Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Conversation with Vinod Nair, HomeSpace.sg

In Conversation with Vinod Nair, HomeSpace.sg
October 16th, 2007 by Gwen

Perhaps HomeSpace.sg has chosen a good time to launch their online real estate site with all the real estate fervour in Singapore. Here, we catch Vinod Nair, founder and CEO of HomeSpace for an interview. He brings us his story of this young startup.

Gwen: Hi Vinod, thanks for accepting this email interview. First, can you tell us more about your background and what you are currently doing?
Vinod: I’m currently an undergrad at the School of Computing in NUS majoring in Communications and Media. I spent a year in Silicon Valley working at a software startup and studying at Stanford as part of the NUS Overseas Colleges Program.

I’m currently the CEO of The Real Group a real estate search company. We’ve just beta launched our flagship product HomeSpace.sg, the smarter way to find homes for sale. With our proprietary proximity sensing technology, SmartPins, all homes are able to detect amenities such as transportation, schools and shopping malls within walking distance.

Gwen: What is HomeSpace?
Vinod: HomeSpace is a “no-nonsense” platform that’s clean and uncluttered, developed a search function that’s powerful yet easy to use, and implemented a map interface that’s detailed and informative with updated and non-bogus real estate listings.

We understand that searching for real estate can be a real hassle. We also know that sometimes, all you really want is to find out what’s out there for sale in Singapore, and with as much relevant and important information at hand, make the right decisions without needing to pop too many panadol pills in the process.

Gwen: What got you motivated to start Homespace.sg? What’s the story behind it?
Vinod: Well, when I was in Silicon Valley, I realized that all the real estate sites were so much more than just a bunch of listings. Listings were on maps and they provided valuation estimates that help people sell or make the decision to sell their homes.

I realised that there was nothing like that in Singapore. The closest anyone came to that was a simple implementation of Google maps which didn’t really leverage on its full capability.

Gwen: What were the initial challenges and difficulties that you faced as an entrepreneur?
Vinod: I would have to say my biggest initial challenge was forming the core team. Getting the right people on board was my first priority. Convincing people to work for “nothing” is never easy.. They have to feel as passionate as you do about the idea and want to take it from an idea to a product.

Another big hurdle was trying to adapt after a mediocre alpha launch. We realized that even though we had a better product, it was an uphill battle getting agents to put up their listings on a relatively unknown site. At the same time, we couldn’t market the site until we had enough listings… and that was the biggest setback.

Looking back, it was actually a good thing it didn’t work out. Because it prompted us to think how we could overcome this problem and further increase barriers to entry.

Gwen: What made you decide to bootstrap the company?
Vinod: Bootstraping is another tough decision. It’s one thing to put in a lot of time. But when it comes to betting your last dollar, it’s a different thing altogether… That’s when you can tell if you and your team really believe in the idea.

It’s always a better idea to take funding as far down as possible. The more you are able to mitigate risk, the more bargaining power you have! Of course, if you can’t sustain, don’t be stupid.. TAKE THE MONEY!

Gwen: On The Real Group’s homepage, we see links to both HomeSpace.sg and RentSpace.sg. Why are you focusing on Homespace / home buying market first?
Vinod: We’re actually going to be launching both in quick succession. I feel that the home buying and rental markets are two different ball games. As such we decided to separate the sites and provide focused features and marketing to each site.

Gwen: What is your business model?
Vinod: I think that no one has successfully bridged the online-offline chasm yet. A large majority of agents do not advertise online because they don’t know how or because they think it doesn’t work.

People are also unwilling to invest cash upfront on a system that they don’t know will lead to sales. This was the problem with web advertising a few years ago. We’ve come up with a pretty innovative solution for this problem… And you’ll get to see it first hand when HomeSpace launches next week.

Gwen: Any plans to expand outside Singapore?
Vinod: Of course! Once the technology is stable, we’ll be looking into expanding internationally. We’ll need to better understand the real estate climate in other countries before we decide to do that, but we should have presence in at least 3 countries in a year.

Gwen: What are the three important lessons you believe that young entrepreneurs of today should learn through your experience?
Vinod: F**k it. Just do it!

Gwen: Thanks, Vin!

Editor’s note: Vinod wishes to let everyone know that the site is currently at the alpha stage for real estate agents only. So check back soon next week for listings!

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