Finding your desired home could be a big hassle, especially in major cities such as Tehran. Shabesh is a newcomer in Iran’s online real estate listing platforms which connects potential customers to verified real estate agencies.
For this interview we spoke with Shahriar Hojabr, Founder and CEO of Shabesh, an online real estate listing platform which was launched in July 2016. “I see myself as an entrepreneur, I like to build companies and teams. Tech industry always fascinated me and providing a new software that gives internet consumers the power they didn’t have before was really exciting. We are helping the consumers in making a really big scary decision in their lives which is buying and selling real estate,” said Shahriar Hojabr who came back to Iran after 15 years.
He told us that he had lived and worked in various countries such as France, England and Switzerland but decided to come back to Iran four years ago to pursue new opportunities. “Iran offers huge opportunities at the moment, not only to Iranians but to foreigners as well, but the challenge is greater than the opportunity. I believe the success will be achieved only by the right local partners and market knowledge,” said Shahriar. “The idea of Shabesh came to me naturally because when I came back, I couldn’t find a place for myself and struggled for months before getting lucky in finding my place. Time is the most precious thing in life and I wasted lots of it trying to find a place. Shabesh is giving you the ability to have a data-rich view of the whole real estate industry to know what each house is worth and know which one is sold. We are letting users go around their neighborhood on their mobile app searching for an ideal home,” he added.
Shahriar believes that Iran’s economy is going to get better in a few years and he’s optimistic about it. “At the same time I think we shouldn’t expect miracles from the outside powers. I think it’s the duty of every Iranian to work harder in these times.” He added that Iranians should focus on new technologies and professions since the world is changing. “We should diverse ourselves from the old traditional industries that we much focus on. The market is over saturated in some industries such as construction”.
For years Iranian investors relied on construction and the housing market, but with the startup movement happening in the recent years, some investors now tend to pour their money into tech startups. “Iranians have always seen real estate as their prime investment, our doctors, engineers, factory owners or other wealthy individuals in their industry invest their money in real estate. We construct more than we have demand for. We have 400,000 empty houses in Tehran and this is not good for the real estate market and the economy as a whole,” said Shahriar.
He added that with the recent political and economic changes and foreign investments in Iran, the country’s potential could reach a new height and give the nation much more hope and motivation.
A Bit Different Than Most of the Players
Shabesh has a B2B business model which only allows registered agencies to post their listings on the website. “We want this to be a professional real estate website, allowing real estate agents with registration numbers and permits to publish their listings. Individuals can not publish ads on our website, but they can register their listings on our website and we will send them to the agencies close to the area of their listing. Agencies will then publish their listings on our website and app.” For now, Shabesh doesn’t charge agencies a fee and is looking to provide free services. “We are concentrated on providing free services for the users and the real estate agencies.”
“I think we will see a new wave of real estate websites in the next few years. I believe we can benefit from the current competition to differentiate ourselves.”
When we asked him how long they’re going to keep the platform free, he said that “This depends on many factors, mostly on ourselves and the determination we show every day at work in making Shabesh work.” He added that in order to make revenue off this platform they first need to get the software out and have people use their services. “The market has been pretty traditional. We had the monopoly case of Hamshahri [a major newspaper known for its classified advertisement section] before and 90% of the people were using it including myself. But this is changing right now and I think we will see a new wave of real estate websites in the next few years. I believe we can benefit from the current competition to differentiate ourselves.
Biggest Challenge: Recruitment and Motivating the Team
Shabesh currently has 25 employees and is planning to hire more in the upcoming months, but the company’s strategy is to follow the lean method. Do more with less and work efficiently.
Shahriar mentioned that the biggest challenge for them was building a team and motivating talented employees to work for a startup. The startup culture in Iran is still pretty new, so motivating talented employees to work for your startup instead of a big corporation that can offer them better salaries and benefits is a hassle but not impossible. Shahriar told us that it took almost 2 years for him to gather their team. “People’s motivation and confidence needs to be built over time and on a daily basis. When the company is growing and employees see their positive impact in the company, that’s when you know that you don’t have to worry about their motivation level”.
