Leading Pakistani real estate portal company Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) has announced the launch of a new website in Bangladesh today at the Property Portal Watch Conference currently being held in Bangkok.
EMPG, which operates Zameen.com in Pakistan and Bayut.com in the UAE, says its latest website BProperty will be launched in a few months time.
EMPG Co founder and Zameen.com CEO Imran Ali Khan told conference delegates he and his brothers Haider and Zeeshan will take the many lessons learned from the launch of their other property businesses with them into the new market.
“Bangladeshi is still behind the Pakistani market,” Imran says.
“But we understand the market well and we believe we understand how to operate in it.”
However he concedes every market must have it’s own strategy.
“There are cultural nuances in every market to look at and it won’t be any different in Bangladesh.
“Strategy will often be different from city to city, so we will have to see how the business plan plays out in Bangladesh.”
Imran Ali Khan started Zameen in 2005 as a side business. At the time there were no other real estate portals in the Pakistani market so it grew organically until 2011.
In that year, Imran and his two brothers decided to fold up their tech business in the UK and focus on Zameen full time.
Imran describes Pakistan as an agency office model. Right now Zameen works with close to 10,000 agency offices in thirty cities.
“In the last four and a half years Zameen has grown from zero paying agencies to close to 10,000 and has a team about 500 people,” he says.
“We do a lot of sales, data collection and quality listings. It’s been a crazy ride.”
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
The brothers started the platform by working out how many agencies there were in the market who could pay them. There were no other business with which to compare or benchmark so they had to define the online real estate market themselves.
A feat given Imran himself didn’t come from a real estate background.
“When we started taking to agencies they were all from different backgrounds with different mindsets so we realized there would be many roads to our goal,” he recalls.
The first challenge was selling; getting agents on board without giving them a free package or unlimited listings. In an unregulated market that would mean too much spam.
“We had the right packages to fit the actual inventory,” Imran explains.
“We wouldn’t give any agency in Pakistan more than 250 listings even if they wanted to pay thousands of dollars unless we were sure they actually had that inventory.”
Learning how to sell was another challenge. As telesales don’t work in the market a field team was required. Since no other portals existed in the space, talent acquisition was difficult and sales people had to be trained specifically.
Imran himself spent time out in the field selling and learning about the market.
Performance management was also an issue as the odd sales person would return saying they’d had ten meetings but the results weren’t there to verify this.
Others were found to be at the movies when they were supposed to be selling.
“Our solution to the problem was technology. We built a lot of systems to track performance. We did a lot of big data behind the scenes.
“All our sales staff now have smart phones and we can track where they are.”
With hundreds of sales people good management is essential. This happens using the company’s home- grown CRM system which now also collects client data. Zamees also uses salesforce although it’s expensive Imran complains.
Listing collection was another issue because agencies would fish for leads and put fake listings on the site.
“So we only have verified leads and we now put 200,000 new listings on the system each month,” Imran says.
The listings, which had to be personally verified by the Zameen team, had a stamp to prove they were verified, an initiative retained to this day.
“Our verified listings stamp works in with our algorithm so verified listings rank higher up, which means now all the agencies want them,” Imran says.
He also says in the emerging market of Pakistan it took while for agencies to trust the product, even after they started paying for it.
“It takes about six months to evangelise them to the point where they’ll put listings on the site themselves, so we have to take the initiative,” Imran says.
“Initially agencies wouldn’t put images up either in case a competition agent would appear at the property but that changes as trust built up.
“Agencies soon realise a quality listing works better, so it is a case of a lot of work to build relationships and educate the market.”
Speakers on the agenda tomorrow include REA Group Head of Strategy Scott Holmes, Real Estate Investar CEO Clint Greaves and Rent.com.au CEO Mark Waschnak and Lead Galaxy CEO Dan Johnson