Wednesday May 14, 2014
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Ishwar Dhanuka, had created myRent, as a mobile app for property rentals that seeks to enhance the process of hunting. ― Digital News Asia picIshwar Dhanuka, had created myRent, as a mobile app for property rentals that seeks to enhance the process of hunting. ― Digital News Asia picKUALA LUMPUR, May 14 ― THIS is a story that begins in mid-2013, when Ishwar Dhanuka (pic) started a new job with a company based in Ampang Park in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and decided to move closer to his workplace.  

A lifelong resident of Subang Jaya, a suburban area 20km away from KL, he was unfamiliar with the city and realised that he had to first learn the names of all the condominiums and apartments in the area before any real search for rental properties could be done.  

“It’s difficult to find a place to rent without knowing the names of the properties. [Property portals] iBilik and iProperty just didn't work for me because I was basically looking for a place to rent within few kilometres from my workplace, and or near a Kelana Jaya LRT (light rail transit) line station.  

“The only option left was to ask around about the names of condos and apartments, and then look for places in websites based on those names,” he recalls in an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA).   The entire experience left Ishwar drained but it did harden his resolve to do something about the problem.  

“I made a promise to myself, to make sure others don't go through what I went through or feel what I felt while trying to find a place to rent, especially in an unfamiliar territory,” he says.  

Enter myRent, a mobile app for property rentals that seeks to enhance the process of hunting, which officially launched to market on April 12.

‘Mobilising’ the rental hunt

It helps that Ishwar is also ‘chief evangelist’ at BinarizeMe, a mobile application development studio that professes a user-driven, design-centric approach to its work.

A graduate of Monash University Malaysia Campus with a degree in Computer Science, Ishwar has been involved in the IT field for almost a decade. BinarizeMe itself boasts a team of experienced Android and iPhone developers, user experience specialists and business development managers.                 

With myRent, a self-funded venture developed at the studio as its latest consumer-facing offering, the team aims to “make renting a breeze for both tenants and landlords.”

“Heading out to read notice board after notice board for rental ads can be a pain! We understand the trouble and uncertainty of leasing out properties in Malaysia and want to make it easier for all,” Ishwar says.

He says there is currently no mobile app solution for finding rental properties in Malaysia or South-East Asia – with the closest solutions being the websites of players such as iBilik and iProperty, which currently do not offer functionalities such as an interactive map, public transport availability and automated distance calculation, instant-messaging, standardised information across listings or an optimised mobile interface.

However, it should be noted that in August 2012, property portal PropertyGuru did launch a free mobile app for iPhones, iPads and Android-based smartphones that offers property search and listing on-the-go.

myRent can currently be downloaded to Android and iOS smartphones as native apps, and the solution’s backend is run on Google Cloud servers.

For rental seekers, myRent offers features such as direct communication with landlords via the app, and an interactive map that facilitates search of properties within a given radius, along with options to filter results based on budget, location and public transport facilities.

Facebook integration also allows renters to see if potential landlords are already connected to them via mutual friends on the social network. Ishwar says this is to help in establishing a trust level for renters with each landlord.

For landlords, myRent offers free access to a database of tenants and allows communications with prospective tenants without exposing any private details. It also enables properties to be easily listed via mobile, editable while on the go.

MyRent is currently free to download and use, and Ishwar shares that premium features for landlords are already in the pipeline.

These new features will enable landlords to specifically segment potential tenants based on their past searches and get statistics about how their listings have been performing among other marketing tools.

“We plan to give landlords the ability to market their properties in a way never seen before,” he claims.

Buying in to the rental market

The gap that the BinarizeMe team hopes to address is a sizable one, with Ishwar pointing out that 2.6 million Malaysians fall in the age group of 25-29 and around 1.1 million Malaysians are currently pursuing their tertiary education.

“We can safely assume that a majority of this segmented population is unable to purchase a house and generally look for rented properties. Latest statistics also mention that 63% of Malaysians own a smartphone.

“Going by these statistics, we believe we have over two million Malaysians to cater to. Furthermore, iBilik boasts of daily pageviews of over 20,000, which further stresses, the demand for such a solution,” he adds.                  

The efforts of the BinarizeMe team with MyRent signals the continuing maturity of the Malaysian digital economy, where services such as property rentals are experiencing dynamic changes in the way business is conducted.

 The Malaysian Government has been pushing to transform the nation into a ‘digital economy’ with initiatives like the Digital Malaysia programme.

According to Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the strategic initiatives in Digital Malaysia include empowering the next generation workforce with digital skillsets and the productive use of digital tools; and also to drive technology adoption amongst Malaysian SMEs.

MDeC, the national ICT custodian, is the lead agency for Digital Malaysia.

When asked about how MyRent has been faring since launch, Ishwar reports that the team is currently pursuing three real estate agencies as partners and managed to sign up about 10 landlords within the first week.

“Our user base is growing at a steady rate, keeping landlords as the main target audience,” he adds.

Ishwar admits that getting the word out to the property industry about the offering has been a tough challenge for the team.

“So far, we’ve gotten great reviews from real-estate agents and suggestions to improve and optimise our solution according to their needs. However, reaching out to them has been a tough task,” he says.

In addition to launching premium features for landlords and optimising the application based on feedback, the team is also working on launching localised versions of myRent in Singapore and Australia.

Ishwar shares that his biggest challenge, as an entrepreneur, is patience.

“Understanding the fact that entrepreneurship is a marathon and not a sprint was a very valuable lesson; a lesson that took some time for me to learn. Even though things take time, and they may fail or break, the important thing is to be patient and to deal with problems calmly.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride so far but every time we see people around us suffering from a problem that we can solve, we get motivated. As long as we can help solve problems, we will remain motivated,” he adds. ― Digital News Asia

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