Propertyfinder started in 2005,survived the crisis in 2009, and I always say to young entrepreneurs – it is going to be a long journey, it takes a while to get a business to break even and you have to be ready. No free lunch is going to come easily . We runned a business for 6 years for loosing money, in 2011 we broke even and we said we are finally there in a safe zone.
We have visited the Arabian Business Startup Academy and we have received lots of good advices and information from entrepreneurs, thanks to organisers for inviting. So, we have attached a part of the speech of Michael Lahyani in the top and also wrote down part of his speech here:
“I would like to tell you how we started back in 2004, I came to UAE for visit and realised that the ambition of Dubai was pretty gigantic in real estate and they were planning to build Palm Island,Burj Khalifa and it did not took a genius to realise that something big is going to happen in property sector and everyone was getting really excited about building Dubai and and it seems that nobody thinked about where this property trade and rent will be. Everybody was going to classifieds book Gulf News where everyone complained about the search through the paper which was not a great medium, so i decided to move in 2005 and start first specialised real estate magazine with an online presence. Back in 2005, Internet penetration was around 40% in UAE and so to generate leads for real estate agents we needed to have a print, and we could not rely on Internet.So we started with print publication which was distributed over 3 countries and we got good traction and obviously our competitor Gulf News did not liked it and they had an exclusive agreement saying well if you advertise with us, you get 95% discount for real estate agents. And it kinds of a makes hard to get market when there is a dominate player with contracts already in place. We tried everything, we tried to talk with them and we tried to partner with them and we even reached to Ministry of Economy by saying: “hey guys we are coming here to open the market we are going to promote Dubai real estate out of a Dubai – help us.”.
In 2007, we have received a fax from Australian VC saying there is a company in Australia which does similar business as you and they are interested in coming to UAE and they would like to meet with you and we met them in CityScape and they were pretty happy about Dubai.
At that time they were looking to start a business or acquire a business in Dubai and it took us about 6-8 months I would say pitching. First junior analyst came to meet with us, then senior guy then they sent head of M&A and finally meeting with CEO.
When we launched a web site, real estate agents were saying “For 1000 dirhams a month you gonna generate leads in my inbox in this time of age?” And they started signing up. Obviously we had to deliver their promises and start making traffic.
Propertyfinder started in 2005,survived the crisis in 2009, and I always say to young entrepreneurs – it is going to be a long journey, it takes a while to get a business to break even and you have to be ready. No free lunch is going to come easily . We runned a business for 6 years for loosing money, in 2011 we broke even and we said we are finally there in a safe zone.This is a very exciting place to be but Dubai is relatively small market but we operate in region of 350 million Arab speaking population and it is exciting market to go to. We decided to raise more money to go and expand to those markets, when we broke even we did not had a cash to go to open in those new markets. Before we could raise money we needed to prove to investors out there that we had a capacity to replicate our business model, so we picked a Qatar because it is very similar to the UAE, it is expat community, it is a Gulf market, it works in the same dynamic in compare with Saudi or Egypt which is totally different. So we went to Qatar and we quickly became number one because there was none one over there and in our business in market places I could say , in general the first move advantage is a huge advantage, sometimes you need to go there put your brand and capture your audience early on and it will be very hard to come in afterwards. So we secured a position in Qatar, so that was 2012, there was no events like this in Dubai at that time. Among my friends I was the only one running a startup and everybody was employed to a big corporation. There was no startup ecosystem and luckily there was other businesses that just exited as Bayt – job web site and Dany Farha was a co founder of it has just exited his shares into a VC. He founded later one Beco Capital, but it was not founded at that time nad everyone was saying that I should meet him as he did the same thing as me, he exited with job web site why dont you guys meet up. He made his first investment into Propertyfinder, he putted out of his own money and he later on golden up it into a fund. It was very early days, in 2012, not that long ago. It was very early days of VC and his part of the world, but I needed an investor and most of the entrepreneurs know, everybody wants to invest in your business until you have a investor already , what they say is I will invest, let me know , I am ready do you want to invest, no no let me know when somebody invests then I will come, you have to find your investor in order to leave your ground. I got a couple of investors outside of a region, why? Because I have to have some ambassadors. You have to look at your investors as your ambassadors , the minute somebody will put money into your business, you are the business out there and he will be saying to everyone that you are the best company. So it is good ambassadors and make sure that they are all not in a same circle, that they have different reach and that they are loud people. So I picked an investor in Turkey, in Malaysia and two investors in Silicon Valley. Suddenly I had people well connected covering the globe, talking about Propertyfinder and how it is going to be a next success story.”