It has been a good year for Dubai's property market and for those riding the wave, with record transactions and prices surging.
But whether the market was up or down, Keyper chief executive and co-founder Omar Abu Innab says he would have ploughed on with the property technology and investment start-up anyway.
The Jordanian former investment banker, who counts Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse among his former employers, is a believer in Dubai and the infrastructure it has built during past decades and sees the trend of people wanting to move to the city continuing.
And, as more people arrive, as well as depart, and buy property along the way, it means more will need their property portfolio managed, which is where Keyper comes in.
“I would have gone ahead with this even if the market wasn’t so buoyant,” Mr Abu Innab says.
“A lot of these real estate agencies, their market is cyclical, but our business is more about managing the portfolio and there is a lot of volume with that, so regardless of whether the market is up or down.”
The company began its journey at the beginning of the year, with Mr Abu Innab aware of a gap in the amount of data and technology available for property investors.
“Myself, as a real estate investor, spent a lot of time with other real estate investors and family offices, dealing with professional private bankers, trying to increase the yield and the asset,” he says.
“But when it comes to real estate, it is often left untouched with little management care although sometimes it is their largest asset class in their portfolio.”
Mr Abu Innab says he and his co-founders, Silvia Eldawi and Walid Shihabi, had seen how sectors such as food and logistics had been digitalised, but the property sector was still leaving a paper trail with rents being paid through cheques.
The Keyper app allows investors and property owners to automate daily tasks, monitor property portfolios and gain access to data-driven insights.
“I have a knowledge of the Dubai market and also the regional investor base and what they are looking for,” says Mr Abu Innab, who is also a co-founder of WeBuild Ventures, a platform that enables founders to build disruptive, future-focused companies from the ground up.
“Real estate agents are inherently conflicted as they are either trying to sell or buy, whereas what we try to do is take more of a data-based approach, so we have mapped out Dubai and have live valuation — we are the first in the region for the live valuation — and we help to make recommendations based on data.”
The company now has 40 employees, with a team of 12 engineers based in Jordan working on the app.
It has so far signed up 1,000 properties and is set to upload a further 1,000 having acquired operations from Dubai property listing site Urban.
“We have 200 properties under management before we start any marketing. We believe hitting 10,000 properties on the platform is realistic,” Mr Abu Innab says.
“In one to two years, we will hopefully see ourselves getting to 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 properties under management, some through acquisitions and some through institutional investors.
“The product we are building is one that travels well across the world. Real estate and the problems investors deal with is the same in other places, whether it is London, New York or Dubai. Ninety per cent of the app's functionality travels well.”
While focus is currently on Dubai, Mr Abu Innab says Keyper will consider expanding to the other emirates and wider region, and “we believe within 12 to 18 months, when we are ready for our series A [funding], that we will have international investors”.
The app is free to download and Keyper charges a flat fee of Dh10 a day for apartments and Dh15 per day for villas.
It believes it is unfair to charge a percentage-based fee as the work to manage the property is the same regardless of the annual rent.
“Real estate agencies price at 5 per cent to 10 per cent, in the UK and France it is 10 per cent to 15 per cent,” Mr Abu Innab says.
Keyper plans to add a financing solution that allows landlords to receive a full year rent upfront and the tenant pays it back on a monthly basis.
“That FinTech solution is very much needed here in today’s market,” Mr Abu Innab says.
“For example, today 60 per cent of the market pays in four cheques for say Dh100,000 — we would go to the landlord and offer Dh95,000 and take the defaulters on their behalf and pay the money upfront, then allow the tenant to pay in 12 cheques an amount of say Dh105,000. A lot of tenants like that solution as it is digital — it can be paid on credit card or direct debit and you get paid monthly.”
Q&A with Omar Abu Innab, co-founder and chief executive of Keyper
What is your next big dream to make happen?
For now, Keyper is my dream. WeBuild Ventures — we want to build companies and take them to the world. It is not like we are looking inwards. We are trying to digitalise large sectors of the economy and expand that around the world. I am spending more time with WeBuild and finding capable founders, arming them with the technology and experience needed for them to succeed.
What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?
Plenty. As an investment banker of 18 years, after a while you stop learning a lot. But with start-ups, I learnt about technology and tech development, marketing, public relations, website development, fundraising and human resources. Literally, as the chief executive of a start-up, you need to learn all of these skills.
If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
Maybe we could have started a year earlier. I am happy with the team we have built with the free platform done in a year. Now we are excited about the next year.
Who is your role model?
I like Warren Buffett, although he is not in the tech sphere. Humility is very important. You have to have a cause beyond just making money — you need to have an effect, help people, help the team grow. I like that we have 40 capable people and we are empowering the team.