Interview of Khondokar Rejbeen Ahsan, Head of Operations, Bproperty.com
The young endeavourer Rejbeen Ahsan loves to work with developing people and walk around strategic working. Throughout his career, his ‘can-do’ attitude allowed him to take any challenge head-on without panic regardless of it being internal or external. He has always encountered ‘first-time’ endeavors whether in the company or in the country and sooner or later they have all been achieved.
Currently, he is the Head of Operations from the Operations Department at the most comprehensive real estate marketplace in Bangladesh, bproperty.com. Rejbeen talks to Fintech and shares his experiences around the real estate market of Bangladesh. Here is an excerpt for Fintech readers.
How did you begin your career?
In a nutshell, my career has been adventurous. From the very beginning, I was never interested in a conventional or traditional career. So, I used to think ‘how can I do something different?’ I saw my friends who studied in the same line as I did join banks. Most of them are now doing well and some of them have moved abroad. After seeing what they were doing, I thought it was quite boring. And it was very regular. So, I realized that that type of profession was not meant for me. Therefore, what could I do? My first job was that of a school teacher. I used to teach O’ Level and A’ Level students in an English medium school; all while completing my own studies. After that I was wondering if I could do something new when I got an opportunity in a new company; a company that wanted to bring a new development to Bangladesh. At that time World Bank and ADB were investing heavily in the renewable energy sector. This company was involved in solar mini-grid projects in rural areas.
Initially it came to my mind that this is an interesting project and the first of its kind. So, I wanted to start from here. I wanted to be involved in something new because there was more opportunity to learn as I moved forward. It was easy to incorporate my own views into the project. That is why I grabbed this opportunity with both hands. I worked in there for about three years. It was a slow process but that company executed the first solar mini-grid project in Bangladesh. I was the project-in-charge during the funding and approval stages. After that project was completed, I was weighing my options; I could either do the same thing all over again or I could do something different. So, I started exploring the opportunities I had in the market and then I got an opportunity at Bangladesh Malaysia Chamber of Commerce & Industries (BMCCI). I received an offer to work in the biggest trade fair in their history. It was being organized in Malaysia and they needed extra help. So, they told me to get on board for that event. I started working and tried to make the event successful. Previously I had never worked in such an event and had no ideas about it whatsoever. After I started working, I learned how to organize an overseas event.
During the course of that trade fair, I had to deal with sponsors and vendors. By the grace of Allah, the event was a success and it took around six months to deliver that project for the team. After the trade fair came to an end, I was thinking what next since the subsequent event will be held after one year. I was thinking what I will do in the meantime. The then Secretary General of BMCCI, one of the great bosses I’ve had the privilege to work for, told me that he was trying to do something new and he wanted someone who didn’t think in the traditional way. I thought it was interesting so I went to his office. He gave me various options and wanted me to pick from the different ventures he had initiated. I thought one of the ventures was extremely unconventional, something that was not very common, and that was manpower. We feel proud about remittance but feel ashamed about exporting manpower. I wanted to understand how the manpower business operates. So, I entered that sector.
After I entered the manpower sector, I was asked to pick up business in two areas that he wanted to enter and wanted me to be involved with them. Consequently, he started those businesses he hadn’t done earlier and the results were good. At the end of the first year, we were in a good position. After one year, I learned and understood the dynamics of the industry and was satisfied with the position of the business. I wanted to do something new, and being young at that time, I didn’t want my personal development to stall in any way. Then I got this opportunity from Bproperty. It was not a well-known organization back then. After I talked with the foreign investors and understood their proposition, the most interesting aspect of it was that if we did our work properly, we would be helping the country as well as its people. I felt very intrigued. Since we had to start from the scratch, I could incorporate all my ideas here and felt that I get to learn everything I do and I do everything I learn. So, I didn’t let this opportunity slip. That is how I started my journey with Bproperty from December, 2015.
In your opinion, how big is the market of real estate business?
We are seeing new opportunities on a regular basis and the market is far bigger than what we used to think earlier. It is because, traditionally, we used to think of the real estate market as only constructing and selling buildings. But when we talk about real estate services, the market is huge. The real estate market includes renting an office or a house and all the services after you sell a property like interior designing etc. With each passing day, we are realizing that the real estate market is larger than what we had thought. As of now, we know the opportunities in the real estate market is enormous and we are yet to tap into its full potential.
Frequent earthquake is a major concern. How do you combat this?
There is actually nothing to combat about frequent earthquakes, it is a natural disaster. It happens by the will of Allah, we cannot do anything about it. Besides that, when we deal with any property, to be very honest, it is practically impossible to fully understand the structural integrity of a building once it has been constructed. So, we try to check the materials used for construction whenever it is possible. In order to allay all the doubts and fears of a customer, we check all the plans and specifications. After we finish checking, we give the customer the approval or certification so they can move ahead with the deal.
