Zameen is the leader in the Pakistani market and is run by the Imran and Zeeshan Ali Khan. The following article appeared originally in Propakistani.pk and provides an insight into how these brothers are attacking and winning the Pakistani market.
How did you end up setting up a real estate portal?
I studied chemical engineering at Imperial College London and straight out of college I set up an e-commerce portal in the UK. No one in my family had ever had an IT business of their own, so I started this venture from absolutely zero. It did well – well enough that after a few months Imran, my brother, quit his well-paid job to join me .
Today it is the largest and most successful real estate website in the country by far and employs close to 300 people across the country and beyond.
What makes Zameen unique?
Zameen stands out because quality has been our focus from day one. We currently have around 1.3 million property listings and all been manually vetted to ensure they are authentic. We employ a team of professional photographers to go out and take pictures of properties so that our users have the best possible experience.
We have also tailored the site to how the average Pakistani thinks about real estate, which sets us apart more than anything else. People connect with us because we are familiar, comfortable and relatable as a brand, and this allows them to trust us as a business.
Our success also has to do with our corporate culture. Everyone is family at Zameen.com, and talent and ideas are valued regardless of where they come from. Our people are ready to take charge and see things to the end when an idea emerges, and we actively encourage them to do so.
Zameen.com is highly diverse because it is an equal opportunity employer. We have highly qualified women heading several departments and we employ many non-Muslims in our offices around the country. We are also a fairly young company, the average age of our employees being 26 years.
Zameen has had significant VC funding. How did you attract this?
We realised early on that there are two things investors look for: a good scalable product and the people capable of executing it.
We were among the first tech companies in Pakistan to get venture funding. We did this by successfully showing investors that not only was our idea a good one, we had already pulled it off and now needed funding to scale and grow.
Our angel investment came from Gilles Blanchard, who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on online classifieds portals, having founded France’s first and largest property website SeLoger.com way back in 1992 when the internet was still in its infancy. Gilles, who came on board as Chairman, was instrumental in connecting us with investors from around the world.
Good networking is also essential when it comes to securing VC funding. We attend conferences around the world, take speaking opportunities and exchange information with everyone from the global property portal industry. This has helped us put ourselves and Pakistan on the map.
What set of challenges accompany foreign funding?
Entrepreneurs have to understand that if someone is giving them funds, they are going to expect them to meet certain targets. Having a plan in place to achieve these targets and executing that plan well are the biggest challenges that accompany investment of any kind.
Because of the negative portrayal of Pakistan in world media, a big barrier we had to overcome was dispelling this errant notion of the country being a troubled place. We know sitting here that this couldn’t be farther from the truth, and the challenge is to show foreign investors that this is the case.
Another challenge is that VCs are always looking at how they can exit and take their money out of the country, so even though Pakistan is really business-friendly, there are a few small complexities which can be simplified to accommodate and boost foreign investments.
You have also founded a property portal in the UAE, can you tell us more about this?
We founded Bayut.com, which is a leading UAE property portal, in 2008 because property is where our expertise lies. It is important to focus on your strengths and expand on them, because when VCs and international players look at you, they also want to see if you have scalable solutions including how you can take your business abroad, how many countries can you expand to, etc.
Bayut.com made sense because of Pakistanis’ unique affinity for Dubai, which gives Zameen.com and Bayut.com incredible synergy. Our oldest brother, Haider Ali Khan, currently heads Bayut.com full-time and he has spearheaded the portal’s ascent as one of the top property websites in the Emirates.
What’s next for Zameen.com and you?
Though Zameen.com is already synonymous with property in Pakistan, out journey is far from over. Over the course of the last few years, we have expanded exponentially in terms of traffic, clientele and human resources with over 1.3 million monthly visits, 7,000 registered real estate agencies and a team of more than 300 people in 16 cities across Pakistan and beyond. That comfortably puts us at eight to ten times bigger than our nearest competition.
On the tech front, we are working on some really cool tools and features. We’ll be rolling out Pakistan’s first property index very soon, which would be just a glimpse into our efforts to equip the people with more knowledge so that they can make well-informed real estate decisions.
Simon Baker, the founder and Chairman of Property Portal Watch is also an investor in Zameen.