Bproperty is one of the most promising companies in the real estate sector. Gaining considerable momentum within the span of just over two years, the e-commerce real estate marketplace Bproperty.com has managed to amass over 23 thousand property listings in that period.
We spoke with Mark Nosworthy last year who is also global CFO of Bproperty’s parent group, Emerging Markets Property Group. Since that time Bproperty moved a long way and so we caught up again with Mr Nosworthy to understand how the promising company has been doing since our last interview.
FINTECH: We spoke last year. Fill us in on what’s been going on since then?
M Nosworthy: Yes, I think we spoke May/June time. So, since then we have come an awful long way. We’ve grown transaction volumes significantly over that time period. We co-sponsored REHAB. We’ve revamped out tech product since then. We have a new look and feel to the website. We launched a new rental product aimed at consumers in Bangladesh trying to find the rental home they are after. But importantly, we’ve come a long way actually in selling property, which is essentially what we are here to do. So, the last six months have been a lot of work but at the same time very rewarding.
We’ve signed two deals with bti and GM Holdings, working together to market and sell their properties. In the case of GM, this is exclusively for their development in Uttara. So, we’ve actually, I feel, come a fair way in the six months or so since we last spoke.
FINTECH: We have followed Bproperty since you started operation, about two years ago. At that point you weren’t quite there to be fully visible to the marketplace. Are you in the phase now where you feel you are prepared to promote yourself to the fullest extent?
M Nosworthy: Obviously sponsoring REHAB for us was a landmark and a milestone. We wanted to put ourselves out there as we felt we have now got an infrastructure in place to support the growth of the business. We have over 23,000 properties on our portal that we manage on a daily basis. I think we’ve got to the point where actually we feel that there’s no better time than now for getting ourselves out there to support the property industry in Bangladesh.
Now, that said, can you ever be ‘prepared’? Certainly in a new market and in an industry that has never dealt with companies like us before, can you ever be prepared? I am not sure you can. What you think will be the challenges might be different from what you face and you just need to find solutions for circumstances as they arise. We prepare as much as possible to preempt different challenges that fast growth brings though business has a habit of putting you in positions that you did not expect. I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared from that perspective.
But for us, it was important to get Bproperty into mainstream society in Bangladesh and make consumers aware of the solutions and the services that we can provide. Since REHAB the feedback has been incredibly good. I feel as though we are pretty well set up to handle the growth that will come off the back of 2017.
FINTECH: So, you mentioned your partnerships with developers. You have different segments and market focus. As of yet which is most profitable and which one is likely to grow the most?
M Nosworthy: We focus on selling property. I truly believe that in order to be successful we have to sell property. And that’s what we’ve proven we can do.
We started the business solely on secondary products, secondary being ‘used’ or already available property to fulfill the needs of consumers in Bangladesh who have challenges sourcing appropriate properties to purchase. In 2018, we will be expanding into new areas of Dhaka and Bangladesh to increase the coverage and accessibility of our services, and adding in more and more developer products to compliment our offering. We have ready available products as well as new developments – we are able to give consumers choice and options, in the one place, through an advised service and this has never been available before. Consumers might be interested in an area; they might be interested in certain different budget levels. We can give them a full suite of available products within those ranges in those areas for those budget requirements.
Therefore for Bproperty adding more developer products and working closely with developers, given that actually all the consumers are engaging with Bproperty now anyway, allows Bproperty and developers to mutually benefit given developers sell their inventory faster.
FINTECH: What has been most challenging?
M Nosworthy: Most challenging has been finding resource, finding the right calibre of individuals who can understand what we are trying to do here. In a business like ours, where we provide a whole suite of services to both buyers and sellers – encompassing trust, encompassing full transparency, encompassing access to legal services to ensure that transactions are done in the right way and then actually sell the products – people with the right skill set can be somewhat difficult to find. The fact that we are in a new industry contributes to that. So, for us, finding the right calibre of individual that can then represent Bproperty has been a challenge.
Educating the market has been another challenge. Getting across who Bproperty is, what we do, the services that we provide is challenging. We are not a broker. Our suite of services is very different to how a broker operates. We look to manage the entire process for the seller and the developer. So, we sit between all parties – we deal with all the viewings; we deal with all the legal documentation; we help with access to finance; we assist with the negotiations; we ensure that the documents for any property are secure, legitimate and they are registered and handled in the right way. So, for us, we operate in a very different way to a broker.
