Generation Start-up: how Huspy is disrupting home buying and financing in UAE and Spain

Dubai-based PropTech platform finds verified listings and mortgage plans for its clients and helps them to close deals

Jad Antoun, left, and Khalid Ashmawy, the founders of property technology start-up Huspy. Antonie Robertson / The National
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“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records,” the late American motivational writer William Arthur Ward once wrote.

His quote proves apt for Jad Antoun and Khalid Ashmawy, founders of Dubai-based property technology start-up Huspy, which was founded at the peak of the Covid-19-driven economic slump.

The pandemic upended many businesses worldwide and severely dented the global economy, tipping it into the worst recession since 1930. However, it did not deter the duo. They saw an opportunity to successfully disrupt the property market in not only the UAE, but also Spain.

“We were faced with incredible uncertainty and a constant need to keep re-evaluating our plans,” chief executive Mr Antoun tells The National.

“[However,] we chose to continue building because we believed in our mission and the chance to transform home buying in the region … the pandemic helped us envision what the future of home buying would be like and play our role in building it.”

Founded in August 2020 in Dubai, Huspy aims to simplify the process of buying homes by helping clients to search through verified listings and find financing solutions. It is a link between potential property buyers and commercial banks, as well as other lending entities in the Arab world's second-largest economy.

The platform finds mortgage plans that fit users' needs, obtains pre-approvals from banks and helps its clients to close deals.

With Huspy mortgages, customers can receive an initial quote within 30 seconds, compared with several days for the offline process, according to the company.

“Through our platform, customers can shortlist homes from our verified properties, schedule viewings at their convenience and, when ready, apply for a mortgage to take ownership of the house … all of this is entirely online,” Mr Antoun says.

Quote
The entire home-buying experience has by far remained unchanged for decades and can be very fragmented, ill-defined and exhausting
Jad Antoun, chief executive and co-founder of Huspy

“Our technology is also empowering our partners — including property agents and mortgage brokers — to solve some of the biggest challenges in real estate, by helping them close transactions more quickly than with conventional techniques,” says Mr Antoun, who originally is from Lebanon.

As working from home became the norm due to the pandemic, the company experienced a surge in inquiries from people wanting to invest in their own properties. The desire to upgrade to larger homes also increased after the onset of the pandemic.

“Our processes were built for a contactless ecosystem and made things easier for buyers … low interest rates [at the time] made buying a home easier,” says Mr Antoun.

The venture, which was bootstrapped initially with the founders' own capital and funds from friends and family, raised $37 million in its latest funding round in June.

This was led by Sequoia Capital India, while California-based venture capital companies Founders Fund and Fifth Wall also made their Middle East investment debut through the funding deal.

Other investors in the financing round included Chimera Capital, Breyer Capital, Venture Friends, Cotu Ventures, VentureSouq and BY Venture.

The latest round gives the company “a sufficient runway” and allows Huspy to focus on its core business goals in both the UAE and Spain, says Mr Antoun.

“We will further grow our headcount to develop our products for real estate agents, mortgage brokers and buyers, as well as grow our GMV [gross merchandise value] and strengthen the brand,” he says.

Huspy is currently “well-financed to support [its] business goals for the foreseeable future” and is not looking to raise new capital in the near term.

“With our foundations established, we are now entering a new phase of growth with a focus on healthy unit economics and low cash burn,” he says.

Huspy founders Khalid Ashmawy, front left, and Jad Antoun, front right, with the company's leadership team. Antonie Robertson / The National

“This will help us prepare for any changing market dynamics over the next two to three years, allowing us to pursue our longer-term goals without the need to raise extra capital right away,” Mr Antoun says.

Huspy, which started operations with a few people working from Mr Antoun’s apartment in Dubai, now has more than 250 employees in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Madrid. It has achieved more than 25 per cent month-on-month sales growth in the past year and currently manages $2 billion in GMV annually.

Investors have increasingly chosen PropTech after the pandemic forced companies, including those in the real estate sector, to digitise and ensure business continuity.

Connected buildings, real estate analytics, mortgage solutions, blockchain and online viewing technology are some of the focus areas for PropTech companies that are looking to disrupt the traditional market through digital solutions for the entire property value chain.

