Driven by the growth of the real estate market in the Philippines, property marketplace Zipmatch launched in 2012. The Philippine startup aimed at an easier way to match house buyers and sellers by providing a concierge service that assesses the buyers’ needs.
Being different from the typical classifieds marketplaces on the web, Zipmatch’s model caught the attention of global investors 500 Startups and IMJ Investment Partners, leading to the startup announcing its funding round in February.
Leap of faith
But before getting this seal of approval, Zipmatch founders John Dang and Chow Paredes had to leave their corporate jobs and bootstrap the new startup at the same time. As working professionals, the two founders were already high up on the corporate ladder – Dang was the head of business development at a gaming firm, and Paredes was a sales director at a real estate firm. Many people in good corporate jobs have leapt into their own startup before, but Dang and Paredes took the risk to do so long before their venture’s validation stage. The idea of Zipmatch struck them as an opportunity that was worth the risk. Paredes adds:
There must be a gap that has to be filled when real estate is going up and digitization is happening around us. As a real estate sales director, my problem was always how to make 50 agents get new clients everyday. That’s when idea of creating an online platform came to us.
We started planning on weekends and after work while we had jobs. We did that for six months. And time came that we have to do it full-time and full-effort because ,otherwise, building it in chunks and pieces is not going to do it. But from somebody working with a stable job, it’s not easy to turn your back. Nonetheless, I jumped into it because there’s an opportunity presented in front of me.
Raising funds wasn’t an early option for the Zipmatch duo. They were bootstrapping while continuously growing the team. Dang took consulting jobs to support the startup’s operations. Dang recalls:
After we did our market research, we put up our life savings, built a product, hired people and quit our comfortable high-paying jobs. We knew we had a strong chance of failure but we went into it with the mindset that if we’re going to fail, our goal was to fail fast.
Through Zipmatch, real estate brokers get leads that are already tailor-fit to the properties they are selling. In no time, customer generation became the core of the startup’s business. This is also driven by the absence of multi-listing services in the Philippines.
With the intention of further scaling the business, the idea of raising funds followed suit.
Through Philippine startup event Geeks on a Beach, Zipmatch crossed paths with investors from 500 Startups and IMJ Fenox. The investors were interested in its business model. But it wasn’t a quick yes. A foreign investor, explains Dang, “would still want someone credible from the Philippines to vouch for it and say this will work – even if they believe in your business.”
The challenge then was to find local investors. But in the Philippines, there aren’t a lot of local investors. Dang notes, “We wanted to grow into something big, but its not like Silicon Valley where you have an idea and you can go out and easily get funding and start hiring tons of people.”
It also wasn’t as simple as closing a deal with investors who offer funding. Apart from the money, the startup made sure that the investor shares their vision.
Looking for the ideal investor or convincing them about the feasibility of ZipMatch for the Philippine market wasn’t an easy task. But after six months of running, the two founders got Ideaspace, Hatchd Digital, and a few other Philippine investors on board.
Continuously scaling up
To date, Zipmatch is now continuing to scale its business in terms of customer service and number of users and inquiries. The real estate platform is now seeing an average of a 71 percent month-on-month increase in buyer inquiries.
Despite all the challenges the founders went through, they find themselves lucky to be mature in their careers to handle issues a lot more easily. But for other startups who experience the same struggles, the founders advise not to let the lack of funding or the possibility of failure stop them. Dang says:
Editing by Steven Millward
If you want to do it, it includes sacrifices. Sacrificing your money, your job or your time. You have to be ready for it.