Airtasker co-founder Jonathan Lui has raised $1.65 million in seed funding for his new real estate venture he dubs “LinkedIn for property”, and isn’t ruling out establishing another startup in the future.
Lui’s startup, Soho, was launched last year and raised $1 million in May from Singaporean investors. The startup is currently operating in both Singapore and Australia, as it looks to make the home buying process more comfortable and cut down on skyrocketing listing fees.
The Soho app provides ways for buyers, renters, owners, and real estate agents to facilitate the buying and management of properties, offering services like live chat, document management, finance tracking and property listings.
Lui calls the current property industry a “legacy business model” and unaligned with what the market actually wants. He says property seekers want to see properties, and agents want to sell them, but they’re being stifled by unnecessary online listing fees.
“It’s not what the market wants and it’s preventing people from selling and seeing properties. If we start asking these questions of the industry, we think it’s going to change something,” Lui tells StartupSmart.
And with the amount of investor interest in Soho so far, it’s clear it’s not just Lui who thinks that way. The startup brought its recently closed round forward six months after “significant” interest from a range of investors.
“We saw some pace with the platform faster than we initially expected being a new startup. Usually, it’s slow and tough, not fast and strong, and this has been a lot stronger than we initially thought,” Lui says.
“A lot of people were reaching out and proactively asking how they could get involved when we were planning Soho. Right now keeping and accelerating that pace is really important to us.”
Soho’s $1.65 million seed is led by BridgeLane Group, which is headed up by Tank Stream Ventures director Markus Kahlbetzer, who was also an early investor in Lui’s first venture, Airtasker.
“We are very happy to support Jonathan again, we have backed him before with Airtasker and believe he is a talented entrepreneur with a proven track record,” Kahlbetzer said in a statement.
The funds will predominantly be used for building out Soho’s team, which Lui is looking to double (although he notes that still won’t make it a “massive” team). The company is also seeking more integrations and partnerships with more agencies and tools, such as real estate customer relationship management systems.
Lui’s bullish on the prospect of getting more agents and vendors on board, saying many property owners are baulking at the ever-increasing listing fees, causing problems for both them and the agents hoping to snap up more clients.
“They realise it’s happening and they’re looking at what’s going to change the dynamic. We’re that fresh player — we’ve got a different way of thinking that’s not deeply instilled in the property industry,” he says.
“We’re tech guys, we’re not bringing any baggage along with us.”
How the Airtasker experience helped Lui build Soho
Despite the investor interest and he’s own prominence as Airtasker’s co-founder, Lui says raising money is never easy, and founders have to “fight for every dollar”, although he admits his credibility increased investor confidence in his efficient deployment of capital.
Lui is still an investor and board member of Airtasker, and says he believes the company still has a huge opportunity. It raised $33 million last year in a Series C raise to help it begin tackling the UK’s gig economy markets.
Lui says his outlook when building Airtasker has carried over to how he is growing Soho.
“I thought about what would be the best process for the future — we’re not just trying to make it a little bit better. If Airtasker was just a little bit better than Gumtree, it might be enough for six months of interest, but not four or more years,” he says.
“That’s why when I was designing Airtasker, we didn’t put payments in from day one, as we knew we might need it in a few years, but not today. And we’ve built Soho in a similar way, not for today’s market but for the market of the future.”
“It’s not about extracting revenues upfront, it’s about creating value, and with value comes potential revenue streams.”
With two successfully funded startups in his wheelhouse, Lui hasn’t ruled out starting a third venture, calling it the “entrepreneur’s dilemma”.
“We always see a problem and we always want to solve them. But Soho is the solution to a huge problem, and solving it is my biggest focus,” he says.
“But every entrepreneur says ‘this is the last one’, so who knows. Sometimes you like doing it because you like the pain, so no absolutes at this point.”
One thing Lui is certain of is the importance of culture in startups, telling founders to never underestimate how early you need to start building culture, and that most companies don’t have “any idea” how to nurture and guide culture.
“Learning over experience. That will last beyond you and your vision,” he says.