Doha-Based Tech Startup Hapondo Aims To Revamp The Way People In Qatar Search For A New Home hapondo is a homegrown real estate marketplace that helps connect tenants and property buyers with real estate companies in Qatar.

By Pamella de Leon

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hapondo co-founders Ahmad Al-Khanji, Abdulaziz Al-Yazeedi, Haajerah Khan and Abdulla Al-Fadhala (left-to-right)

As anyone can account, finding a new home can be a long and stressful ordeal. It's an issue that Abdulla Al-Fadhala, Ahmad Al-Khanji, Haajerah Khan, and Abdulaziz Al-Yazeedi were casually discussing at a dinner too- from the time-consuming process of looking through unrealistic, low-quality photos, to dealing with unknown rental properties costs, finding a new home in Qatar wasn't easy. This became the premise as the friends-turned-co-founders sought to build hapondo, a homegrown real estate marketplace that helps connect tenants and property buyers with real estate companies in Qatar. With a mission to "make hapondo's users happy" as its central focus, the team asked themselves, "If we were looking to rent or buy a property in Qatar, what will make the process easier?"

As part of the team's market discovery and visibility study, they talked to potential clients to find out if there was indeed a need for a property portal. Their results proved their hypothesis- Al-Fadhala states, "We found there was no homegrown property portal in Qatar, and if there was something related to real estate, it will be part of a wider classified website that had a property section in it." He continues, "Real estate companies were excited about the idea of having a homegrown portal, it will give them more flexibility to where and when they will advertise their properties online."

The team got to work by taking a lean startup approach and develop a product that works and serves their clients of real estate companies, as well as users. Of course, they had their own bouts of hurdles too. The biggest challenge, according to Al-Fadhala was being a young team of entrepreneurs and convincing players in the real estate industry about the true potential of the product. "At the start, many people thought that we might be running for a few months and then disappear, but our consistency has definitely helped us," he says.

Related: Entrepreneurship, Community, And Confronting The Fear Of Failure

Image courtesy: Hapondo

Being a homegrown venture in Qatar helped, with Al-Fadhala noting that they found that many people in Qatar were keen to use and support local products and services. In addition, in December 2019, the team joined as part of the incubator program of the Qatar Science and Technology Park, a member of Qatar Foundation. The program helped the team with their establishment, business facilitation, and provided access to free offices, services, support, training and access to a network of mentors. Plus, Al-Fadhal says, "If we wanted to enhance our product, we can have access to the product development fund (which can cover 50% of our costs), and tech venture funds."

With a vision to become the leading property rental platform in the region, hapondo's website went live in March 2020. The portal was niche and listed only rental properties in Qatar. It has since evoked a positive response from online home seekers and real estate brokers alike. The team offered free trials for the first three months to gather as much feedback as possible to improve the product. "We were very flattered by the support, and how much real estate companies loved our product– we had over 10 companies sign up to our services in the middle of a pandemic," says Al-Fadhala. "This was another strong sign for us that we had a valid business concept."

Besides its niche offering, the team makes it a point to ensure the platform is one that stands out from other players in the ecosystem. Their first objective was to let real estate companies know that the quality of images is a selling point. "We have seen on other property portals that real estate companies were putting their logos as watermarks and on the middle of each property picture," says Al-Fadhala. "Therefore, we pointed out that if your property has no watermark, then it can rank higher on the search result page. Many of the real estate companies were excited about this concept, which made it our first unique selling point." The team recently launched its second major development phase, which involves being able to provide all marketing needs for real estate companies.

Related: Eight Things Founders Wish They Were Told Before They Ventured Into Entrepreneurship In The MENA Region

Image courtesy: Hapondo
Another exciting addition to the property portal is its new negotiation feature, which, according to Al-Fadhala, is a first to be launched in any portal in the MENA region. Users can look for a property and negotiate directly on the portal and place their bids. The real estate company will then receive the bid, and decide if they want to accept it or not. "If the real estate company does not accept it, then they would have gathered information about the clients prior to contacting them, such as property type, location, or price, and can propose an alternative similar property," he explains. "It's a win-win situation, and by this, we have remained putting our users as our main focus." Running on a subscription base model, Al-Fadhala explains that real estate companies can list a certain number of properties on the portal, and will then pay a monthly fee. In terms of growth, though the startup is still fully funded by the co-founders, it has grown its customer base and served over 50 real estate companies in Qatar. With only a team of five members, hapondo has over 80,000 monthly visits and ranks among the top 100 websites in Qatar. In addition, the team has gained a lot of attraction from potential investors too, though Al-Fadhala notes, "We are still studying the opportunities before jumping into anything."

To aspiring young entrepreneurs such as themselves, Al-Fadhala advises the importance of putting together a well-balanced team and building a product catered to the market. Describing the startup journey as challenging and definitely not easy, he states, "Use the lean startup approach and create a minimum viable product. If you find your first 10 customers who are willing to pay for your product, then go ahead and scale." He ends with a reminder not to be afraid of failure: "There will be a lot of people who will tell you that your product will fail, they might be true, but don't give up too soon," Al-Fadhala concludes. "If it does fail, then you will have gained so much experience from the journey, and believe me, no full-time job will ever give you that experience."

Related: Maximizing In-Country Value: The Key To Qatar's Economic Future

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Pamella de Leon

Startup Section Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Pamella de Leon is the Startup Section Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is keen on the MENA region’s entrepreneurship potential, with a specific interest to support enterprises and individuals creating an impact.

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