Ruby on Rails engineer with over 5 years of experience in UI & UX design, business management and lean startup entrepreneurship, Adrian received his double major degree in data communications and enterprise systems with high distinction from the University of Queensland, Australia.
After his three year career as a business process reengineering (BPR) consultant with Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner (DKSH), one of the largest Swiss based logistics and distribution company in SEA, he decided it was time for a change and started a web development agency with his business partner, Yuvan in Malaysia.
Equipped with his global business consulting experience across 9 countries in Europe and Asia & his passion for software engineering, he delivered numerous web & consulting projects ranging from small to large enterprise systems, during which he launched, Highrisepro, a SaaS online property management solution for highrise condominiums in Asia.
What exactly is Highrisepro?
Highrisepro is an online property management solution for highrise condominiums, developed to solve the financial, communication and management problems facing condo associations, property managers and homeowners / tenants when it comes to the maintenance and management of their condominium building.
How did you come up with the idea of Highrisepro?
It was right after I got married that my wife and I decided to move into a highrise condominium in Kuala Lumpur. Having lived in only a landed property, I was surprised by the amount of responsibilities and management tasks condo owners have to face when I first learned that we are responsible for the maintenance and management of the condominium through a condo association. Simply said, elected volunteering homeowners of the condo building will form a committee that acts as a representative to all the other home owners in the building to make decisions in regards to the overall maintenance and management of the building. I was curious, hence I ended up joining the committee board.
There was many issues and matters that needed the consensus of all the home owners in the building. It’s easy when there’s only a few, but the condo that I lived in had 250 units across 21 floors. We tried using their mailboxes for printed materials, but the responses was bad. In the end, we had to go floor by floor, unit by unit, in order to get petitions signed or any important news announced.
Besides that, as I was travelling very often at that time, it was hard for me to keep tabs on what’s happening in my condominium, especially when we had just received our keys and there’re lots of important matters to check on (i.e. disputes with developers, house rules, condo infrastructure issues and fixes, etc). There was just no way for me to find out on what is happening. Even if I was at home, I had to walk all the way to the wall bulletin board down at the lobby to find out latest updates.
Further to that, as most of us (residents) start our daily commute at 6:30am and back by 7:00pm, there was no way the management office was open by the time we got back home to handle our condo payments or submit any complaints / work requests for things that we needed to be fixed. We would need to wait for the weekends for a short window of time.
It was also very apparent to the condo association that the residents don’t seem to appreciate the volunteering work that we, the condo association, were doing for the entire building. I soon realized that it was all a communication problem. The residents are not aware of the effort that we’ve put in as volunteers, not because they choose to ignore, but because they were uninformed about it. There was a communication barrier.
We live in an Internet world today where we pretty much get most of our things done through some kind of web service / tool like Facebook for getting connected to friends, Google Mail for sending out emails, and Basecamp for managing projects. There must be some kind of tool out there for condominium dwellers to help with the communication and management problems we were facing. After having scoured the web, nothing befitting was found. I was really surprised. That was when I shared the idea with my business partner, Yuvan and the rest was history.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up Highrisepro?
It started off as just a pet project for my own condominium. No commercial plans. We deployed it for my condominium and the response was great. It started with only the condo association members and a few residents. But as soons as the residents came to know of an online portal that they can go to, to read about announcements, submit their complaints, comment on important matters, the adoption rate went through the condo roof. People started talking about matters raised by residents in the portal. More residents were attending the monthly meetings.
Residents started to understand the responsibilities and issues the condo association have to face maintaining and managing the building. Feedbacks, ideas and suggestions started coming in from the residents, even those that lives abroad (foreign investors). Not long after, we realized that the online portal we’ve setup had became the guiding light to help us find out what the residents are thinking, what their thoughts are and what matters to them most. The condo association were no longer managing the building by themselves. The entire building residents are now helping out in managing the entire building.
A few neighbouring condominiums caught notice about our online portal and have asked if we could set it up for them. For a minimal fee, we decided to set it up and that’s when we learn that there’s a possible commercial possibility to this whole online condo portal. At that time, to us, it was just an online condo portal. Little that we know, it would, in the end, become an online property management solution as it is today.
How has it been like managing the business since?
Roller Coaster Ride! Tons of downs and a few ups that keeps us going till this date. When we decided to go commercial, there were a ton of questions that needed to be answered: “Are other condos facing the same problem?”, “Will there be enough condominiums that would want to use our tool for us to make a decent profit?”, “How do we build a SoftwareasaService application?”, “How much should we charge?”. We decided to find answer to the most important question “Are we solving something worth pursuing as a business?”. We were not the wealthiest and there’s no funding options out there at that time either.
We decided to go on a bootstrap. Taking on consulting jobs while working on developing Highrisepro. Naturally, we were very conservative in our spendings. We needed more validation. Hence we started an interview frenzy with any condominium and property management agencies we could get. In the end, we interview almost close to 30 condominiums (lowrise, highrise, highend, lowend) and property management companies.
