Boxyroom's scam-free way to rent overseas property
By Gabey Goh November 27, 2012
- New online marketplace seeks to make renting property overseas a scam-free process
- With a soft launch in Oct, Boxyroom is now actively looking for investors to fund expansion plans
IT begins, as it usually does, with a friend in need.
For Singaporean Ang Pheng Huat (pic), the friend in question was cheated out of €1,200 (US$1,555) when attempting to rent an apartment in Paris while preparing to move there for studies.
He had responded to a listing on Craigslist and was subsequently stung by a scam, when the fake landlord took the money and ran.
“I thought there must be a better way of renting a place overseas safely through the Internet, peer-to-peer, without going through a real estate agency,” said Ang, in an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA).
The pursuit to come up with a solution so people like his friend would not be subject to being cheated started as a hobby to keep him occupied when he wasn’t busy with his day job as a product manager selling in-flight products to the aviation industry.
“Along the way I realized that having my own business is what I want to do in life. I want to have the freedom of making decisions in building products and processes in my own company,” said Ang.
With that Boxyroom was born, a peer-to-peer property rental marketplace for landlords and tenants to deal directly and aims to be the “matchmaker for long-term international property rentals.”
“The risk of online fraud exists. It is difficult to tell if the owner of that property is who he claims to be or if the property is what it being described. Likewise frivolous tenants cause problems to genuine landlords,” Ang said.
He added that tenants who are planning to move to another city or country for less than 12 months often face problems finding suitable accommodation and as a result, upon arriving at their destination without confirmed accommodation, are likely to spend unnecessary time and money hunting for a place to stay.
According to Ang, the key benefit of Boxyroom is that tenants who want to rent a place in foreign cities for work or studies can reserve their rental property safely through the platform and avoid getting scammed.
Once the match is made, when a landlord has accepted a suitable tenant who subsequently pays a one-month deposit, the parties are free to develop the 'relationship' further, eventually signing a rental agreement.
Boxyroom competes in the same rental property space as accommodation sharing websites (easyoommate.com, flatmates.com.au), free classified ads websites (craigslist.com, gumtree.com) and platforms such as AirBnB and its ‘Sublets’ offering.
Ang shared that he is often asked if Boxyroom is another AirBnB clone. “It’s not.”
According to him, unlike AirBnB and its clones which targets leisure short-term rentals, Boxyroom is focused in facilitating long-term rental property space for studies or work, specifically for rental periods ranging from one to 12 months, requiring the landlords and tenants to sign a rental agreement.
AirBnB offers long-term rentals of more than 28 days called Sublets. The booking and payment of an AirBnB ‘sublet’ is the same as booking a short-term rental, without the need for the landlord and tenant to enter into a rental agreement.
What’s in the box
Boxyroom was developed using Ruby on Rails framework and key to the platform was the integration of a state-of-the-art payment system for payment and disbursement of deposit.
A unique payment code is generated for the tenant upon completion of transferring the deposit to Boxyroom. Once the tenant has moved into the rental space successfully, the tenant will pass the payment code to the landlord with which he can log in and withdraw his deposit to his Paypal account.
The site had its soft launch in October and Ang reports that in three weeks more than 200 customers have signed up along with more than 20 properties in the United States, Australia and Singapore listed.
“Unfortunately the time period is not long enough to analyze the growth rate of the user base,” he added.
The team initially launched a prototype version to a small user base for feedback and the live version of the site includes additional features such as Google Street View, built-in pre-tenancy application forms, option for landlords to upload property documents and a built-in messaging system.
The journey to date has not been completely smooth for Ang, whose fledging startup remains a bootstrapped and self-funded enterprise.
The first challenge was finding like-minded people who shared his vision when he first came up with the idea.
“Especially in Singapore, where many young graduates are interested in working in the corporate world, my passion and enthusiasm of entrepreneurship is seldom appreciated and understood,” he said.
He has since found a co-founder in Loh Lin Lin who serves as the Boxyroom’s director of marketing and prior to joining the venture, worked in the government sector handling publicity and events to promote nation-wide green initiatives.
The second challenge was in finding capable technical expertise to help build the product, and Ang has since outsourced the process to a team based in India.
“This technical team was formed after hitting several roadblocks due to poor appreciation of my business and poor rapport,” he added.
What’s after the box
The final challenge is of course, money. Ang admitted that with limited funding, it took much longer than expected to launch a working product and in addition, marketing cheaply to a global audience is another difficulty.
But the motivation to persevere comes from knowing that he can make his own decisions to affect change in his company.
“I’ve worked in the corporate world and I totally understand the frustration of indecision by self-centered management or bureaucracy that kills great ideas even before they can be put to test. By running Boxyroom I feel responsible for every action that I take, whether it’s good or bad, and that makes me committed toward keep improving myself and also the business,” he said.
For the next 12 months, the main focus for the team is letting the whole world know about Boxyroom, raising awareness, acquiring users and converting them into paying customers
Ang shared that he is also working on initiatives such as marketing aggressively in key markets to grow the number of property listings and tenant users in addition to getting the best UX (user experience) designers on board to improve user experience and lower the learning curve for new users.
He also plans to set up a customer service team to provide top-notch service, 24/7 in multiple languages.
These plans all require money to execute and Ang shared that he is in the process of seeking funding from investors.
Funnily enough, while the Boxyroom value proposition is predicated on easing the rental process across borders, the pitch to potential investors could very well leverage that property adage: “Why rent when you can buy?”
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