Property Finder Talks #6 – Unboxing the PropTech disruption in the UAE

My name is Lynnette Abad and you are
watching Property Finder Talks where I speak to leaders in the real estate
industry in the UAE. Are you a tech entrepreneur ? A proptech startup? You’re going to love this episode of Property Finder Talks where I speak to Abdullah
Alajaji who has been in the real estate industry over the last 10 years. He is
CEO of Driven Properties, he is also Co-founder of Driven Holiday Homes,
Driven Interiors and Unbox Inc. He is founder of Lamar Capital, a real estate
consultancy and he has offices in the UAE, China and Saudi Arabia. So tell us a
little bit about Unbox Inc. It’s a new concept from my understanding not just
new from its foundation but also new within the industry, within the
region. So tell us a little bit about it. We’ve been in the real estate
industry for long so we know it very well. From the aspect of marketing
real estate asset to development investments and the entire real estate
spectrum and on the basis of that we thought that there is a gap in the market to address startups in that ecosystem. And then
when we talk about startups in the ecosystem, obviously in this era proptech has evolved and as a founder of a
real estate company we see that change evolving on a daily basis, we see how
technology has disrupted businesses we see business models fully
disrupted because of technology and innovation. Rather than having this as a
threat, we look at it as an opportunity. We see the need for a
platform that can empower these entrepreneurs so that they can thrive in
an environment that ensures that they can actually deliver the
promise that they have to the market within the real estate spectrum. There
are a lot of entrepreneurs, founders of companies that have amazing ideas but
they haven’t been addressed because there is no platform for them to hear
their ideas out and when people talk about tech it’s always IT or it’s
always a different idea that’s not necessarily real estate related so
we saw that gap and it’s our responsibility to the market to address
this gap and that’s how Unbox Inc. was born. Interesting! Why did you choose Business
Bay? Today Business Bay is the destination of doing business obviously,
it’s a central location within Dubai. A lot of the real estate
companies, developers and consultancies are actually based out of here.
Proximity to DIFC where all of the asset managers are and the REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) in this
market are, so the fact that it’s a central location is amazing. The Bay Square area
where Unbox Inc. is located is also very unique and offers a lifestyle
where entrepreneurs can also sit, talk co-work, go to a coffee shop, to a hotel it’s very similar to the DIFC but more in the Business Bay area. In fact the
architects of Bay Square are the same architects as the DIFC so it offers the same kind of feel and frenzy behind it, so it’s exciting and that was
a pure reason of being in Bay Square the convenience, the location and
again real estate is kind of more or less in the Business Bay
area, Downtown, DIFC and we wanted to be in the middle of it. Very interesting! There are quite a few incubators here in town already so you have like the Youth Hub,
you have the FinTech Hive. What separates Unbox Inc.? We built Unbox Inc. to help
entrepreneurs thrive in the real estate spectrum so the differentiating factor
purely is the fact that we are a real estate incubator so if you have an idea
that is linked to property, real estate and the technology aspect, that’s where
we can help and it’s not just ideas and funding ideas and
mentoring but also one of the initiatives that we have is having a monthly talk with industry experts, industry leaders whether they are
founders of development companies or founders of technology companies that
are real estate related but within the real-estate and housing kind of industry
and these guys come here, they address a wider audience from the
industry, they talk to them about certain events in the market, where the market is heading, the outlook and success stories, ideas if it’s an entrepreneur who also has started a
business in that field so this is the kind of where we see Unbox Inc. evolving, it’s a place for you to get your
idea unboxed and also it’s a place for you to learn from others
experiences and mentorship and talks about the market and where it’s heading. What are the resources does Unbox Inc. offer to the tech entrepreneurs and startups? We have every service that a kind of
run-of-the-mill incubator offers but that’s not all we offer. So if you talk
about PR, legal, company set up graphic design, web design and marketing resources, we offer all of those internally. If you look at who we
are and what our culture is about it’s about mentorship and it’s about
co-working so we have a community here that actually
thrives by working together. So you could have a client and the vendor at the
same time, within the same industry that are working in the same space so if I’m a real estate startup and I have a service to offer