We have seen that Bproperty is more technologically advanced than other real estate companies. Can you give us an idea how you are applying technology in this line of business?
From the inception of our company we used technology in this line of business. Initially, we began with data collection. We spent around 15 months collecting data on the real estate market of Bangladesh. We used technology to get efficiency in the data collection process. Whoever works at the field level, every single person has an app on their phone. That app helps in data collection purely as a surveyor. We go from door to door to collect data manually, and in the process, you can get to know the size of the building, the number of units in that building, location, address, etc.
For some additional information like the picture of the building or the exact coordination of the building, you cannot do it manually and you need to use technology. That is why we use technology when the surveyor goes out to do his job. In fact, technology is the integral part of our business process. We have a central platform for collecting the raw data as well as the places where the buyer has to sign up. We have this central platform for both buyers and sellers. All the information is processed and then posted on our website. The process of manually filling up a form is effective, but inefficient and time consuming. So, to make everybody’s job a lot easier, both internally and externally, we started using technology. In addition, we get access to a comprehensive set of information on the real estate market.
How many projects have you taken on board till now and can you tell about the projects you may have in the future?
Well in terms of projects, we started our journey by selling secondary apartments. It was the most unorganized market in Bangladesh and didn’t have any central platform whatsoever. By secondary apartments, we mean a property that is owned by an individual. Traditionally when we want to sell our property or rent it out, we put up a sign-board outside our house that reads ‘To-Let’ or ‘For Sale’ and wait for the appropriate customer to appear one day. We also approach brokers who can help us to the extent of the resources at his disposal.
Since this market was unorganized, we decided to find out what are the supporting services needed for the market. We wanted to begin with this market as it was quite a challenge for us. We thought, once we can organize this market and overcome the challenges; we can do anything and everything. Once that market became streamlined after one year, we ventured into commercial spaces. When we talk about projects, we don’t mean buildings but SBUs. After commercial spaces, we took the responsibility of marketing developers’ projects. Then we moved onto land. We started our rental service soon after. There are some options we are thinking about like facility management. At some point we will move into development as well.
Can you give us an idea about your branding policy?
There is no branding policy as such but I can share with you the thought process. We didn’t want anybody to think Bproperty as an exclusive product, this was our thought process. We wanted Bproperty to be perceived as a mass market product. The basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education – we didn’t want to portray the third necessity in an exclusive way. We want everyone to have the need for shelter fulfilled and not think of it as something unattainable or impossible because it is an expensive product.
We want to present ourselves in such a manner that all people, with different levels of affordability can avail our service. We don’t deal with only high-end products; we have sold an apartment worth 26 lakh Taka as well as an apartment worth 28 crore. If you look at the demographics of Bangladesh, majority of the customers belong to the middle-class. So as long as we can support this middle-class, we don’t have to look back. In the branding and the signage we use, we don’t want people to think Bproperty is something grandiose and unapproachable. If we put up a huge billboard, people will perceive Bproperty as something exclusive.
How is Bproperty different from others?
First of all, Bproperty is a service-based company. Since we market and sell other peoples’ products, our proposition is totally different. The challenge in selling own products is that we work with a limited number of products. So, when you are selling your own product, you cannot offer anything besides that product. Since Bproperty works with practically all the products available in the market, we can give many options to the customer. We can actually offer a customer the product that they need instead of pushing our own product. This is how Bproperty is different from others. Secondly, the approach of Bproperty is different, we do not believe in push-sale. We work more like a consultancy. The number of options we give to a customer, from ready flat, under-construction flat, land, plot, selling, buying as well as free consultancy service; other companies cannot do so probably due to their business model.
Can you tell us about your strategic plan, mission and vision?
Our vision is vast but simple. We want to be the ultimate solution in real estate for the entire country. When you think about the rudimentary level and see the land in villages leased for farming, if we think we can help people by bringing it under our platform, we will do that. Until now, whenever a customer comes to us to rent, buy or sell property or for some other purposes, we can provide a solution. At present, we are providing the services for cities only. Eventually we will take our services outside of cities, to suburbs and villages.
Where do you want to see Bproperty in the next five or ten years?
The answer is same really, to be the ultimate solution in real estate in Bangladesh. We are offering solution to people from the existing products; we give them options according to what they need. What we have noticed is that there is a lot of demand. As we work with data and use technology extensively for that purpose, we get a good picture of the supply side. From the different types of buyers, we deal with as well as the queries, we understand the demand in this market. From research and the huge volume of data we have, we realize that the demand and supply are not on the same level. So, we want to create the supply according to the demand of the people. That supply is not there yet. I mentioned earlier that Bproperty will move into development, so the question arises, what type of development will we go for? We will develop what the market demands and since we can see the demand, we know exactly what the market wants. As market demographics are changing, so is the demand. We will bring some changes to our business model and venture into development. So, this is what’s ahead for Bproperty to be very specific.