Market education will take time but we expected that. Education takes time and then of course we need people to experience the service that we provide and in this way, Bangladesh consumers will quickly learn that the services and the characteristics of Bproperty is very different to anything that exists.
FINTECH: In terms of gathering data and business intelligence, what kind of service you use? The widely consulted service is Nielsen. But even then there is concern that the data is not accurate, not because of any company that do the work, but because the supporting infrastructure is lacking. So, the real question is how do you counter that?
M Nosworthy: We have to get our data ourselves. You are spot on. There is a lack of data in the market and I think there’s also some question marks over the validity of the data that can be obtained. So, the only way really is to get the information ourselves. We have surveyed and mapped most of Bangladesh by foot. We know every building and we know what’s available. We deal with that every day of the week. It’s the only way for us to really fully understand the market here. Through this we understand the market size, the opportunity that exists and where those opportunities exist.
Our entire business is data-led.
FINTECH: That’s certainly a bold step. So, do you think that kind of investment in survey for your own data is going to pay off?
M Nosworthy: Of course, it already has. As I said, we have grown transaction volumes significantly in the last six months. So, for us that intelligence has already paid off. That is what sets us aside from our competitors, what gives me the confidence around what it is we are doing and how we are doing it. It has paid off and I truly believe that it will continue to do so.
FINTECH: Do you have a figure for your market share at this point?
M Nosworthy: I think we are still at a very early stage in our development though our market share is growing very quick as our transaction volume increases. One of the important things for us to be clear on is that we are not a competitor of the developers. We are actually a partner, as we help to sell their product I believe better than they can sell their own products. We are an enabler for developers, not a competitor. That’s why it’s all about partnerships for us. If I’m selling a developer’s product then they win, and we will too, because the sale’s been conducted through Bproperty.
Our expertise has to be and will be in our ability to market and sell products. And that’s what we are focused on. I think it is a very fragmented industry. The opportunity is big and companies like Bproperty can really underpin and bring the industry together to make the process far more efficient. What I expect to happen is that companies like Bproperty, will bring trust, transparency and confidence into the industry and actually the market itself. I think to date, there’s been some skepticism around property purchasing in Bangladesh because of a lack of trust, especially on the secondary side. As Bproperty becomes more mainstream we will bring the confidence into the industry.
FINTECH: Do you think you have any strong competition right now?
M Nosworthy: We have competition, but I guess at the same time do I actually think there’s a company like us in Bangladesh? No. There are obviously companies that market products in a very general way, though not direct competition. We typically get compared with the likes of Lamudi or Bikroy etc. Those companies are predominantly marketing portals however do not provide the value added services which we; the sales support, the legal support, the finance support, the structure to help the sales transaction, the structure to support the transaction, the structure to support both the consumer and the seller.
We are an online real estate marketplace with the largest inventory of real estate products in Bangladesh coupled with a very strong offline presence to support the property purchase transaction.
FINTECH: Your platform certainly sets you apart immediately. The listings are all accompanied by photos and detail information, in addition to having uniform formats for presenting that data.
M Nosworthy: For a lot of the other websites, the contents shown are user generated i.e. the actual sellers themselves are using their own photos and writing their own descriptions. You therefore get differences in the quality of the content. In case of Bproperty, the 23,000 properties that we have on the website, have been put together by ourselves. We have obtained the contents, we have obtained the images, we have written the descriptions ourselves and we maintain these listings ourselves. The integrity of that information is therefore much purer. Therefore, going back to what you said, there is uniformity and there is quality.
This then gives the rest of the business the confidence around actually selling the products, speaking about products because we actually understand it. We have gone and visited the product ourselves. Our sales guys have understood the product. There is complete confidence in everything that is sitting on our website.
FINTECH: In the course of listing all of these properties you have gathered a massive amount of data. What sort of application Big Data has in your business and in real estate in general?
M Nosworthy: For us data is integral. We analyse this data to get trends. We do that every day. That’s how we get the intelligence around strategy. All of these come from the trends and the patterns within the data.
FINTECH:Thanks very much for speaking to us.
M Nosworthy: You are welcome. ■