The global real estate market is expected to expand to $7.8 trillion by 2027, from about $6.8tn last year, with the residential segment accounting for about 40 per cent of the value, according to Imarc Group, a market research company with offices in India and the US.

Huspy co-founder Jad Antoun, centre, with some of the team. The company has added 100 people — a third of the total headcount — in the UAE and Spain in the past three months. Photo: Huspy

While real estate continues to be a sought-after asset class around the world, growing by 59 per cent a year in 2021, less than 1 per cent of home-buying transactions are completedthrough digital channels, says Huspy.

“What’s more important is the opportunity for PropTech to disrupt the real estate space and the home-buying journey in particular,” says Mr Antoun.

“For Huspy, the opportunity is significant with a GMV of nearly $400bn just in the UAE and Spain … by being a part of the entire purchase journey.”

In January, Huspy acquired Home Matters, a Dubai-based mortgage and property consultant, for an undisclosed sum.

In April last year, it also raised an undisclosed sum in a funding round led by Athens-based Venture Friends.

After graduating with an economics degree from the University of San Francisco, Mr Antoun worked for a health start-up in the US for a few years. Later, he returned to the region to join venture capital company Beco Capital before co-founding Huspy.

“Having been involved in some of the region’s major deals, including some unicorns, I knew I wanted to continue building,” says Mr Antoun.

“Residential real estate is the world's largest asset class, and yet, one of the least digitally disrupted ones. The entire home-buying experience has by far remained unchanged for decades and can be very fragmented, ill-defined and exhausting.

“To give you an idea, although most of us start looking for a house online, less than 1 per cent of the home-buying transactions are actually completed online. Our focus right now is to continue building the business across Europe, Middle East and Africa and create value for all of our stakeholders.”

Mr Antoun says some of its more established business units are profitable, while some business verticals require investment to test and scale.

With no plans to exit the business, Mr Antoun says the company is focused on “strengthening the value proposition and growing its operations” in the UAE and Spain.

Q&A: Huspy’s co-founder and chief executive Jad Antoun

Who is your role model?

The team at Huspy is who I look to for inspiration. They come from different backgrounds with diverse experiences. Every day presents new insights and learning opportunities.

Where do you see Huspy 10 years from now?

We want to become a category-defining brand synonymous with home buying and financing. Our aspiration is to lead the PropTech industry in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while also attracting the best tech talent to become the go-to tech hub in the region.

Are you a risk-taker or a cautious entrepreneur?

I am a risk-taker by nature. However, I do understand entrepreneurship is not only about taking risks, but also being flexible and responsive to market challenges. In the current market conditions, when a lot of companies have to either lay off employees or shut down completely, I am focused on maintaining business efficiency.

If you could change one thing in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?

I believe everything happens for a reason and at the right time. I am grateful for all my previous experiences that led me to starting my own company and happy to find myself where I am now, surrounded by the best employees, partners, investors and friends.

Are you adding more staff?

We have been on a hiring spree across the UAE and Spain for the past two to three months, adding 100 people — one third of the total headcount — to our team in both markets. We are now well-staffed for most of the functions but will continue to hire occasionally for certain roles.

What successful start-ups do you wish you could have started and why?

I have been fortunate to be a part of the start-up ecosystem as an operator and an investor. While people typically wish to be a part of a start-up only after it is successful, to me what matters more is how often you failed and what you learnt from it. In hindsight, I should have started building earlier and failed more often.

What new skills have you learnt in the process of setting up your start-up?

No two days are the same when you are building a start-up. That is why we aim to hire the best people and trust them to do what’s right for the business. This allows me to focus on the company's longer-term strategy.

The pace we have grown at has also required me to be more agile and make faster decisions. At Huspy, we are willing to fail fast and pivot quickly whenever needed.

What is your mantra for success?

Five core values … follow empathy over ego, we are the owners, never settle, be fast and thoughtful, and inspire others.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Huspy

Started: August 2020

Founders: Jad Antoun and Khalid Ashmawy

Based: Dubai, UAE and Madrid, Spain

Industry: PropTech

Funding: raised $37m in June

Investors: Sequoia Capital India, Founders Fund, Fifth Wall, Chimera Capital, Breyer Capital, Venture Friends, Cotu Ventures, VentureSouq and BY Venture

Updated: August 09, 2022, 2:47 AM
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