Newly founded property startup :Different has locked in a $1.3 million seed round from both local and Silicon Valley investors, in its mission to disrupt the $4-5 billion Australian rental property management space.
:Different uses a tech platform to facilitate and automate rent payment, organising tenants, maintenance requests, and house inspections for landlords who are privately renting for $100 per month. It also provides a rent guarantee for property owners, fronting the bill if tenants are five days late with their payments.
Husband and wife duo Mina Radhakrishnan and Ruwin Perera are behind the startup, both veterans of the tech and startup space.
“I started out as a tech analyst for Goldman Sachs, then moved to product management at Google. I got bitten by the startup bug and went to join Uber in 2011 when they had about 20 employees,” Radhakrishnan told StartupSmart.
“I spent about four years there and then left to learn about the VC space before deciding I wanted to start :Different.”
A Melbourne local, Perera’s career has been similarly impressive: he is also an ex-Googler, and has worked at Xerox, Boston Consulting Group and Softbank.
Australia an “undiscovered gem” for launching startups
With these accolades, the two could have likely started :Different in any country in the world, but Perera says they chose Australia as a country to launch in as “there’s no better place in the world to build a high-growth startup”.
“Firstly, Australia is one of richest countries in the world per capita, and there are 24 million affluent consumers willing to take a punt on new technology. Aussie consumers are some of the most willing to embrace new tech when it’s made available to them,” Perera says.
“Secondly, there’s a lot of capital available here now. There’s about $1 billion in dry powder and a lot of cash in the ecosystem ready to fund good startups. There’s also great government incentives such as the R&D tax incentive.
“Finally, when you’re in San Francisco there are 1000 people doing every idea, and while there’s a lot of talent, the competition for that talent is fierce, and the accessibility just isn’t there.”
The two strongly believe Australia is an “undiscovered gem” when it comes to starting a company, especially in the $4-5 billion property space which Perera says is VC backable “all the way”.
The concept for :Different aptly came from Google co-founder Larry Page’s concept of the toothbrush test, which stems from the idea that products and services should be something that consumers can use every day and that has a real impact — like a toothbrush.
“We wanted to impact on the lives of a lot of people, and there’s no better way to do that than impact how they live in and enjoy their homes,” Perera says.
The startup aims to make property management cheaper and more efficient for property investors, which the founders say are overwhelmingly mum and dad investors, or just “regular people”.
The seed funding round’s investors included local venture capital fund Airtree Ventures and a number of private Silicon Valley investors from AngelList. The startup also has a number of big-name advisors on board, including AirTree’s Craig Blair – who is also a board director – and 500 Startups partner Parker Thomson.
The funding will be used to build out the :Different team and make sure the startup is up to snuff in its customer service department, with the founders saying they’d rather brag about “how much customers love us” than the number of users they have.
However, the service’s recent launch has been going swimmingly, with demand so high the two had to turn off their advertising; they say they want to make sure the service is solid and effective before going “hell for leather” on growth.
Know your customer, and your support products
A wealth of knowledge absorbed from the international tech scene has allowed both Radhakrishnan and Perera to establish :Different quickly, with the pair quickly identifying the parts of the company they’d need to build, and what they could outsource.
“Having worked at companies like Google and Uber, and some other startups, you become very aware of what you don’t know. There’s a lot of great tools and products out there, and the key part of building a high-growth startup is taking those and using them,” Radhakrishnan says.
“You don’t need to build a payment service or a customer support service from scratch, and we worked out what we needed to build ourselves to let us get up and running quickly.”
However, there is one area that founders have to be expert in: their customers.
“In the early days of building a startup, what you have over other companies is the deep understanding of each customer. You need to understand who they are and what they’re looking for, and when you can explain that it resonates with VC firms,” Radhakrishnan says.