or an application that I just launched and one of the other startups actually need your service, that’s what we encourage.
Mentorship is one thing that we’re all about so whether it’s
myself or anyone that’s been in the industry for so long, that is linked to what we do, has the same passion or drive that’s part of
our duty to the entrepreneurs here as well. Obviously as being an incubator, we provide funding to these startups so whether its equity, convertible loans, all kinds across the equity spectrum, across the investment
spectrum we are present to help those entrepreneurs achieve their goals. So it
starts with mentoring mentorship, putting them with the right vendors if
needed the right clients based on our expertise in the market, we’ve
been here for over 10 years so we know who needs the service, which
client needs the service potentially we add our credibility to that new service and that’s how they thrive. This is such an excellent initiative, really. So any success stories
yet? Yes actually I was just going to tell you, based on
that so when we look at an application for example or a
service that is offered and we see the value in that and we see that
there is a gap for that value, the one thing we do first is subscribe to the
service right because it really fills the gap that we need for example and we
feel that this is important for the industry. So we have one entrepreneur, an
application called ‘Happy Tenant’ and this entrepreneur had a
fantastic idea of basically addressing the tenants’ need through a
property app where it’s a bridge between the tenant, the landlord and the
property manager and what this app does is if you’re a tenant, all the information that you need regarding your tenancy or
your building or your community that’s all in a touch of a button. One day you’re in Dewa and they ask you for your passport
copy or your contract and you don’t have it on you, it’s normally on the
app as part of your experience. If you’re in your house and you have a maintenance a leakage you only have to go onto the app and take a video of the leakage and that will go straight to your property manager and then within
hours your problem is solved. So we saw that gap and we saw that there is value
in this application. You know the first thing we did, again as our duty, is to subscribe to the service so we are you
know his biggest client today and at the same time we know who needs the service or who require the service whether it’s in the UAE, Saudi Arabia
and the Middle East. That’s been a massive success,
he’s been in Al Arabiya recently on news talking about this app and it was a major success. It sounds like it is. Abdullah I can tell you: your tenants are going to be very happy tenants. They already are. Abdullah I’m going to ask you the Property Finder Talks signature question: if you have today unlimited
resources to do whatever you want in the real estate space here in Dubai, what
would you do? I would actually invite a large number of VC funds (Venture Capital) from all across the globe to take part in our initiatives. The
real estate market or the proptech industry is an infant in the Middle
East, not only in Dubai but in the Middle East in general. So I would invite the top VCs (Venture Capital firms) in the world to come take part in our
initiative, be part of that change everyone knows that the market is evolving towards that, to proptech basically and being part of that change and being part of that
initiative I think will yield amazing results going
forward. For us we see, even as an owner of a
let’s say a traditional consultancy at Driven Properties we do see the change that’s coming to the market we see technology and innovation kind of catching us by surprise on a daily basis and you guys at Property Finder know that best. So it’s an ultimate hedge to actually be surrounded by the people who have the right ideas, the people that have the right mindset, the
entrepreneurs that have the right attitude towards what they want to do and how they want to service this market. So the market is
huge, the market is big and again if I had unlimited resources I would invite the largest VCs (Venture Capital firms) to be part of this and make this a large fund, because opportunities are there, we’re seeing
opportunities on a daily basis and some of them we have to turn
down because they’re either too big or sometimes they don’t fit in within our mandate. But if it’s a big opportunity, then there would be some limitations to how we can help because of the size of the incubator but yes that’s what I would
do I think. Very good, very smart. So if anyone has any questions or comments or want to be part of this tech incubator please leave your comments below or
#PFtalks on twitter. Abdullah, thank you so much, such a pleasure to be
here. Thank you for watching this episode of Property Finder Talks. Stay tuned to
our next episode where we continue to explore and journey the ins and outs of
the real estate industry here in the UAE.

Bernard Jenkins

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