Shweproperty.com Chairman and CEO Justin Sway told this year’s Property Portal Watch Conference in Bangkok about the phenomenal transformation in Myanmar which prompted him to invest.
Key takeaways from Justin Sway's Approach
Justin Sway, who was born in Myanmar but grew up in Australia returned with his father in 2012 in search of extended family.
The founder of Australia’s largest recruitment software company FastTrack, which still presides over 40 per cent of the market, Sway had been travelling around the world after divesting it. He quickly fell in love with his native country and people.
But although Sway was an experienced internet company entrepreneur, Myanmar wasn’t quite ready.
He left a small team of locals and expats building software and went back to travelling.
Perfect storm: Internet, foreign investment and monetization
It wasn’t until late 2014, that Sway received advice to return and by 2015 when he set foot back in Myanmar he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I’d had an opportunity to see Myanmar in 2013 so in one week it was obvious to me how literally in two years, everything had completely transformed.
“There was a lot of construction going on, there was foreign investment and lots of foreigners around which used to be rare in Myanmar.
“KFC and the Novatel were there,” he adds with a laugh.
Most importantly in 2015, with the latest telco licences, Myanmar got the internet.
The country went from 2 per cent to 40 per cent internet penetration almost overnight. Today internet penetration is 65 per cent and Sway predicts it will be 85 per cent by the end of the year.
Interestingly, Sway says early entrants like Rocket Intenet had only just started to monetize.
“By the time I got there it was the perfect storm, internet, foreign investment and monetization. So we decided to activate our businesses in 2015.”
Sway activates new businesses
These comprised a jobs board, Jobsnet.com.mm and property portal Shweproperty.com
“Three years earlier we decided we wanted cars, jobs and property,” Sway explains. “All the other websites had a three year head start, but we knew jobs really well. Along with my own background my partner had owned a large Jobs board in Vietnam.”
Launched in 2011, Shweproperty.com had the proud history of being the first website in Myanmar at a time when the country had precious little internet penetration and sim cards cost $500 each.
But when Rocket Internet entered the market in 2013 along with many other online businesses, Sway says Shweproperty.com dived to #3.
Nevertheless he decided the company was a good investment. He liked founder Kaung Thu Win and it had a strong brand which drew on the Burmese word for gold, shwe.
Inside the Myanmar market
“I relocated and we hired a super team around us; all very experienced people because we were going to hit the ground fast and within three months we took Shwe Property back to number 1.”
Having hired top notch leadership, Sway says the next most important thing was to inject strategy.
“Capital is great but execution is even better,” he says. “In Myanmar, understanding the local market is key. One model fits all doesn’t work.
“We don’t go for 100,000 ads it’s pointless,” he explains. “Myanmar is a very fragmented market.”
Instead Shwe Property aims for a slice of the market.
“We don’t promote ourselves as having the most ads but rather the best ads, the premium ads,” Sway says. “Premium property, premium product, premium service, premium price.”
Branding and algorithms
Sway segmented the market, a strategy he’d utilised in previous businesses.
“We introduced a multi product offering with multi option value based on simple stuff like visibility and packaged it well.”
Noting it seemed to be the thing to do at the time, Sway bought pages in all the journals offering better branding on the front pages to higher paying clients.
“The big guys want real visibility, so when we put logos on the front page we try to make it a bit more exclusive. Instead of putting 50 or 60 in there it’s just six. Everybody wants to be a leader.”
Behind the scenes the team ensured higher paying clients got higher search results.
Sway says those customers paying premium prices have to get genuine leads.
“That’s how we know we’re giving them value. They’re paying us a lot of money so it must be working.”
As a result Sway is extremely flexible with smaller players in the market .
“There’s no point going out to pick up $20 or 50 bucks (from smaller players). We put them in for free and nurture them. One day they’re going to buy. Guys who are willing to pay, we put them higher and really service them.”
In Myanmar relationships are everything, Sway reiterates.
“Whether you have a $2000 or a $20,000 deal you have to talk to the CEO and the chairman. The process happens fairly quickly but it’s elongated.
“So our strategy is to build relationships, provide value and those guys in the middle they’ll come through sooner or later.”
Sway adds in Myanmar currently “it’s a land grab”.
“Our goal is to accelerate what we’ve learned,” he says.
“Monetization important but its not the main thing, it’s just lucky that we did it to be honest.
“For us, it’s about market share. Our formula is based on traffic and algorithms rather than 10000 ads. Our key is to be number one.
“We want A-list clients, market share, revenue and leads and they’re the most important things.”