Startups survive on innovation. With no money and a small team, it’s the only way to stick around long enough to compete with the big boys.

But at a certain point, internet companies need to hit their growth targets and scale into larger markets.

At Echelon Asia Summit 2018, Hari Krishnan, who took over as PropertyGuru CEO in September of 2016, explained that, eventually, innovation is meaningless without execution.

“I think , when you reach a certain scale, when you think about scale-up, you have a complexity and diversity where really your ability to execute is going to underpin any innovation you will create,” he said.

Calling it “scar tissue”, Krishnan highlighted the importance of having previous wins and losses under the belt. This is why, in nearly every case, the young innovator will garner the attention, but there is usually an older colleague who is steering the ship.

“You need someone coming in and saying, listen I know enough to avoid certain pitfalls. I may not know the answer but I know how to ask the correct questions,” he said.

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It is finding a manager who has intellectual curiosity but does not come into a situation from a place of arrogance.

In the case of PropertyGuru, scaling for them means avoiding the strategy of “planting flags”. He said PropertyGuru could launch in 10 markets fairly easily, but that it is not a consideration unless they can be the top player or a strong number two.

The logic also does not necessarily need to apply to just geography but also verticals and technology. For PropertyGuru this means beginning to leverage on 11 years worth of data and build out machine learning products.

“We have to take what is good with the past, but then underpin it with technologies. How do we bring [the product] up to date with what 2018, 2019 and 2020 look like?”

For example, this means using technology to improve the image quality on the site. The company receives 500,000 images per day, mostly uploaded by property agents. Obviously, at these numbers, the quality of photos would vary greatly from image-to-image.

Filtering through these pictures with human manpower is not overly feasible, which means image quality remains mediocre.

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The goal is to build a first-mover advantage, not just in geographies or business models but also technology.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence, just by its nature, takes time, so if PropertyGuru starts now, when other property portals pursue a similar strategy, they will be playing catchup.

Much of PropertyGuru’s success stems from being a first mover over a decade ago and now that the company is moving focus into machine learning technology, it hopes it can repeat that success in that field.

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