The story of something :Different
Mina Radhakrishnan and Ruwin Perera, a husband and wife duo with expertise in the tech industry, found something unusual back in 2017 while helping their retired parents get their finances in order. They’d been paying a huge amount of money in fees to a property management firm for the past 20 years, which was followed by lengthy processes of selling their home in San Francisco. This led them to form a property tech start-up named :Different.
The Morning Brunch spoke to them on the concept behind this start-up and more.
Here are some excerpts from the interview.
The start of :Different – a little on what inspired it and how it came to be
While helping our retired parents get their finances in order, we found they’d been paying an agent what seemed like an obscene amount of money in fees for the past 20 years. Meanwhile, their property manager had changed every few months, sometimes with no notice, and they weren’t getting real value for their money. That’s when we realised it’s time for a change in property management. We didn’t just want to create something for the sake of it; it had to have purpose and drive real value for our end users, so we spent a decent amount of time in the early stages of ideation talking to real people – property owners, property managers, and tenants – to understand their pain points, what they wanted, what they would be willing to pay, and where the gaps existed to ensure we were addressing their needs. Once we felt confident that our idea would meet a market need and deliver real value, we founded :Different in 2017. Starting with a small team in Sydney and in Colombo, we’ve grown quickly since launching.
What does property management entail?
Australians are pretty well known for their obsession with home ownership – over two million Australians own an investment property. 80% of these owners use a property manager, and yet the industry NPS (Net Promoter Score) across the board is as low as -38. In other words, there is a huge market, but customer satisfaction is incredibly low. So, we asked the question of why customer satisfaction was so low. The property management industry hadn’t changed in decades – paperwork was still done in a very manual way, property managers were overworked, often with over 100 properties under a single manager, and they charged percentage-based fees, which meant that different property owners were charged differently for the same services. This meant that bad, inefficient communication and the lack of transparency around property management fees were common pain points faced by property owners and renters. Our mission is to address these challenges head on by providing a fair and transparent service to be the ultimate assistant for the home, while building the technology to streamline the processes, provide efficient service, and tackle these common pain points.
How does :Different make property management, well, different?
For most Australians, their home is their most important asset. Whether you’re an owner or you’re renting, it’s a place of refuge. We want to remove the common pain points property owners and renters face, which can only be done with people who care, and technology that streamlines processes.
To do this, we combine expert property managers with technology that makes the owner and tenant experience as seamless as possible, and offer full-service property management with a transparent price tag.
We know that it takes no more effort or resources to manage a $ 600/week property than it does a $1,200/week property. That’s why we have done away with the traditional percentage fee model and, instead, charge a flat $ 100/month fee for all our owners. We think this transparency is fairer and the right thing for consumers.
The fact that we raised $ 7.1 million in a Series A round, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, is testament to not only the strength of the team and viability of the business model, but a broader need for a better property management solution for owners and tenants in Australia.
With you and your partner both having lots of experience in tech, what was the biggest unforeseen challenge you faced when building :Different?
From an operations perspective, the main challenge that we faced, like many other businesses, were the restrictions that social distancing measures placed on our day-to-day operations. Many tasks, such as key collections and open homes, couldn’t be conducted in-person, so new – often digital – solutions were necessary. Apart from conducting private inspections, we also introduced 3D virtual inspections which allowed prospective tenants to do “walkthroughs” of homes on their own devices. Because our tech has been central to the way we’ve done property management from day one, we’d already had digital processes in place for various tasks like tenant applications and maintenance requests. We’re quite confident in saying that we transitioned very quickly to work around, and provide solutions for, the challenges posed by Covid.
How has the pandemic affected :Different?
Covid-19 made its impact on industries far and wide, and the property market was no exception. While we were raising our Series A, we were exposed to an under-pressure property market where tenants were struggling to pay their rent and owners their mortgages. This was also during one of the worst stock market falls in Australian history. However, our business model allowed us to offer property management services for a flat fee of $ 100 a month, which, for a vast majority of customers looking to tighten their belts, was helping them save a lot of money.
Once we closed our Series A round, we focused on investing in the right people to join us in our mission to build the assistant for the home. Covid-19 has been a difficult time for many businesses and many are treading very carefully – but we believe that those who continue to invest in their customers, people, products, and services will be better placed to gain a competitive edge. That’s the approach we took with :Different last year, and today we’ve more than tripled in size.
Given the strict social distancing restrictions that were in place last year, many of our new employees hadn’t been able to meet each other in person, which meant that on-boarding was incredibly difficult. When you can’t go for a quick coffee, or have a chat in the kitchen, you have to find ways for your employees to get to know each other. Putting effort into social events is more important now than ever before – and in response to this, our team did virtual “wine-downs” every Friday where we did pub quizzes and played games like Pictionary.
Employees who like each other do better work, and ultimately, the result is a better company.
What’s :Different doing next?
The most important thing for us right now is to focus on providing exceptional customer service.
It’s only with happy customers that we will be able to grow with the knowledge that we’re doing all the right things to make the “assistant for the home” a reality.
We need to earn the right to deliver home services to other customers beyond property management. Our focus, first and foremost, is delivering great property management and building good customer relationships, all else flows naturally from that.
This year, we’re planning to expand into new cities including Perth and Canberra, while building on our presence in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, with properties worth more than $ 1 billion under management.
What would your advice to Sri Lankan tech entrepreneurs be?
The Sri Lankan start-up ecosystem has much to learn from developed nations and great potential for growth. Moving forward, we need to get on par with the rest of the world. Towards helping the Sri Lankan start-up ecosystem grow, we at :Different wish to share what we’ve learned, and offer an introduction to how we’re using technology to improve property management.
To learn more about their technology and the lessons they’ve learned building :Different, tune into their webinar on 4 March 2021 (Thursday) at 5 p.m., facilitated by Hatch and Arteculate Asia.