Closing The Gap: Bayut.Com Is Making Its Presence Felt In the UAE Property Tech Race
Haider Ali Khan, CEO of property portal Bayut.com, believes that his enterprise can be considered as a “driver of change” in its sector- and that’s a statement you probably won’t argue with once you hear its growth story. “We started Bayut.com back in 2008, when there was a genuine lack of a similar service in the market,” recalls Khan. “At the time, the journey to discover new properties was mostly offline, and even Google Maps wasn’t as comprehensive for the UAE as it is today, so there was a significant gap in terms of what users needed to know and what was available to them.” Of course, since then, the process of discovering a home has changed drastically- all thanks to technology, and with the internet emerging as a cornerstone of all information exchange, the entrepreneurs behind Bayut felt that finding a property to buy or rent also needed to have a dynamic online presence.
The parent company behind Bayut.com, Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG), had its humble beginnings in a home in Northolt, London, with the Khan brothers Zeeshan, Imran, and Haider coming together, while retaining their respective daily jobs, to build a real estate portal. In the case of Bayut.com, the site initially launched as a free portal with no physical presence in the UAE, and it remained so for a few years until in 2014, the brothers decided it was time to take the venture further ahead. This resulted in Khan quitting his cushy corporate job (he has over 14 years of work experience in the US with employers like Goldman Sachs, Silicon Labs, and National Instruments) and taking over as the CEO of Bayut.com. As for EMPG itself, the company today operates its properties discovery portal in two other emerging markets besides the UAE: Zameen.com in Pakistan, and BProperty.com in Bangladesh.
“Starting out, we had to physically map out a lot of the locations and mine data, so that we could create more content around each property to provide a richer experience to a property seeker,” says Khan. The founders’ technology background proved valuable in tiding over these issues- especially in a country where such capabilities were hard to find then. “We took it upon ourselves to walk into the agency offices, and train the clients to change and accept this new transformation that was going to take place. We have in the past (and still continue) to manually collect inventory from agencies and take photos or make videos of their stock, because that is what is required to help complete the digitization process, irrespective of who does what today.” Along with digitizing a sector that’s long relied on its brokers’ network, Khan says they also focused on building a sustainable revenue generating business, while retaining their “startup DNA.”
While it is essentially a search engine for properties in the UAE, Bayut.com also provides users an interactive tool to calculate commute times to destinations (from listed properties), shows them nearby schools, hospitals, and restaurants etc. Bayut’s proprietary technology generates property prices and rent indices, and thus depicts trends in the real estate market, complementing its core services. The company says they are also one of the first ones in their industry in the UAE to utilize AI to refine the user experience with the platform having the ability to classify images into categories (such as bedroom, kitchen, bathroom etc.), and offer insights to listers on how much users engage with each type of image.
Given the transitory nature of the population, it’s easy to see why the UAE is home to a plethora of online classified enterprises, especially across the real estate sector. However, Khan believes that the group’s wealth of experience in property tech across emerging markets helps set Bayut apart. “We know what it takes to enter a market and develop a property portal ecosystem better than anyone in this region,” he says. “And this is not limited to just tech, but also extends to levels of excellence in managing client relations, customer service, and fostering trust from a 360-degree perspective.”
Besides, Bayut also seems to have succeeded in leveraging what’s perhaps the most successful marketing channel for enterprises today- content marketing. Bayut.com hosts a blog that provides information across a wide variety of topics that helps users in decision making, thereby establishing the much needed emotional connect. “To this end, we are the first ones to launch an Arabic real estate blog in the region, so we reach out to everyone including our Arabic readers,” adds Khan.
And these business strategies seem to have paid dividends for Bayut. Since launch, the enterprise claims to have seen “tremendous growth” with over 830 active clients today, increasing traffic “30 fold,” and clocking a growth rate of over 100% annually over the past five years. “One of the key challenges we faced initially was that our competition had a six-year head start. In an internet-based business, that’s a lifetime, but we have been able to close the gap very rapidly to be neck-toneck with them, and even ahead in some areas,” says Khan.
The company’s recent move to a larger (and more upmarket) space at Dubai Design District (d3) to house their 130+ strong team also seems to affirm their growth. “We were constantly moving out of every new office we moved into to accommodate the growing number of people including having two separate offices at the same time to accommodate everyone… The vibe and culture of d3 very much align with who we are, and it reflects our personality, while still giving us an office to accommodate everyone.” As for the financial means to support expansion, Khan notes that the parent company EMPG is one among the most well-funded online companies in the region. “The EMPG group has publically disclosed funding of US$29 million, but we have done more undisclosed rounds as well,” he says, adding that at this stage, they are solely focused on strengthening the brand and it’s “a bit early” for them to be looking for an exit.
In line with his confidence for Bayut’s prospects, the entrepreneur is equally optimistic about the region’s macroeconomic factors as well, which, he says, point to the right direction. He’s also happy that the authorities have demonstrated their intentions to be on the right side of the tech disruptions underway in the sector, citing the Dubai Land Department’s decision to validate all properties being advertised. “Also, there are plenty of discussions around blockchain and its use in different sectors, so it would be interesting to keep an eye on what comes out of that,” he notes.
For those of you reading the entrepreneur’s views sitting at your office desks, you should know that just a few years ago, Khan was in your shoes. “The job I had checked all the boxes, and I couldn’t have asked for a better career, but there was something that was amiss- it was the belief that I can do more,” he recalls, talking about why he decided to take the leap. Nevertheless, he is thankful to all the experiences his corporate stint offered, which has helped him in scaling Bayut. “The pace is extremely fast in a startup, the clock does not stop, the business needs to generate revenue with the limited resources it has, there is no time to take breathers, you have to make people believe in something that is not in front of them, and the list goes on,” he says. “It’s very easy to get lost in all of this, so what you need to realize is that you just do your bit every day, and leave it slightly better than it was yesterday, and you will get there!”