x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Online UAE property site ready for expansion

Propertyfinder.ae, the property portal, has raised its first capital since 2009 as it targets expansion to five more countries by early next year.

Propertyfinder.ae, the property portal, has raised its first capital since 2009 as it targets expansion to five more countries by early next year.

To help drive its growth, the company aims to use the experience of a pool of private investors, which include Danny Farha, the co-founder of Bayt.com, the largest job portal in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Our funding needs are quite limited as we have a profitable UAE business that can finance a large part of our expansion plan," said Michael Lahyani, the founder and chief executive of propertyfinder.ae.

"Most importantly, we prefer to partner with individual investors who we have known for many years. They share our long term vision and they bring, to a young company like ours, a strong investment experience acquired in the online industry worldwide."

Mr Lahyani set up a property listing magazine and online portal in 2005 in response to the UAE's property boom, before selling a 51 per cent stake in the fledgling business in November 2007 to REA Group, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. In 2009, he regained 100 per cent control of the company, now known as propertyfinder.ae.

The fresh capital will be used to finance the next expansion phase of the company, involving rolling out the business model in other countries in the region. It already has more than 60 staff across its four offices in the UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Lebanon and operates two sister websites - propertyfinder.qa and propertyfinder.eg.

The cash will also be used to fund acquisitions of companies in the region and establish joint ventures in non-core markets.

Mr Lahyani said the funds gave investors a minority stake in the business, with him and senior management remaining fully in charge of operations.

In the pool, the lead investor is Mr Farha's Becco Capital. Mr Farha, who was also a seed investor in Gonabit, a Middle East-focused daily deals website, will play a critical role in helping propertyfinder.ae roll out its regional expansion.

Mr Farha said the company's platform competed with "the best international references".

Other investors - in a personal capacity - include Evren Ucok, the co-founder of Trendyol and Peak Games, two of Turkey's fastest-growing online businesses; and Patrick Grove, the founder of Asia's leading property portal iProperty Group, as well as its chief executive, Shaun Di Gregorio. Silicon Valley-based US investors and Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, of Abraaj Capital, are also investing.

"I was very impressed with the pedigree of propertyfinder.ae's management team, leadership style and corporate culture," Mr Abdel-Wadood said.

In the past three years, propertyfinder.ae has experienced growth of 85 per cent per year as it develops its online community of buyers, sellers, renters, brokers and developers in English and Arabic. More than 70,000 up-to-date listings for residential and commercial properties exist on propertyfinder.ae.

"To ensure that our expansion is as efficient as possible, our new ventures across the Middle East and Africa region will share most of the technology that has been developed in the UAE, which means that the costs to start up our new operations are reasonable," said Renan Bourdeau, the managing director and partner of propertyfinder.ae.

tarnold@thenational.ae