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Fri 21 Feb 2020 04:21 PM

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Entrepreneur of the Week: Helen Chen, CEO and co-founder of Nomad

Nomad hopes to shake up the real estate industry and make buying, selling and renting homes easier with the help of technology

Entrepreneur of the Week: Helen Chen, CEO and co-founder of Nomad

Helen Chen, CEO and co-founder of Nomad

Buying and selling a home is an important milestone in anyone’s life – but it’s a hassle to say the least. From flawed or missing information about properties online to an abundance of problematic brokerage firms, it’s an often frustrating process that ends in tears and frustration for too many residents.

Enter Nomad. Led by Goldman Sachs, China Investment Corporation and Blackstone veteran Helen Chen, the Dubai-based start-up aims to use technology to improve the entire buying, selling or renting experience from start to finish. Nomad is gearing up for launch in Dubai in early 2020 and plans to expand to other countries across the region throughout the year.

You’ve created Nomad to ‘revolutionise’ how people buy and sell homes in the Middle East. How does it plan to do this?

Finding a home is one of the most important decisions in your life. So you would expect the process, whether you are buying or renting, to be flawless. Unfortunately this often isn’t the case due to a mixture of inaccurate listings, low quality information and generally a poor overall customer experience.

At Nomad, we are taking a technology-first approach to offer a superior and standardised level of customer service. Our company’s culture of trust and transparency is enabled by our technology and is what sets us apart from other brokerages in the region.

In this case, how does technology address the transparency issues that are inherent in the business?

We understand that there is a massive opportunity to revolutionise the buying, selling, and renting experience by focussing on better technology.

We are building a technology enabled real estate brokerage with a focus on putting the best tools at our customers’ fingertips.

Our site is designed and structured to offer an enhanced experience from beginning to end.

All the properties listed are guaranteed to be real, available and appear only once on the site, giving people the confidence that they won’t be faced with fake or duplicate listings. We utilise high quality images and 3D tours to give a realistic sense of the layout, decor and feel of a property before even setting foot through the door.

Technology improves the customer experience. It enables us to provide the highest quality listings and seamless experience from beginning to end. Higher quality listings also help a property attract more viewings and ultimately sell or rent more quickly. Equipping top agents with best-in-class tools optimises the way that agents work. It’s a win-win-win for buyers, sellers, and agents.

There is a better and more efficient way of doing business that is enabled by technology – we’re here to do it.

Is the company bootstrapped or have you raised capital from investors? Can you walk us through your funding journey?

We have secured world class investors from Silicon Valley and elsewhere. We also have advisors who are CEOs from prominent property technology firms. We will announce additional funding details at a later date.

You relocated to Dubai specifically to start a business. Why Dubai and the Middle East? Why not start this in America or elsewhere?

I moved to the region because I am passionate about building a great property technology company – Dubai alone is a $15bn real estate market. Yet, we still see a big opportunity to improve the experience of buying, selling, and renting homes using technology.

I also have deep ties to the region, even though I was born in the US. My husband and his business partner, Joel Ayala and Zach Finkelstein, were the first US Venture Capital investors in Careem, so I have witnessed first hand the incredible potential of Dubai and the region.

Dubai is also the centre of innovation and tech talent in the Middle East. There is a reason that the region’s first unicorn, Careem, is based in Dubai, along with other numerous other successful start-ups.

In addition, the tech ecosystem has attracted top-tier tech talent in the region. The combination of innovation, talent, and a large real estate market makes Dubai the best place for Nomad to begin building our business.

Where in the process does Nomad actually make its money?

Nomad earns a commission from completed property sales and rentals. We do not make money until we have successfully helped our customers find their home.

What sets Nomad apart from other companies that operate in this space?

Technology is at our core, but talent sets us apart.

Our Nomad Advisors are fully dedicated to our buyers and renters, this means they only support on the buy side and work collaboratively with the sell side agent to service the customer and close the deal. Each buyer or renter has one dedicated agent to guide them through the entire process, from selecting the best properties to scheduling viewings and handling the paperwork; regardless of how many properties they want to explore.

We also incentivise differently so our Nomad Advisors aren’t driven by achieving the highest sale or rental price to drive the best commission for themselves. Instead they are focused on, and rewarded for, ensuring they help you to find your perfect home.

When will you launch operations and what is your plan for the next year?

We are focussed on launching in Dubai early next year and then we will be concentrating on perfecting our operations, expanding our team and building the Nomad brand.

What are your expansion plans beyond Dubai and can you share the timeline?

We plan to begin expanding in the region next year.

Dubai’s real estate market at the moment is largely geared towards Expo 2020 – how much of an opportunity is that for Nomad?

Expo 2020 is already drawing a lot of attention to the Dubai real estate market. It should create a lot of opportunities for people looking to both buy and sell properties.

We plan to help our customers take advantage of this unique moment.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

My dad once told me that “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t” and that has really stuck with me. I love the idea of trying to learn something from every single person I meet.

If you could go back, what would you have done differently with Nomad?

As we haven’t launched publicly yet it’s hard to pinpoint something we would have done differently, but we are constantly learning and evolving Nomad on a daily basis. Nomad is a technology company at its core and this brings with it the agility and flexibility to constantly iterate and improve our product.

What is entrepreneurship really like? Lonely, exciting?

People sometimes portray entrepreneurs as a one-man (or woman) band. So it can seem like a lonely profession. But, I’ve realised that entrepreneurship is all about who you surround yourself with. I have an incredible co-founder and an amazing team. We’re having the time of our lives building something that we think is really special.

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