Survival in the digital age: 3 tips for property portals who want to prosper

Sabine Brix

February 22, 2017

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Property Guru CEO, Hari V. Krishnan. Photo: Supplied

For property portals to successfully connect with their customers in the digital age, they must keep three key factors in mind says PropertyGuru CEO, Hari V. Krishnan.

A revered leader who’s spent his entire career bringing offline industries online, Krishnan has experienced the evolution of tech in sectors such as music, recruitment, and travel and now leads Asia’s leading online property group.

A guest speaker at the forthcoming PPW Bangkok conference, Krishnan has over a 12 years’ worth of experience in Asia’s digital space, most notably as the former Vice President & Managing Director of LinkedIn Asia Pacific and Japan.

Over the last 18 months, he has focused his attention on leading a team of over 400 people across PropertyGuru’s four core markets – namely, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – in a quest to help reshape the property industry.

“Our job is understanding that as a market leader, it’s not just about sitting back on those successes, but on developing them,” Krishnan tells PPW. “I think that has been the approach I’ve taken.”

To successfully compete in the digital space, Krishnan says property portals need to keep three things in mind.

Focus on beautiful experience and design

Digital products need to be beautiful in design and user experience to really draw in the consumer, Krishnan notes. This may take the form of content, imagery or the smart use of data-driven insights, but there’s now a massive consumer expectation that digital products look good.

PropertyGuru has invested in a number of tools that focus on product innovation and aesthetic. The company has done this by experimenting with drones to capture images for property listings and localities, offering virtual reality tours to consumers, while also dabbling in augmented reality.

“The consumer’s definition of what is beautiful is constantly evolving and it’s not necessarily confined to developments in just our sector,” Krishnan says. “There are other sectors that are playing the vanguard and if anything, that’s a benefit to us. We can watch them and see what’s working.”

Ramp up your security

Krishnan says data security and the protection of consumer information is pivotal in not only keeping company information safe but also in developing and building trust with the customer.

“It’s not something we’ve been talking about a lot since I’ve been tracking the sector closely, but security is absolutely core to any cutting-edge digital sector,” Krishnan says.

“At the Property Portal Watch conference, you’ll see a number of different solutions of how value is driven to the ecosystem, but one thing that underpins all of them is consumers’ expectation around security – this is evolving rapidly. So; questioning how security is evolving from the old days of usernames and passwords, to double factor authentications, to biometrics and beyond.”

But, at the heart of having a system that’s absolutely secure, is a notion of trust, which Krishnan says underpins everything.

“I was looking at some of the business results that Airbnb and Uber – fast growing digital companies – are beginning to pull and they’re telling you that revolutionary business models that are able to codify a consumer’s trust will have consumers that show up in numbers,” he enthuses.

Embrace Artificial Intelligence

Krishnan says artificial intelligence will become crucial to the way we engage with a user interface. He says the mobile phone has evolved from a device solely used for communication to a dynamic tool that is now powered by data and which can make intelligent recommendations on a user’s behalf.

He says Chinese tech giant Baidu’s recent purchase of a company that produces an AI-driven virtual assistant that understands spoken Mandarin shows one aspect of how the property search experience will evolve in the future. He says this technology will transform the way we interact with property portals across the entire sector.

“Consumers are going to bring that same high expectation when they look for a property; whether it’s to rent, buy, sell or invest,” he says. “So, if there’s a sector that creates a massive dissonance in those expectations, that’s the one that’s going to be disrupted very quickly.

“The good news is that we’re already seeing a number of players in our sector beginning to evolve; the question for all of us then is ‘are we evolving fast enough?'”

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Simon Baker is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Online Marketplaces and Property Portal Watch. Involved with property portals for 15 years, he’s a well-recognized expert and industry consultant.
As former CEO/MD of the REA Group for 8 years, Simon led the group to its current market-leading position. When he joined REA Group in 2001, it had $4m in revenues, $6m in losses and an $8m market cap.
By 2008, the company presided over $155m in revenues, $35m in EBITDA and enjoyed a peak market cap of $1b. Simon is currently Chairman of the Mitula Group and Real Estate Investar and a serial portal founder and, investor.