One Entrepreneur's Journey from Corporate to Startup
Has it ever crossed your mind to trade your comfortable corporate job for an entrepreneurial opportunity full of risk and adventure? It most definitely is not an easy decision, but it was one that Gary Low — one of the founders of Krib, an emerging Singapore-based property rental platform — made after 7 years of tenure at DBS Bank.
Gary and his co-founder’s first break into the startup world was their entry submission into NTU Ideasinc 2015, a 9-month accelerator that required them to commit their weekends for weekly workshops and fine-tune their business plan. There, they received feedback from fellow entrepreneurs, trainers and investors, which encouraged them further along their journey.
The Krib app directly matches landlords and tenants, removing the hefty agent fees and significantly reducing costs for users. But one of the things that set Krib apart from other online rental agencies is that it allows property owners and renters to sign contracts digitally, with their smartphone and on-the-go. Using profile verification, digital documentation and integrated digital payments, Krib expedites the process and makes it much more convenient to transact through its platform.
Having spent years in DBS Bank’s IT and marketing team, Gary had the foundational experience to build his own marketplace platform and to manage Krib’s digital marketing efforts. By the time demo day came, the founders of Krib were determined to give their startup idea a go, regardless of the outcome of the pitch.
Krib’s founders — Janaka Jayasuriya and Gary Low — at SITEX 2016. Photo courtesy of Gary Low.
Arcadier caught up with Gary at the Krib booth at SITEX 2106’s Innovation Alley. In this exclusive interview, Gary discusses how Krib developed its own framework for security and user safety, as well as how to balance information transparency and trust on a marketplace:
Arcadier: How did Krib’s founders come up with the idea of allowing property owners and renters to sign contracts digitally?
Gary: Most agencies have a standard template to create tenancy agreements, and the salesperson would just fill in the required fields accordingly. There are also some websites and apps that connect tenants to landlords, but the paperwork is handled manually by a back office. It was obvious we could do that with a simple program, but we had to give our users more.
So we looked at digital signing e-contracts, and the challenge of making sure it met the standards set by the Electronic Transactions Act. By doing so, we could help our users create error-free documents, finalise transactions a lot faster, and also help our platform scale to reach more users. This would then do away with the unwieldy effort of manually creating a tenancy agreement, printing it, delivering it to both the tenant and the landlord, signing it, and finding some place to safekeep it after everything.
Arcadier: It goes without saying that trust is important in a marketplace, especially in the rental market. What processes are implemented to verify Krib’s listings and renters?
Gary: Users can sign up and browse listings immediately. But if a tenant wanted to chat with a landlord and arrange for a viewing, we would then ask to verify the user first. This involves taking photos of the front and back of the personal ID document, like an NRIC, an employment pass or a student pass. We then check the details against the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration and Checkpoint Authority databases, to make sure they’re legally allowed to rent property in Singapore.
To verify HDB listings, we ask the landlord to submit a screenshot of the HDB approval to rent, which ensures the transaction is legal.
Arcadier: What are your tips for developing a framework to ensure product reliability and user safety?
Gary: First, verify the supplier to ensure the products on the marketplace are as advertised. Some real estate listing platforms are plagued with fake listings, so we avoid this by checking the credentials of our landlords, and subsequently, their listings.
Next, we also enforce a process where our users need to meet in-person during a property viewing, so the landlord and tenant can verify each other, instead of just signing a tenancy agreement blindly. This also serves as a check against fake listings or users.
Key features of the Krib app. Photo credit: Krib.
Arcadier: Krib also allows renters to schedule viewing appointments, which means that renters might have a chance to negotiate a rental agreement directly with the property owner. Are you worried about this? What measures are put in place to prevent this from happening?
Gary: Yup, we have designed Krib to minimize the chance of users leaving the app. We first try to value-add to the user at every step of the way, from saving them the risk of sharing their phone numbers on a website (hence the in-app chat), to auto-generating the tenancy agreement, and placing checks across various stages, like the minimum/maximum lease duration, the minimum validity of an employment pass to qualify for HDB renting etc. These are details that a landlord or tenant might not know about, which opens them to an illegal rental arrangement if they went ahead with the deal outside the app.
We’re also launching a feature to prompt tenants to make an offer via the app, right after a viewing appointment. By offering just-in-time notifications, we can steer the user back onto the app, if he or she sees a value in doing so.
Arcadier: Airbnb recently came under fire when it was discovered that its users faced racial discrimination. A few months back, it issued a nondiscriminatory policy. How should rental marketplaces tread the balance between trust and information transparency?
Gary: It isn’t easy to build a marketplace, and there’s a lot to think about – the user journey, compliance to laws and user privacy, marketing the platform, managing the community and so on. The team behind the platform has to react and adjust to changes and feedback constantly, so it is going to be very hard to plan for everything and prevent any bad feedback. But if there’s anything Airbnb could have done better, it might have been to react faster to the racial discrimination complaints from the ground, before it reached critical mass and got blown up in the press.
Rental marketplaces will work differently depending on the country and culture of the target market. In Singapore, many property listings do mention specific races for tenants up front. While we understand that some landlords may have concerns about the proper maintenance of their property, our model encourages individuals to meet first before making a decision. In the case of an agent, they would filter out people based on the landlords’ racial preference, and some races may be unfairly discriminated against.
Arcadier: For a marketplace that’s just starting out, what growth hacking strategies can be implemented with minimal resources?
Gary: Best strategy is to identify your audience and find ways to target them directly to save on mass marketing efforts. Perhaps, identify places online and offline that the target audience gathers and try to join these groups and start a genuine conversation. An example would be to tune in to social conversations and participate in it.
Photo credit: Krib.
Arcadier: How important was it for Krib to create an app? What are the benefits of having an app versus creating a mobile-responsive site for Krib’s services?
Gary: We went for an app, as a smartphone has various features that helps improve our user experience. For instance, there’s a camera on the phone. This helps to take photos of documents like the NRIC, employment pass or title deeds. The phone also has a GPS receiver that can pinpoint the location of a property, and guide tenants to the right place to view it. These would be a lot harder to implement on a website.
Arcadier: How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far? What are some challenges that you never thought you would encounter?
Gary: It’s been an exciting ride so far. As much as we can plan ahead, there are always road bumps along the way. For example, facilitating transfers of money above $1,000 requires identity verification mandated by MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore)! This explains why some mobile wallets cap their limit at $999, which is far too low for our purposes.
We’ve also had to deal with property agents challenging the value of the business, since we do not provide a personalized service for consumers. We’ve had our share of aggressive people coming to us and debating the merits of an app versus a human, and not understanding why consumers would benefit from having more choices for navigating the rental market. We take it all in our stride – every business that disrupts a market has to go through this anyway.
Arcadier: Can you share some lessons or words of wisdom that have motivated you and helped you through tough times?
Gary: Not everyone will agree that the business or product is innovative, or world-changing, or even viable. There’ll be fervent opponents who will try to bring down the team’s morale, if we let them. At the end of the day, while we can (and should) change our product, business model, services or brand positioning to fit the market and user feedback, we should stick to our guns when someone challenges the ideology behind it. Haters gonna hate. Deal with it.