Published by Judith Balea on 12 Aug 2015
Anyone renting out a property in Malaysia knows the easiest way to do it is through brokers, who, unfortunately, charge a sum for doing so little.
Wong Whei Meng experienced this first-hand when he was renting out his condo unit in 2013. Being tech-savvy, he thought he could rent it out himself by advertising on real estate listing sites iProperty and PropertyGuru. To his surprise, the sites only accepted agent listings. “I was forced to look for agents to help me. I SMS-ed 50 agents and only two bothered to help me advertise my property.”
Wong went through the motions and waited for calls from the brokers who set viewing appointments with prospective clients. After three viewings, he struck a deal and paid his agent a commission equivalent to a month’s rent, which in his opinion, was too much for a “passive” and “easy” job.
It was a problem that turned into an opportunity. If not for that experience, he wouldn’t have gotten the idea for SPEEDHOME, an app that connects landlords directly with renters and cuts out the middlemen. SPEEDHOME launched as Saywa in March, but recently rebranded in line with its planned regional expansion.
Matches vs listings
Wong says SPEEDHOME is a compelling alternative for landlords and a tool that empowers them to get rid of the costly brokerage layer.
“Based on a survey we did, over 87 percent of users dislike dealing with agents. Our goal is to fill in the gap and create a hassle-free leasing service.”
An agent’s job, he explains, represents repetitive work that can be automated and scaled through technology.
SPEEDHOME does more than you’d expect. It allows property owners and renters to chat, and facilitates appointment scheduling between them. It also sets itself apart by offering electronic tenancy agreement, which completes the renting lifecycle. Wong says other platforms operating in this space in Malaysia, such as Mudah and Propwall, stop at listings.
“Our job ends when we’ve helped both parties to match. Our ultimate KPI is number of matches versus listings, which most other classified sites love to boast of.”
Wong says they’re not planning to monetize SPEEDHOME in the next 12 months. But when they do, it’ll be through two things: a small fee for the tenancy agreement, and commission from other services that renters may want to avail of, including moving-in and cleaning services, broadband and cable TV installations. “The tenants do not pay extra to sign up with us for said services. We’ll get our commission from respective providers.”
Finding the right team
SPEEDHOME is Wong’s third venture so far. He started a web hosting service when he was 17 and sold it to his partner right before he pursued his undergraduate in the UK. When he got back to Malaysia in 2008, he created Aflexi, a content delivery network (CDN) solution that was acquired by London-based OnApp, a company that develops cloud management, CDN and storage software for service providers and enterprises.
Wong invested RM 500,000 (US$130,000) of his money to kickstart SPEEDHOME. Half of it is being spent for administration costs and the team’s salaries, while the rest is going into marketing.
Though this isn’t the first time he’s getting his feet wet with startups, Wong faced a number of hurdles, the biggest of which was finding the right team.
He last year outsourced SPEEDHOME’s development to India, China, and Vietnam. After running into trouble with external parties, he decided to hire a team to work on the app full-time. Finding good talent was difficult and took quite a while.
“I hired my ex-colleague in Aflexi, Lim Soon Tak, who was running a team that built solutions for local banks; it took me about a year to convince him to leave his stable job. Then hired I another mobile app developer whom I got to know through Facebook, Fong Wei Zien. I spent six months talking to him as he was in another startup back then. I also persuaded Steason Tee, who was passionately running another startup to join me in running business development. It took me eight months to convince him,” explains Wong.
“I almost lost count how many people I’ve brought in and fired in the past few months. Thankfully, we have a pretty stable team now.”
He never lost heart because what’s at stake is big.
He said by 2020, the population in the greater Kuala Lumpur area alone will grow to 10 million. With the average household size at 4.31, that’s equivalent to 2.3 million families.
“Thus, around 340,000 to 500,000 houses are needed,” he says.
However, owning a house is still a dream for many Malaysian families as prices remain out of reach.
“I think more than 20 percent of the families will be renting because I don’t believe 80 percent will be able to own a house,” noted Wong.
This is the market SPEEDHOME hopes to capture. Currently, the app has gotten over 2,000 listings, and 6,000 users. The target in six months is to reach 50,000 users in Malaysia.
Wong believes renting is going to be a trend moving forward, including for the rest of Southeast Asia. “We are thinking regionally, in ASEAN, there will be a population of 660 million by 2020. Using the same formula, I deduced the number of houses required for rent should stand at close to 25 million.”