In our conversation, he kept insisting on motivating the team members and to do that he said, “We have different psychology methods that we use.” He continued saying “Obviously they are the first team members of Shabesh and they know their efforts will be rewarded when we make it. At this stage we have a good understanding of each other and they know my character. I have told them that if you give me your 100% I’ll give you my 200%. I’m sure each of them in their mind is only thinking about success”.
The startup culture is a major subject for Shabesh. “This is something that I will always be determined to focus on. I believe if we tolerate the things that are not in accordance with our defined culture, we won’t build the company we are working so hard for”. He added that helping each other out through tough times and not showing weakness are two of the major themes in the Shabesh culture.
Agencies and Inquiries
Real Estate agencies are getting to know Shabesh more and more every day. They know that Shabesh is a B2B platform which empowers real estate agents and as Shahriar says “It’s making their work valuable”.
“The inquiries can differ every day, obviously it’s much more than what it was in the beginning. [Before] we probably had 5 [inquiries] per day on average, at the moment we have around 50 per day. Out of which, we will examine their registration number and Corporate Identity. Once we confirm their numbers, they will be registered on our website and can start making their profile to publish their listing,” said the CEO of Shabesh. “Many of the inquiries come from consultants who are not registered agencies and therefore we don’t accept them as ads publishers”.
Frank Opinion About the Competitors
There is currently a total of 24 real estate websites according to Shahriar. “In my opinion It doesn’t matter how many websites or apps you have that are doing the same thing when all of them are weak and can not offer value to users,” he said with a smile. “Our competitive advantage is that we have the best product in terms of new technologies and the best team. We have been online for only 6 months and if you compare our growth rate with the websites that have been online for years, we are making quite a revolution. I believe the market is big enough for at least 5 players or even more but we are obviously targeting nothing but the top spot.”
Tehran Real Estate Consultants Union
Currently many startups in Iran are being pressured from their respective unions. They believe that these online businesses are disrupting their work. But Shahriar Hojabr says that the Real Estate Consultants Union has actually been supportive of them since their business model is B2B and is empowering the real estate agencies. “We’re not making real estate agent’s work something cheap as it was the case in the past. So they really like to work with us and at the moment a lot of them join Shabesh because they heard about us from other agencies,” says Shahriar. In a recent press conference, Mr. Hessam Oghabei, Head of Tehran Real Estate Consultants Union also stated that Shabesh has the full support of the Real Estate Union and that they’ll help this platform to be recognized as a valid source that empowers real estate agencies and therefore the Union itself.
“We’re not making real estate agent’s work something cheap, as it was the case in the past.”
Tough Target Market
Although the young generation in Iran is tech-savvy, the older generation which is the main target market of Shabesh has been slow to adopt new technologies. “It’s a challenge that we always face against using technology but It’s something that we’ll overcome naturally,” he said. To educate the agents, Shabesh sends its sales team to show them a tutorial on using the platform and the agents CRM and to explain to them the benefits of using such system. “Statistics say that we have 55 million mobile internet users in Iran and I think real estate agents like any other profession have to embrace the modern technology and be willing to change their traditional methods. At the end of the day, technology is something that we have to embrace.”
Founder of Shabesh told us that the biggest learning curve for him was how to deal with the human resource and not to hire too fast. “When you’re hiring an employee too fast you are putting a lot of time and energy into someone to educate and train them. I think hiring too fast is probably a mistake that will be costly for an organization”. Shahriar said that they’re hiring with a lot caution and they spend a great deal of time working on their HR programs and training the new and current employees.
Without any doubt, real estate is a people-centric industry. But we hope that startups such as Shabesh would eventually solve some of the challenges in this industry and elevate the customer engagement in real estate tech.
“I think Techrasa as one of the country’s leading media that covers the Iranian startup news has a major responsibility of supporting the Iranian entrepreneurs and local startups so that more Iranian talents would come back to Iran and make it here in their own country,” told Shahriar Hojabr at the end of the interview.