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How proptech startup iMyanmarHouse remains profitable despite COVID-19

And the valuable lessons we can all learn from iMyanmarHouse’s story of resilience and agility

Needless to say, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on a lot of businesses around the world. Being in the real estate industry in Myanmar, iMyanmarHouse was no exception. We went from doing two to three concurrent physical property sales events a week to zero almost overnight.

Our customers – property agents and developers – temporarily paused subscription and stopped spending marketing budget because of uncertainties in the market. We immediately went into the danger of having almost no revenue and facing the possibility of letting go of our staff. That’s when our survival instincts kicked in and did everything we could.

In the end, I believe we emerge stronger. We were profitable last year, and we remain profitable throughout the worst lockdown in history during Q1 2020 without having to retrench any staff. We continue to revolutionise the real estate industry in Myanmar. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Just recently in late August 2020, we have been named as the Top Property Portal in Myanmar and as one of the Top Property Portals of East Asia alongside the likes of PropertyGuru, iProperty, and 99.co by OnlineMarketplaces.

We have:

The most number of property listings
The most number of property agents and developers
The most number of site visits
The most number of leads being sent to advertisers every month
The most number of followers on social media
Lastly and most importantly, we are profitable. These are the lessons we have learned from the pandemic.

Adapt quickly to changing market situations
Here I emphasise on the words “quick” and “adaptability”. I will explain more about that later.

The first cases of COVID-19 were announced in late March in Myanmar. By the end of March, people were panic buying in supermarkets. The government had suspended international travel and imposed social distancing measures.

Also Read: Lessons from a travel tech startup founder on navigating the pandemic-stricken business landscape

In mid-April, during week-long Water Festival holidays, city streets were practically empty – a stark contrast to the hugely popular traditional festival that is held every year in Myanmar where many people, young and old, would be out on the streets throwing water at one another. People were too scared to go out, and most of the businesses were closed down.

Since we couldn’t do any business activities, we initially thought of hibernating throughout the lockdown. But we came to realise that this virus situation was not going to go away any time soon, and the viable vaccines would be months away, if not years.

As soon as the holidays were over, we set up task forces and started working from home. We started brainstorming among different teams and finding ways to reduce costs and increase revenue. We started video conferencing to conduct town hall meetings.

To reduce costs, we froze our staff hiring and promotion activities. We reviewed and stopped any expenditure that was not essential and not directly related to our top line. To bring in revenue, we decided to move our physical property sales events, online and set up a skunked team.

The team worked day and night to make it happen quickly. From idea conceptualisation to actual implementation, it took us one week to launch our first online sales event – first-ever Online Property Sales Event in Myanmar – in early May.

It was also possible because of our very good relationship with property developers in Myanmar. We made use of various technologies such as VR and drone video footage and mapping to present the property projects online. We used our strong marketing channels to advertise for the online sales event. When the whole market was quiet and we were the only one being extremely active, the market paid full attention to what we had to offer. That was the opportunity we grabbed.

The market responded very well, and we sold over 60 property units during the two-week online event. With that success, our online sales events snowballed, and so far, we have done over 20 online sales events for different property projects. We are proud to say that we have remained profitable Q1 and Q2 of the year despite COVID-19 and lockdown.

Reflecting back, I believe we were able to “adapt quickly” to the changing market situations. The lesson for the startups is that if the market situation changes, you cannot say, “Oh, it’s out of our control! There is nothing we can do!” and sit back and hope for the best. You have to move quickly together with the market.

You have to adapt to the changing winds of the business world. Otherwise, you will go the way of dinosaurs, Nokia, Kodak and Blockbuster.

Technology at the core of everything
Although we are in the real estate industry, we consider ourselves a technology company first and real estate company second. Technology is at the core of everything we do. We make use of various latest technologies.

We gather as many data points as possible about the customers and the market trends. We then crunch and leverage those insights to predict customers’ preferences and their likely purchase decisions.

Also Read: How travel tech startup Travelhorse survives the pandemic by branching into new territory

Now everything from house-hunting to making a purchase decision and applying for a mortgage loan can be done online at iMyanmarHouse. The technology landscape is constantly evolving. In order to succeed and thrive in the market, we need to rapidly adapt and improve our technology strategies accordingly.

Team spirit is very important
While there were rampant retrenchments and closing downs of the businesses in the industry, we chose not to let go of any of our staff. After all, every single one of them was carefully selected and groomed. They are treasured as part of our big family. Instead, we chose to reduce the number of working hours and reduced the pay accordingly.

I personally chose to forgo any salary during this trying time. I personally gave out necessities like rice and instant noodles to all team members during the lockdown. I personally made a loan to any team member who needed it.

Thankfully, our staffs are beautiful souls who understood the situation and were happy to help out one another. We are extremely grateful and thankful for that.

When it comes to team spirit, our philosophy is that if a company takes care of its employees during difficult times, they will take care of the company no matter what. If they feel that they are treasured and valued, they will go the extra mile and move mountains to help the company achieve the impossible results. In fact, we have bonded closer because of the pandemic.

Resilience
It is my strong belief that resilience is very crucial in a person’s life or a startup’s journey. After all, if you are doing a startup, you will be facing countless setbacks, struggles and adversities. Unless you can demonstrate resilience during difficult times, you will give up and accept failure as a default option.

The storm will pass. Keep calm and do what you can, with what you have, right where you are. You will emerge stronger.

Gain market trust
Lastly, trust from the market is very important because a company can’t exist without its customers and users. It is our mandate to go above and beyond the call of our duty to make a customer happy. Our management team would call up a property agent and apologise if he or she is not satisfied with our services.

We would then do whatever we can to make him or her happy. By doing so, we would have turned an unhappy instance into a happy one, and the customer will become a loyal fan of ours. She would be singing praises about our services.

There have been many instances where the property seekers who became homeowners because of our efforts, were so happy that they sent gifts to us. We take extreme pleasure in that. Because of the enormous trust that the market has in iMyanmarHouse, we have been able to capitalise on it and make property transactions happen online during the pandemic. It has ultimately expanded our revenue streams.

These are the valuable lessons that we have learnt from the pandemic. I hope you will make use of them in your startup’s journey.

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