HouseME is the new kid on the block in South African residential real estate and Ben Shaw, CEO stands at the helm of a true disruptor, leading the way for PropTech to take serious hold in the local market.
We asked him 5 Questions.
It’s been 7 months since your big launch and you have had an amazing response thus far. Give us a short synopsis of what HouseME is all about.
“HouseME is a digital platform that connects prospective tenants to landlords, facilitates a fair rental price for the property and then supports both parties in managing the rental for the duration of the contract, for fee of just 2.5%. HouseME is the new way to rent and offers peace of mind to its users, allowing technology to take away what has for too long made leasing tremendously burdensome.“
PropTech, although it has been bubbling under the surface for a few years, is fast becoming the new “it” movement internationally. What does PropTech mean to you and what is your vision for the medium term?
“PropTech is undoubtedly the hottest buzzword for startup companies and investors this year. The potential for technology to create efficiencies in an archaic industry that has been avoiding change, is too great to ignore. To HouseME, PropTech is a useful positioning term which communicates to clients how we see ourselves changing the industry: by refining, improving and in some cases disrupting the fundamentally broken retainer model that is currently the status quo.
We are quietly confident that the approach we have taken – removing the exorbitant agency profit and transparently putting in place technology to handle standard processes – will result in widespread adoption and behavioral changes, away from the current 10% retainer model. We believe this will take place within the next five years.“
From an investment banker to a tech start-up. I can see the correlation between increasing the value of the investors’ investments, but other than that two industries quite set apart. Why the transition for you and what have been the most challenging personal hurdles you have had to overcome to make the shift?
“I have always been entrepreneurial, and even before I went into banking I had started a number of other ventures. HouseME actually has its roots in one of banking’s core philosophies: market efficiency.
HouseME’s transparent bidding mechanism is a direct result of a banker’s approach to finding the perfect rental price: by allowing the market to determine it. I really enjoyed my time in corporate and learnt a huge amount about systems, people management, best practices and real-world incentives, but my dream has always been to run a startup company and make a dent on the world. This transition comes with a large number of challenges as you can imagine. For almost a year, it was just Kyle Bradley (my co-founder) and I, responsible for the entire business: from hiring to strategy, tax to marketing, technology to legal contracts.
We are incredibly lucky to now have a phenomenal team and a great culture which has helped us push through the tough periods, and enjoy the challenges as well as the triumphs.
Personal challenges include time management and prioritization when multitasking, which is vital in a small startup.“
You launched HouseME 7 months ago, but how long did it take you and your team from start-up to launch and what advice can you give other PropTech start-up dreamers in terms of lessons you have learned thus far?
“HouseME was conceived in 2015 and it took more than six months to raise capital, find a co-founder, register the company, begin building the technology and design a business model that made sense. The rule of thumb is that things always take twice as long and cost twice as much as you originally plan for. We launched only in September 2016, so it definitely isn’t going to be an overnight transition.
A few lessons learnt along the way:
You can’t do everything yourself so build an A-team.
Budget for 125% of projected spend.
Learn from every competitor in your industry.
Keep hungry to learn, grow and develop – never become arrogant.”
What do you see as the major challenges to successfully creating a PropTech revolution in South Africa and what are some of your suggestions to overcoming them?
“The largest challenge that we need to overcome is a lack of trust in technology, which thanks to the likes of Uber and Airbnb is changing rapidly for the better. As technology solutions are seen less as standalone products and more as everyday conveniences, we will see growth not just in PropTech but in a range of technology ventures in SA.
Another major challenge – to address the elephant in the room – is the oligopoly of rental agencies across the country. We have a market dominated by a few, profit-hungry players who are more than happy with what the industry looks like currently – and are extremely hostile to any form of disruption. We want clients to be aware that there are alternatives to the 10% rental retainer they’re forking out each month, and proudly tell their friends and family that finally a South African startup got it right! HouseME is disrupting the industry, right from home.”
Copyright © 2017 by Natalie du Preez.
This interview was conducted and authored by Natalie du Preez and is original content, which is property of the author, all rights reserved. This article or any portion thereof may not be copied, shared or reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the owner.