With plans to expand his property portal across the GCC, the Bayut founder shares the story of his venture into entrepreneurship
What is the Bayut.com story?
We began in 2008 after having succeeded with Zameen.com, a similar venture in Pakistan. That idea was inspired by the fast evolvement of marketplaces in the West. When Bayut was conceptualised, the e-classified space was still in its nascent stages here.
For example, Google Maps did not include all schools, hospitals or restaurants. We saw an opportunity to build a portal that works around data that was not readily available.
Were you afraid to leave the corporate world?
I was more enthusiastic about the possibilities of entrepreneurship than I was afraid of the challenge in all honesty. Even when I was in a well-placed job, I knew I was more inclined towards making a bigger impact, and that the only way I could do that was by starting my own concept.
Entrepreneurship is tough, no doubt; you can never let the ball drop and you have to be very quick on your feet, but there’s never a dull moment running your own business. The energy and pace of a start-up environment is invigorating.
How much funding have you secured? And how did you manage to do so?
Bayut.com is part of the Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG), which operates the largest property portals in the UAE, Pakistan and Bangladesh. So when we entered the UAE market, we came with a lot of experience of having built real estate portals and a solid track record to help us raise funds. The group has publicly disclosed $29m of funding.
Was Bayut.com self-funded at first? How costly was it to set up? What was the costliest part then and what is it now?
Yes, it was self-funded and on a much smaller scale. In the early days, the biggest expense was operational costs. Since it was a free service and did not generate any revenue, we made sure to keep costs down as much as possible. The next phase was setting up an office, which required another injection of capital. however, that was offset by monetisation of the business.
Has it become easier to run the business as technology evolves, or does that mean more competition for Bayut?
The evolvement of technology has helped us solve many problems, but it has also created new challenges. Because I come from a tech background, it was always at the core of solving issues for us. When it comes to competition, what one sees on the surface is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot is required to run a website, from complexities of managing client content to apps for users. I think some people have a misconception that one can easily launch a portal and everything will fall into place if there is a website. But it is important to note that there is a lot of intellectual property that is never seen by someone who is just using the website.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made with Bayut.com? And how did you overcome it?
We could have started earlier. There is no substitute for time, and it takes a while to get things up and running. But I can’t call this a mistake because during those years I was busy building teams across the US, Europe, China and India, and that experience certainly came in handy.
How is Bayut.com doing in terms of revenue and growth?
We have over 830 active clients across the UAE, and have increased our traffic 30 folds since 2014. We also maintained a growth rate of more than 100 percent annually over the past five years.
What is the toughest part about being an entrepreneur?
Coming from a corporate environment, what I realised is that I was standing in a place with very little support around me, if any. And you either realise that very early on or you let it drown you. So you need to be ok with the idea of being alone and solving challenges on your own and having complete faith that what you are doing is the right thing to do, given the knowledge you have. Think about the best rollercoaster you have been on, multiply it by ten, and then decide if you want to get on it.