Airtasker co-founder and ex-chief Jonathan Lui has had a year of new beginnings: since stepping down from his role at Airtasker last year he has moved to Singapore and, today is launching a new venture that builds on his years of hard-earned startup experience.
Billed by Lui as “LinkedIn for property” the idea for property management startup Soho came to the entrepreneur while he was selling his Sydney home to make the move to Singapore for personal reasons. It was during the process that he saw a gap in the property market that “really started eating away at me”.
Lui, who still owns a stake in Airtasker and sits on its board, says if consumers are expected to pay “six or seven figures” for a house, they should be able to purchase “a property they really want” rather than simply whatever was available on the market at the time they were looking.
Lui created Soho as a response to this need, a platform that launched today on iOS and allows property owners to create online profiles for their houses, complete with rental history, sales prices, and and investment performance metrics.
“We’ve got all these apps for ordering coffee or managing credit card bills; what we should be really worried about is managing our biggest asset — property,” Lui tells StartupSmart.
The company will be launching its offerings for Android and web soon, and has already got $300 million in property assets on the platform, according to Lui.
The startup, which will seek to tackle the property markets in both Australia and Singapore, raised $1 million from “high net worth investors” and Singaporean venture capital firm Hub Ventures Fund in May this year, and Lui says he has plans to conduct another raise “in the near future”.
Finding product market fit
In approaching this new venture, Lui will be leveraging years of experience at the helm of Airtasker, which he co-founded in 2012. The on-demand platform and now supports more than 1 million customers in Australia, and says it has recorded $75 million in task transactions through the platform.
“One good thing I’ve learnt in my time is how to get a product out there and build a good product market fit,” he says.
Lui believes he has found this market fit with Soho, and says his main takeaway from his time at Airtasker is an appreciation that “at the end of the day you need to build what users want”.
“Learning that’s been a really good experience,” he says.
Lui notes that while “a lot of this I’ve had to teach myself”, he is keen to share his learnings with other startups.
His advice is to “stay close to your customers” and get out in the market to understand what your core demographic is looking for.
He says it’s also important for startups to ask, “will the customers believe you are creating enough value for them?”, and constantly re-evaluate their offerings in response to that question.
“Validation is always important — it helps you understand if there’s demand, how big that demand is, and whether there is actually an opportunity to make a business out of it,” Lui says.
“Every startup is a hard slog — it’s not as if anything explodes in popularity overnight. But if you have those three things you know there’s a market for the product.”
“Invest in yourself”
Lui’s experience growing Airtasker may have taught him some important entrepreneurial lessons, but he says if he had his time again he wouldn’t do anything differently, despite knowing what he does now.
“Mistakes are all part of the game — that’s why we do what we do, and you’ve got to enjoy the challenge and the learnings,” he says.
“Experience is a nice way of saying you’ve made a lot of mistakes.”
Lui says rather than something that should be avoided, mistakes are “entirely natural” and something he “looks back at very fondly” because they have helped light the way for his future.
“We go through life not just professionally but also personally making mistakes, and learning from that makes you who you are,” he says.
For startup founders who may be struggling with the fear of failure, or the pressures of startup life, Lui says the best advice he can give is advice he also holds in high regard: “Invest in yourself”.
“Really make sure in the startup journey you’re investing in yourself and creating value by gaining knowledge and experience — this will help you with whatever you want to do,” he advises.
“Whether you want to build your own company or build up an existing company, at the end of the day the buck stops with you. If you invest in yourself, you will enjoy the journey.”