Scaling beyond the Middle East is something most startups have on their agenda.
Take a quick survey of new startups in the region and most will say they have ambitions that go beyond their home market.
In turn many of these companies would be looking to go to a market where they can flourish, not drown in a sea of competition.
But not everyone sees it that way.
With their cloud-based software for realtors PropSpace, Dubai-based JRD Group is heading for America and the UK.
In 2015 they debuted their software in both countries.
According to JRD Group’s cofounder, CEO Alex Nicholas, for those in the real estate industry, Europe and North America are seen as the most mature and developed markets.
“For the most part, real estate professionals in the Western world are acutely aware of the impact of technology,” said Nicholas. Being faster adopters of any tech to do with their industry the founders say that these qualities made the markets important for them to penetrate.
Adding to that, UAE clients operating global franchises were supplying such positive feedback that the founders were further convinced of their need to expand to outside markets.
The software, which they developed in 2011, already has, they say, a 95 percent market share in UAE. Clients include Cluttons, Sotheby's, Raine & Horne, Engel & Voelkers, Chestertons, and Core Savills. Starting with an English version, they then launched an Arabic version in 2015.
And their growth as a company has been speedy, in 2015 JRD Group’s team grew by nearly 50 percent and they now have over 70 staff in Dubai.
Testing the waters
Entering into a new market isn’t something you do on a whim though.
The JRD Group founders said they first started testing the waters of North America and the UK in the summer of 2015 by reaching out to various real estate and letting agents. They looked to gauge the tech requirements of the realtors and the existing software landscape for real estate.
By the September they were doing a soft launch at a UK trade fair for landlords and leasing agents.
Most recently, at the November show in San Diego, they said they got enough positive feedback, again, to prove they they were making the right decision to expand into the heavily saturated US market. “It was evident that there is a compelling need and clear gap for a product that covers virtually every kind of workflow for a real estate agency, the way PropSpace does,” said Nicholas.
For the moment they will be focusing on realtors in California working with a small group of clients with whom they can further pivot and fine-tune the product to meet US requirements.
“There’s naturally a learning curve involved during that process and so we believe it best to work with a small group of early adopters to whom we can dedicate time and attention. Ultimately, your early adopters are the best evangelizers for your product in the long-run, so it makes sense for us to target a key user group first.”
At the same time they are developing separate versions of the software, for the US and the UK.
Going to America
JRD Group are not the first in the region to look abroad.
Examples of global expansion from MENA-born companies include Hikma Pharmaceuticals, news network Al Jazeera, logistics firm Aramex, and HVAC equipment company Petra Engineering Industries.
Notably, none of these companies, like JRD Group, were entering markets that weren’t already bursting with competition.
In order to make their move beyond MENA, Jordanian gaming company Beladcom began their efforts by forming a partnership in 2010 with a Swedish software company.
Founder Mohammed Hujeij told Wamda that not only did their alliance with the MindArk expose them to the best technology and mentorship in their field, but “it also paved the way for additional partnerships with renowned global companies and access to new markets.”
It is now through this partnership that the company is now looking to also crack the US market.
JRD Group, on the other hand, told Wamda that they decided to enter new markets without a local partner. The cofounders said that they didn’t think it necessary given their solid conviction that their product can stand on its own.
Breaking into a saturated market
The real estate markets now being targeted by PropSpace are not without homegrown software.
They will be pitting themselves against some mighty giants in the real estate tech sector - Propertybase, Top Producer, Lone Wolf and Reapit to name a few
They are experienced in this though. Starting JRD Group, with “zero entrepreneurial experience”, and in the midst of a financial crisis, Nicholas and Singh were competing against companies like Dubizzle and Propertyfinder. Yet the Dubai startup got its own property portals JustProperty.com and JustRentals.com off the ground in 2009 and 2010.
By working closely with the real estate market in the UAE and seeing where problems with managing work flow were appearing, they had the idea for PropSpace.
“Sid, myself and one of our engineers worked together, turning that idea into an actual tangible software product. We had our first version ready in about four months and soon after in June 2012, we scored our first client,” Nicholas said.
The software itself consists of modules that capture a variety of workflows for a user in the real estate sector. This includes lead management, listings management, deal flow, document generation and multiple listings for whichever region.
Growing their market share in the region, and receiving a ‘sizeable’ Series A round from iMENA in August 2015, the company is looking forward to the road ahead.