reduces the number of potential sites.

Back in the West, both Storefront and We Are Pop Up announced they had ceased operations in early 2016. This suggests the scale needed to generate serious revenue was out of reach, even for funded pioneers in more conducive locations. This doesn’t bode well for their younger, Asian cousins. The chicken and the egg then, to scale quickly needs investment but VC backing only increases the pressure to grow more quickly.

 

Conclusion

The need remains to connect landlords with parties wanting space, but the potential to reach scale and generate significant revenue is questionable. If a platform is able to cover the whole of Asia, including China, it will become interesting. If you think about a brand owner sitting in Paris thinking, how can I test appetite for my brand in Asia? This could be the answer and there is value in that. But this raises the challenge faced by every tech startup in Asia. Acquiring the capital and resources to truly penetrate countries so different is a challenge only few have accomplished.

1280-singapore-smart-city
Asia Pacific

Proptech in Asia: an emerging story

Real estate technology in the Asia-Pacific, like the region itself, is fragmented and features countries at different stages of development. China and India are the whales, with massive populations making sure that any consumer facing platforms are highly valued by investors. Australia is the most sophisticated in terms of breadth and depth of business types. While South East Asia has massive potential, although often requires multi-country coverage to reach scale making it a highly challenging proposition.

Based in Singapore, Disrupt Property has a particular interest in this part of the world and predicts there is a lot to come over the next 5-10 years. So far the biggest successes have been copies of existing models, but it won’t be too long before some more innovative platforms emerge.

China and India: Whales in the bathtub

China and India are mind-blowing prospects when it comes to disruption in the property industry. With 1.4 and 1.2 billion people respectively, the potential scale of any consumer facing businesses dwarfs the US and UK which are enjoying so much activity in this space.

This fact is well known to investors. According to CB Insights, of the top 10 funded proptech companies globally (2011-2015), the top 2 were Chinese (Fangdd and Aiwujiwu), while no. 7 was India’s housing.com. The first US entrant on the list was redfin.com at no. 4 which raised roughly half of Fangdd. This speaks to the potential of these markets. VC funding doesn’t mean value has materialised, rather it is representative of their bet that it will.

India has got some interesting ‘copycat’ startups. NoBroker is the pin up fixed fee online agent. Livspace looks a lot like Houzz. While Propstak looks similar to Comptask, although its very strong founding team points out significant differences in the way they collect data. Whether they are direct copies or not we’re not sure, but it matters little. US proptech companies have so much ground to cover in their own country, that taking on India is unlikely to be in the 5 year plan. In that case, Indian entrepreneurs are bound to take the initiative and get a jump start.

Australia: 23 million people obsessed with property

The Australian dream is to own your own home. Previous Australian generations grew up in a house with a front and back yard, and held the assumption they would own their own one day. As the population grew and density swelled in major cities, apartment living has partially replaced that dream, but the obsession with property has done nothing but deepen.

This has extended to startups and Australia has a population size large enough to support them, plus a UK based legal and business system meaning that what can be done there can typically be replicated down under. As a result, most of the business models seen in the UK already exist in Australia. Online agents, agent comparison, crowd funding, P2P funding and 3D visualisation.

VC funding has so far been modest. Openagent.com.au has raised almost $7m while ratemyagent.com.au has raised $5m. Beyond that, the main game remains the big search portals domain.com.au and realestate.com.au.

Australia is in the midst of a fintech craze with even the national government introducing measures to stimulate startsups in the area. Given this, we expect to see significant progress of companies providing new ways to fund real estate transactions which would likely be readily welcomed by locals facing some of the highest home prices on the planet.

South East Asia: Singapore and beyond

Singapore is fast becoming the regional HQ for tech startups. Branded the Smart Nation by its own government, Singapore has all the factors conducive to starting a business. Great regulatory system, English language, low tax, super fast set up procedures and a highly educated workforce. Singaporeans also like their tech and love their mobiles. Every month sees another startup incubator, or innovation lab launched as well as a continuous stream of tech conferences and events.

Having said that, Singapore’s achillies heel as a startup location is its small population size (5.3m). Businesses needing scale may well test bed the concept in Singapore, but need to expand to its much larger neighbours such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in order to do so.

Two good examples of this are propertyguru (Singapore based) and iproperty (Malaysia based), direct competitors in the property search market. In 2015, Australia’s realestate.com.au purchased iProperty group valuing it at A750m while earlier in the year, propertyguru raised $129 in private equity to help it further expand and maintain its leadership position over its Kuala Lumpur based rival. Both companies operate throughout the region allowing them to gain sufficient scale.

Singapore, like Australia, has quickly developed a greater breadth of proptech companies over the last 12 months. Unsurprisingly, they replicate existing models from the US/UK suggesting there are enough enterprising Singaporeans wanting to do an Alibaba (ie. Recreate Amazon in Asia). In another big sign of progress, Capitaland (Singapore’s leading property developer) announced in May 2016 that had set up a S$15m startup fund.

As for countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand etc, so far we have witnessed a range of property search portals launched but have yet to see any breadth of product types giving the impression they remain very undeveloped markets. Of course, there will be a few dozen startups bubbling away in each country we have yet to hear of so this can and will change quickly.