Mashvisor was founded by Peter Abualzolof and Mohammed Jebrini in 2014 with the aim of providing real estate investment data analysis to investors. The Palestine-based startup has fast become one of the most prominent real estate analysis platforms in the US, helping users cut down on three months’ worth of research into 15 minutes by taking into account features like budget and area to shortlist properties available to rent or buy.
Data engineer Ahmed Hashlamon joined the pair as the third co-founder. The company won MIT Enterprise Forum’s Arab Startup Competition earlier this year, winning a cash prize of $50,000. So far Mashvisor has raised $800,000 and is now looking to raise up to $4 million in its Series A over the next six months.
We spoke with Hashlamon about his entrepreneurial journey.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I studied software engineering at Hebron University and a day after my graduation, I started working for Mashvisor. I had three scholarships and had the opportunity to continue studying but in Palestine, we don’t need very high degrees, we need to find opportunities for other people to build their careers. Mashvisor gave me the opportunity to establish a business and start helping others.
How did the idea for Mashvisor come about?
The idea came to Peter when he was in the States, he was doing real estate investments and he had a problem finding the right investment, it took him four to five months, so he had the idea to do something automated and get data from different sites. He came back to Palestine because he wanted to found a Palestinian startup and team and help the ecosystem here.
What were your challenges in the beginning?
The ecosystem in Palestine is really bad, there were not many investors, particularly in tech. We were able to make it to the 2015 Ibitkar Fund and took $250,000 from an angel investor at first. It was challenging to find good investors and someone who doesn’t want to control you step by step but still wants to invest. Now, our challenge is still funding. I was in Beirut when we won the MIT prize, there were more than 40 investors who wanted to invest with us, but when they found out our HQ is in Ramallah, many of them moved away because it is a war zone and they are scared to invest in Palestine. More than 20 moved away and another 15 to 20 asked us to move to the Gulf so that they could invest in us. They need us to move somewhere else other than Palestine so they can keep their money safe.
The challenge is also finding the right people, we work in Palestine, but we work with Americans, so we need to find people who understand the American mentality, how they think there and the real estate market in the US.
What are the main lessons you have learned?
You always need to knock on the door because no one will come to you and say, I want to help you. You’re going to have so many hits, but never give up. With patience and passion, we survived, so stay focused and listen to your loyal customers, they are the people who tell you exactly what they need to see on your platform. We always try to get feedback from customers monthly or twice monthly. We call some of our customers and ask if they have complaints and when we’re trying to introduce a new feature, we trial it with them and then we go live with everyone.
If you are working on establishing a startup, you don’t need to be super perfect and release all the features at once, you can start very small as a pilot, have the first few customers try it, this is how you test if your business will make money or not.
What will your industry look like in the next decade?
Currently, we’re seeing that people are moving away from the traditional ways of doing real estate investments to online sources. Everything is becoming automated and we believe that everything should be totally automated. In the next five years everything will be done online and providing all the information on a single platform in an easy to use way. We’re working on machine learning and artificial intelligence because people like to have someone guide them on what they like and don’t like, even in real estate.