From user to C-suite (Part 1): The origin story
By Benjamin Cher February 10, 2016
- Was LinkedIn’s employee No 1 in Asia
- Now tasked with taking PropertyGuru to the next level
IT is perhaps a validation of the startup scene that sees executives making the jump from well-heeled companies to those fighting to build a presence. It is an opportunity to make a mark.
Certainly that desire seems to have played a part in Hari Krishnan’s decision to move from global social network powerhouse LinkedIn to regional online real estate player PropertyGuru Group, where he took on the role of president and chief business officer last November.
However, the move was pretty much in line with what Hari (pic) says he is passionate about.
“I like building organisations that transform the world, and that was the case with my former employer – when I joined LinkedIn, I was the first employee in Asia,” he says in a recent conversation with Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore.
“I’ve known [PropertyGuru cofounders] Steve [Melhuish] and Jani [Rautiainen] for many years, and when you look at the vision that PropertyGuru has, to help property buyers make better and more confident decisions, that is a strong vision that is hard to realise.
“That appeals to the entrepreneurial spirit within me; it requires building a certain kind of organisation, and I felt I could add value there,” he adds.
While Melhuish, the chief executive officer, got the idea for PropertyGuru because of his own frustrations trying to find property online in Singapore, Hari’s decision was borne on the fruits of that frustration.
For Hari, liking the product was also a factor in his move, as he appreciated how PropertyGuru, which operates property portals in four regional markets, helped him find his own apartment in Singapore in early 2015.
“As a consumer, I was a happy user of PropertyGuru. Having used the product heavily, I fully appreciated some of the unique assets it was bringing together, and how much it had helped me in the process.
“I definitely like to work for companies where I’m passionate about the product. For me to represent the product and help it to grow and develop, I need to like the vision for the future and the sense of the [product] – and PropertyGuru had both,” he adds.
While Hari has known Melhuish and Rautiainen for some time, the hook was only reeled in when the cofounders started talking about their vision for PropertyGuru.
“A big part of that was thinking through how to build this organisation to that next level,” says Hari. “You get to see the opportunity that lies in front of the company.”
PropertyGuru is sitting on the confluence of two major trends, which places it in a unique position, according to Hari.
“One is more macro – we operate in markets with fast-growing populations, with rapid urbanisation, a growing middle class; and missed among all this, are shrinking household sizes.
“As a result of all of this, we believe that in the next 40 years, property developers will be very busy building all this housing,” he says.
The other major trend is South-East Asia going digital in just about every aspect. “I’ll say that South-East Asia is at an early stage of the digitisation process,” he adds.
When discussing these trends with Melhuish, Hari saw an opportunity to help PropertyGuru achieve this next level.
“I’m a digital native; I’ve spent over a decade in the digital space in Asia, and I think I understand the region’s digital users – I’ve built multiple industries within the digital space,” Hari declares.
“So I thought I could bring my own unique skills to help the company reach that vision,” he adds.
Building the future
PropertyGuru has also been on a buying spree, with the most recent being the acquisition of Ensign Media’s property media assets. Coupled with the recent appointment of a chief product and technology officer, the online property portal is gearing up for its future.
To look at the future, one must first look at the present, according to Hari.
“Today, there are 14 million property buyers who come onto our sites every month, and they generate about 500,000 enquiries every month.
“With this kind of volume coming in, we do over US$12 billion worth of transactions per annum – and this is just today,” he says.
Having offerings for both the mass and luxury markets is part of helping users find a home, declares Hari.
“The four markets (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia) we operate in, there are 350 million people who live over here, and everyone needs a home.
“That’s our universe and that’s how we are going to help,” he says.
The Ensign Media acquisition brings with it credibility and strengthens the online property portal’s content play, Hari believes.
“[Ensign Media] brings two unique assets to the table: One is [the magazine] Property Report, which further strengthens our content play. We produce 500 pieces of original content every month, to help consumers understand new projects and market trends.
“Property Report adds to that content play, focused at the luxury end. There are investment buyers who want to buy luxury property, and we want to service that end of the spectrum as well,” he adds.
Those insights from PropertyGuru content helped Hari in purchasing his apartment, he says.
“About 15-16 months ago, I used those insights to help me understand what the trends were, and whether I was timing it right.
“To make a confident decision, I needed to understand macro trends, and that data helped me make that decision for myself,” he adds.
The second asset the acquisition brings is the Property Awards, which add to PropertyGuru’s credibility at the higher-end of the property market.
“The Property Awards are currently in nine markets, some of which PropertyGuru is not yet in, but they are the best recognised and the most credible property awards in any of these markets,” Hari claims.
“PropertyGuru has three kinds of customers – the important ones are the consumers, but we also have real estate developers and agents,” he adds.
Developers are looking for credibility and recognition of their properties, one that PropertyGuru can now provide, he argues.
“A big part of what developers want to talk about is the credibility of their properties, the fact that their properties have been recognised for design sensibilities or being environmentally-friendly and so on.
“To have the most credible awards platform as part of our arsenal is fantastic – those awards are not for sale, they are based on merit, a neutral panel judges this. There is an immense amount of credibility [for developers] if they win one of those awards.
“We thought it would help add to our offering to the market, adding credibility to the developer stakeholder market,” he adds.
Next Up: Users, competition and issues
PropertyGuru’s boot-strapped path to success
PropertyGuru: Yesterday Singapore, today SEA, tomorrow … ?
LinkedIn APAC chief joins PropertyGuru as president
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