Today, we are still constantly validating our solution with the market. Every new feature that we’ve introduced are 100% based on the feedback we’ve gathered from condo associations, property managers and residents.
Besides constantly cracking our heads up on how to make our buyer experience cycle better for our new customers, we are also constantly looking at ways to improve our product while keeping our focus on expanding our reach to more condominiums.
Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?
Learning about the problems and validating our solution was the tough part. Developing the platform was the easy part. Marketing our product to the target customer segment was the hard part. There weren’t any channel that exists today for us to market our solution to condo associations or property management agencies. Nothing comes to mind (on the Internet) when it comes to condo maintenance and management, even up till now. It took us a while to understand that our solution might just be a few years ahead of our time. A lot of education is required and a lot of time needs to be spent on reaching out the the condos that we know have all these problems that Highrisepro can solve. They just don’t know about us yet.
How was the initial reaction from the consumers? Did they buy into the product/service?
Skeptical, especially when we first offered Highrisepro for FREE (Fremium model). We learned by surprise that condo associations aren’t into FREE services. They were more worried about their privacy. But as soon as we started charging, they started to take us more seriously and wanted to find out more. Took us a while before we manage to get our message clear, but as soon as they know exactly how we can help them solve their problems, the rest was easy.
Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?
We are still ahead of time when it comes to online property management software in Asia. As compared to the US / NA, where using an online tool to help manage condo buildings is a common thing, there are a lot more options to choose from for condo associations / property managers. When we first started as just a pet project, there weren’t any competition at all in Asia. Blogs and Facebook was considered our competition if I had to name a few. Today, there are a few other online solutions that is comparable to what we do and we are happy about that. Simply because the Asia market is too big for any single player and the fact that we’re still struggling to educate the market about online property management solutions, we need more players out there to help us with the education process. It’s a good sign that we’re heading in the right direction.
What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
In terms of the numbers, there are more condo building today than there were 10 years ago due to population growth and land scarcity and the numbers are just going to go up. In Malaysia alone there are at least 500,000 condo units in the market as of 2012 with almost 1,100 new condo units being introduced into the market each year. Not to mention the condo market in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines that are just starting up as compared to the ones in Singapore and Hong Kong.
There are tons of insights that we’ve learned, some are revelating and some, quite disappointing. Besides nailing down the problems that matters most to condo dwellers, we have come to understand that not all stakeholders are aligned with us when it comes to making things easier and more convenient for condo dwellers. To understand better, we’ll first need to understand the stakeholders involved in a typical condo building. There are the condo associations committee members (elected representatives of the condo), the building manager (hired to manage the daily tasks), the homeowners and tenants that makes up the residents of the building as well as the property developer.
We have learned that each stakeholders mentioned faces their own individual problems. Condo association members find it difficult to reach out to the residents and find it hard to gain control of the condo management. Building managers find themselves drowned in lots of admin paperwork while having to juggle the daily operational tasks. Residents needs more transparency from their management, always wanting to know more about
what’s happening to their condo funds and issues raised. Property developers in the other hand have to be a part of the condo association committee, at least for the first few years after hand over of property to resolve any infrastructure matters.
It was revealing to us when we find that our solution not only helped them in terms of communication and management but also resulted in improving their finances. This came as a surprise to us. A new pleasant find I should say. It’s quite logical come to think of it.
As residents became more informed about what is happening, they eventually became more involved and understood better, that in order to increase the value of their assets, let alone protecting it, they will need to pay up the condo fees, so that the management can pay the various service vendors to upkeep the building. And as we introduced online payment into Highrisepro, it further improved their monthly collections, as some of the homeowners are frequent travellers and foreign investors living abroad.
Armaneecondo.com is a great example, where collection rate improved from a mere 80% per month to a staggering 110%. Residents started paying in advance by several months!
The disappointing ones were quite surprising as well. As we move towards identifying channels that we can leverage on to market our solution, we’ve identified property developers as one of them. But having approached more than half a dozen prominent property developers in Malaysia, we have learnt that making the lives of condo residents better, postsales, isn’t something they’re willing to invest in. We can understand that, as conventionally, building quality buildings, securing sales and handing over the keys has been the only focus of the entire industry for decades. Making condo dweller’s lives better, post sales, just isn’t going to yield a return on investments. This is something that we believe will change.
We believe that if property developers were to share our passion in creating a better integrated living experience for condo owners, they will have an extra edge in marketing their new projects and in turn increase sales, not just from new buyers, but also from existing customers.
How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?
We’re constantly learning from our existing customers on how to improve existing features and introduce new ones. Our customers has been the “developer” of Highrisepro. Almost 90% of the features are requested by them. Staying relevant to us is as simple as constantly asking ourselves the question “Are we solving problem that matters to our customers” If we still are, then we believe we will always be relevant.