Founded in 2013, Singapore-based online home rental portal 99.co has today announced securing S$700,000 (about US$560,000) in seed funding, led by 500 Startups, East Ventures, Fenox VC, and Golden Gate Ventures.
Co-founded by Darius Cheung, a Singapore entrepreneur who incidentally is also the man behind tenCube, which was acquired by McAfee in 2010, and BillPin, which bought over former competitor BillMonk, the 99.co team also runs sister brand Homie.co, a website for roommate search in Singapore.
In conversation with e27, Cheung noted that the funds will be used to hire and build a bigger team, and market to potential users — both agents, landlords and tenants. Currently, the team is made up of eight staffers, of which four are founding members.
Having rented properties for the last 20 years, he talked about his experience scouring through established room rental sites, only to find it swamped with duplicated or fabricated listings.
According to him, these sites do not care about such issues as their main source of revenue, which is advertising, depends on having a huge database of room listings. The bigger the database, the higher these established sites can charge for advertising.
“The right way of thinking about it,” he said, “which is our philosophical difference, is that we put the customers — the renters — first, and we do everything we can to deliver to them the right search results.” Not only does 99.co ban listings deemed “bad”, it has also developed an algorithm that ranks search results.
“Right now, it’s just rental. What’s relevant in rental search results is different from what’s relevant in sales search results,” added Cheung, who further noted that eventually 99.co will have to enter the larger real estate sales market. He told this author, “Some of the agents that we work with have already said they want to put their ‘for sale’ listings up as well.”
At the moment, 99.co does not have an active monetisation model. “We don’t plan to generate revenue for the next six months. Beyond that, we are working with agents, our partners, to figure out what is the right way to do it,” he said. Selling advertisements on the site does not seem to be the right way to generate revenue, according to Cheung, who added that listing properties on 99.co will continue to be free.
“We would most likely take a flat fee. The agents typically take a commission of four per cent from the landlord, which equates to about one month commission for a two-year contract. That’s fairly standard. We would basically charge a flat fee on a transaction basis. Right now, it’s free. We are incentivised to make sure that the transaction happens,” said the seasoned entrepreneur.
He also explained the reason behind naming the portal 99.co. “(The number) 9 in Chinese symbolises longevity.” In fact, the logo for 99.co (久) is the Chinese character for ‘long’, and users can get to 99.co by entering 九九.co as well.
99.co will be exhibiting at Echelon Startup Marketplace! Catch them in action by getting your tickets to Echelon 2014: Asia’s premier technology, startup and business conference this June 10-11!