Property management startup :Different has secured $3.5 million in funding as it expands its horizons into Queensland. But for founder Mina Radhakrishnan it’s the people, not the dollars, that can take the startup to the next level.
The funding comes from existing investor AirTree, as well as from new backer PieLAB, a Queensland-based venture capital firm.
Founded in Sydney in 2017, by Radhakrishnan and husband Ruwin Perera, :Different secured $1.3 million in seed funding in November the same year.
The platform is designed to facilitate and automate rent payment, maintenance requests and house inspections for landlords who are privately renting out investment properties.
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In August 2018, Radhakrishnan announced the startup would be expanding into Melbourne, and this latest funding coincides with its launch in Brisbane.
While she doesn’t reveal any details, Radhakrishnan tells StartupSmart :Different has seen “strong growth overall”.
It’s managing more than $700 million worth of residential property around Australia, and has a staff headcount of 32 people, she says.
On average, the startup has seen about 15% month-on-month growth, in terms of both revenue and customer base, she adds.
“It’s a big change from myself and Ruwin back in the second bedroom of our apartment two years ago.”
More than money
The investment comes from AirTree Ventures, which has “been with us since the beginning”, Radhakrishnan says.
And, although PieLAB is a new investor, the firm has been in contact with the founders, offering up their advice, for about a year-and-a-half already.
“When we think about the kinds of investors we want to have of our cap table, we’re very focused on good partners,” Radhakrishnan explains.
“Good partners bring something more than just cash.”
When Radhakrishnan and Perera were looking for new investment, they were looking for relationships, she says.
Partly, it’s about building connections and getting people on board who can put the founders in touch with others who can help them grow their business.
But, perhaps more important is the “strategic mentorship piece”, Radhakrishnan says.
“We’re in the business day-to-day,” she explains.
“We don’t expect our investors to get into the day to day business, and nor should they want to.
“But, the thing is, when you’re running a business day-in-day-out, you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
The founders were looking for investors who have had these conversations before, who have worked with companies at a similar stage, and who can help them with the pitfalls to avoid and the opportunities for growth.
“For us, that’s really important, working with investors who can be partners in the business from a strategic perspective.”
“Homes need people”
The majority of the latest funding is pegged for investment into :Different’s technology platform, and into expansion, Radhakrishnan says.
“We really deeply understand the property management market across Australia,” she explains.
“We want to be able to take those learnings and be able to apply them to a much broader base.”
Ultimately, Radhakrishnan hopes to take the platform even further – both in terms of geography and product.
“I want to create something that really ultimately improves the consumer experience,” she says.
“People need homes. But the reverse is also true – homes need people.”
Homes can be “a constant source of stress and worry”, she adds. When something goes wrong, it can be hard for people to know what to do.
While currently :Different is focused on property management for investment properties, the founders are realising solutions that are required for these types of properties are “the same sort of thing that anyone needs for any home anywhere”, Radhakrishnan says.
“Fundamentally, what we want to be is the assistant for the home. And every home and every owner and every tenant in the world,” she explains.
Of course, this means international expansion is on the cards at some point in the future.
“We’re really focused on making sure that we have a really strong, core offering in Australia, and we’re actively considering expansion plans throughout the world.”
Optimism in focus
When you’re running a startup, Radhakrishnan notes that it’s important to maintain a strong focus.
It can be easy to get caught up in all the shiny new things you could be doing, and to “lose track of what we’re actually building on a day-to-day basis”, she says.
However, that laser focus should also be employed with a healthy dose of optimism.
One of the most important things Radhakrishnan says she has learned is not to ask whether something can be done. Rather, she says, you should ask how it can be done.
It means you’re not considering whether it’s possible, you’re considering how you would do it if you decide to, “which allows you to be creative, which allows you to think about interesting and different ways in which you might solve a problem”, she explains.
“The goal isn’t necessarily that you do do it, but that you always keep your mind open to the possibility of doing it.”
Founders have to be adaptable, and able to take a creative problem-solving approach to any challenge, she advises.
“If you’re too focused on saying ‘no’ before you say ‘yes’, you might say no to the wrong thing,” she warns.
“That’s a really important part of knowing how to be opportunistic, but practically and sensibly, while you’re still building a company.”