Interview with Darius Cheung, CEO and co-founder of 99.co

{Feature and Exclusive Interview}

Singapore’s latest online properly search portal named 99.co which is co-founded by Darius Cheung who is also the company’s CEO recently announced new funding with additional investments coming from Sequoia Capital and Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, bringing 99.co’s total funding to S$2.7 million.

About 99.co, it is the first property search portal in Singapore to prioritize the end consumer experience first. Unlike its competitors, 99.co prides itself in displaying unbiased search results, personalized to the query of the end user and sorted by the quality of the listing data versus by the promotional spend of the agents. Since its soft-launch in November last year, 99.co has introduced two mobile apps and ListRank, an algorithm that provides users the best and most relevant search results, and in the process doubled its web traffic. In the same period, its competitors such as PropertyGuru and iProperty have seen a decrease of web traffic between 10 and 20 percent.

With its business model validated by such strong early traction, 99.co brings its user-centric edge to property sales by extending its services from previously just residential rental by allowing people now to also find the perfect home to purchase. With the rate of listings increasing at 50% a month, users can now browse through easily one of the most comprehensive databases of Singapore’s property—for rent or for sale.

Darius Cheung, CEO, and Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook_2

Photo Credit: 99.co

Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook and Darius Cheung, CEO of 99.co (Picture Above)

Our Parenting World is honoured to interview Darius Cheung, CEO and co-founder of 99.co who will be sharing with us more about 99.co.

1) Can you share with us your journey of setting up 99.co and what are some of the challenges that you and your team have encountered? 

We started 99.co a year ago, I was trying to look for a place to rent in Singapore and I hated the experience. I have been renting for over 20 years and I’ve always hated it. The duplicate, fake, false listings are all over the market place and make it impossible to find a home efficiently. All my friends and I ended up wasting time seeing units we would have ruled out if we had had more information about them.

Then I realized that the whole reason behind such a chaotic market is not the agents, but the systems in place by current portal search portals. The system creates such a market that you pay more to win. Only the ones who can pay a higher price can get more leads to get to the top of the game. Such business model creates an arms race between agents and cause business cost to rise, passing down the cost to agents and consumers. At the end of the day, only the portals are benefiting from it. Thus agents do not have incentives for listings to be complete, let alone of good quality. This model thus compromise the listing quality, providing irrelevant search result, and harms the consumers’ experience, and we thought that was clearly something we can do better.

The biggest challenge was to understand the root cause of the glaring problem – took me a whole year to study it almost. At the start I had the misconception that the incomplete/false listings are the result of incompetent agents. But after really going down the nitty-gritty, and really talking to hundreds of agents who are operating on the ground, I realized that it’s the system and business model of the market is really causing the problem. Agents are as struggling as well. We do not just need to build a good product for consumers, but also one for agents, to facilitate them to do business and create a better marketing together – one that reward better listings, better behaviour with better business.

2) Can you tell us more about 99.co partnerships with co-founder of Facebook Edurado Saverin and Sequoia Capital? How did it happen and what are their contributions in this partnerships?

They are our investors who have tremendous amount of start up experience and have more to offer than funding. Their advice and connection are invaluable to us and would save us a lot of time and resources which would otherwise be wasted on making mistakes.

3) What sets 99.co apart from other established Singapore property sites like PropertyGuru and iProperty etc?

And mentioned above, we have a fundamentally different approach that holds search results for users sacred, and thus rewards better listings and behaviour and we believe that would bring about a quantum change in experience, which is a big competitive advantage. 

4) What’s your take on Singapore Property Market Outlook in 2015 and onwards? Do you think there will be an increase of property transaction activities in 2015 compared to 2014?

While we have our personal opinions, we believe the big agencies are the ones who truly has an intimate pulse of the market and where it is going – someone like Eugene Lim of ERA, or Ismail Mohamed of Propnex, would be the best people to provide such foresight.

What we can tell from our data though, is that 1) transactions is actually increasing month-on-month on average 2) but inventory size continue to increase even faster – so it seems to indicate that while demand has not slowed down, supply has increased much faster so prices may not increase much but activities would continue to happen.

5) What words of wisdom and advices you would like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs who would like to set up their own e-portal business in Singapore?

Choose the right market

6) What are your future plans for 99.co?

We are completely focused on Singapore market at this point. The new funding allows us to build the best product we could for both agents and consumers and scale up the supply and demand on our platform.

Thank you to Darius Cheung for taking our interview!

To check out on 99.co, please click HERE to find out more. 

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