Singapore property portal 99.co has raised US$7.9 million in fresh funding, it announced today. The round, dubbed “series A-plus” by the #startup, was co-led by Sequoia India and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, both existing investors and members of its board. Existing investors East Ventures and 500 Startups also joined in.
(Disclosure: East Ventures and Eduardo Saverin are also investors in Tech in Asia. See our ethics page for details.)
The startup previously raised US$1.6 million in January 2015 at a US$8 million valuation. The valuation for this funding round was not disclosed.
99.co will seek to expand into two more Southeast Asian markets.
99.co offers residential property listings for sale or rent. Agents can list their properties on the website and homeseekers can browse houses, compare prices, and book viewing appointments.
It’s currently active in Singapore and Indonesia, where it operates in Jakarta and Surabaya. In those cities, it offers additional services including data analytics and tools for real-estate developers, trying to cover more facets of property discovery.
99.co will use the funding mostly to build its business in these two countries, as there’s still “lots of room to grow,” according to CEO Darius Cheung. “We’ve barely touched maybe 5 percent of the market’s potential,” he tells journalists at a roundtable interview. The plan is to be in eight cities in Indonesia by the end of the year.
The company will also seek to expand into two more Southeast Asian markets but hasn’t locked them in yet. Candidates include “the usual suspects,” as Darius puts it, like Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. “There are lots of market dynamics with real-estate agencies and developers that we’re trying to understand,” he explains.
Another part of the funding will go into hiring, technology, and research and development. The company is looking to hire around 30 people, split between technical staff and senior management positions like CFO and an HR executive. Like many other startups in Singapore, 99.co has been affected by the talent crunch, having to compete with larger local companies like Grab and international giants like Google and Facebook for quality hires.
This round should also pave the way for the startup’s series B, for which it’s courting new investors to close a deal within the year.
Here come the new challengers
As more of Singapore’s property listings and agents migrate online, startups move in to address the demand. Traffic-wise, according to SimilarWeb, PropertyGuru leads the market. Besides property listings, the company offers relevant online media content and experiments with apartment and house viewings in virtual reality.
iProperty comes in third in Singapore, although it leads the market in Malaysia. Other Singapore-based startups include OhMyHome, which focuses on state-owned HDB homes, and Popety and Reidao, which use blockchain technology to record updates to properties and monitor their value.
Darius feels 99.co’s technology and features like data analytics, location-based search, and the user experience set the company apart from its competitors and have helped it reach the second place in the Singaporean market.
It’s the new, smaller challengers to the throne that 99.co is concerned about, Darius says. “They tend to be faster, more innovative, more disruptive, so I would rather look at new startups as the competition,” he points out. Ultimately, perhaps five to 10 years down the line, the Singapore market can maybe support two large players. “Who they will be I don’t know,” he says.
It’s the new challengers to the throne that 99.co is concerned about.
99.co has grown 150 percent year-on-year on “all metrics,” including listings, traffic, and revenue, he says. He doesn’t offer any specific numbers in terms of revenue or the company’s valuation after this funding.
Darius says there are 150,000 property listings on the site at any given time and about 8,000 are being added every week. He thinks 99.co covers about 90 to 95 percent of all property listings in Singapore. Some 10 percent of these are only found on 99.co and not other property websites. In 2016, the Singapore website attracted 1.7 million users.
The startup won’t seek to grow its features range through acquisitions like PropertyGuru, Darius says, as it wants to focus on its core offering. A more likely strategy will be to partner with other companies in areas like data or 3D visualizations of properties. 99.co will not be looking at virtual or augmented reality for now, although Darius thinks it’s going to be the future.
“At this moment, we believe information – availability, pricing – is still key in terms of a user’s decision-making. For the most part, users will still turn up to see a place before they buy or rent it. So being able to find the listings they like is something we will keep focusing on,” he says.