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Series: Built in the UAE – Part 4: PropertyFinder – Building a real estate giant

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Welcome to the final instalment of our ‘Built in the UAE’ entrepreneurial series. Today we learn more about leading real estate website PropertyFinder.

Every great business idea essentially starts from one simple premise: you must identify a problem, and then introduce the solution. This is what Michael Lahyani, CEO and founder of PropertyFinder, did back in 2005 when he moved to Dubai and experienced first-hand how hard it was to search for a property. Fast-forward to today, and a modest printed real estate classified known as ‘AlBabWorld’ has become an online powerhouse covering the entire MENA region.

PropertyFinder is not the only real estate website in the region, but it’s certainly one that any prospective buyer will have heard of. Working with brokers to list properties on a single platform, it’s a ‘one-stop shop’ model that allows users to access all the property information they need from one place. But there’s more: it also provides real estate news, advice and a range of guides.

Despite the challenges of the past year, the UAE property market is still an exciting place to be in. Quite apart from house sales, booming areas such as fintech, co-working, co-living and so on have the potential to transform the sector.

PropertyFinder is poised to take advantage of this. So how has it reached this enviable position and what can budding property tycoons learn?

  • Learn from the setbacks: PropertyFinder is thriving today, but this wasn’t always the case. Back in 2009 the AlBabWorld title was on the verge of closure. Then REA Group, an offshoot of NewsCorp, acquired a 51% stake, rescued the fledgling company from bankruptcy and relaunched it online as propertyfinder.ae. This might sound like the happy ending, but no: REA Group lost confidence in the Dubai market and Lahyani was able to buy back the 51% equity and regain control of his company. The measure of a company’s success is how it deals with such ups and downs.
  • Keep an eye on opportunities: Recent years have seen a slew of acquisitions. The company invested in Turkish property marketing website Zingat in 2017, followed by the purchase of real estate website Bahrain Property World in 2018, and UAE competitor JRD Group in 2019. By making these strategic horizontal acquisitions at the right time, PropertyFinder has been able to expand its geographical presence while tapping into valuable local market expertise.
  • Keep evolving: A company that wants to thrive needs to constantly tweak and adapt its business model. We’ve mentioned that PropertyFinder began as a printed magazine; today, alongside the website itself, users can access PropertyFinder iPhone, iPad and Android apps. No doubt the company will continue to explore new ways to meet increasing consumer demands for speed and convenience.

It’s an impressive story of achievement – of what big things can grow from just a simple concept through resilience, diligence and a little daring. But Michael Lahyani is not protectionist in his attitude: the real estate market, he says, is by no means saturated.

“The real estate space is an amazing space for entrepreneurs to enter, and there are a lot more disruptions to come. As a leader in our market, we want to see younger companies enter, and help us make the entire property buying and renting a smoother process.”

This, perhaps more than anything, is a lesson aspiring entrepreneurs can take on board: don’t forget where you came from. Once you have achieved success, be willing to share this with younger players.

That wraps up our series on the UAE’s homegrown giants. Stay tuned for the next series which will be launching soon. To catch up on all our past content just visit our blog.