By Sindhu Hariharan / Entrepreneur Middle East
Haider Ali Khan, CEO of properties 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.