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A Candid Interview with Zeeshan Ali Khan, Founder Zameen.com

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on July 19, 2014   
 

Founded by two entrepreneur brothers, Zeeshan Ali Khan and Imran Ali Khan, Zameen.com quickly rose to fame. In 2007 it won CNBC’s Best Property Portal Pakistan Award and almost doubled its visitors between 2009 and 2011. The company was firmly put on the road to success once Gilles Blanchard joined the team as Chairman and the now the website is home to almost 5000 estate agencies. It has offices in Islamabad and Lahore with more then 135 employees. These include developers, quality assurance team, hunters who work to get real estate businesses on board as well as full time Urdu Bloggers, managing the content on the website. On Social Media, the popularity of the property portal has also seen a rise with the current likes of Facebook page numbering around 270K!

Zameen.com recently held a bloggers meetup in which they disclosed that they hold the position of Number #1 Real Estate Portal in Pakistan. The startup has seen a lot of success lately. This year, it got major investment from Catcha Group, the Largest Online Investor in ASEAN Region. TechJuice Team recently got an opportunity to meet with Zeeshan Ali and find out more about his entrepreneurial journey.

Zeeshan has a Chemical Engineering Degree and back when they started the website in 2006, online access was limited to a few people. Seeing that Pakistan’s market was not yet ripe, the brothers focused their attention on U.A.E instead and founded Bayut.com a property website. Meanwhile, the Pakistani market grew and in 2009, they noticed that the website’s traffic had increased dramatically. Zameen imposed a price on property listings and started to focus on local market instead.

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While capital poses a problem for many startups, Zameen.com had an edge. The founders came from a business oriented family and had already experimented with a similar venture. Moreover there was no pressure from the family to earn money, a fact which is not true for most founders in Pakistan. Many feel that the lack of capital holds them back from innovating and starting their own startup. However, Zeeshan disagrees.

“Money doesn’t stop you from starting a business, especially not today. Zameen.com started from home.”

According to him, money isn’t the main bet. The key is hard work and determination.

“What makes a business successful is your dedication. Startups need time and persistence. Capital is important but it comes into play when businesses expand and scale. ”

What did help was the experience. Zeeshan and his brother had already experimented with various ventures by the time they started to focus on Zameen.

“When you are young, it is very easy to lose the sight of the bigger picture and become engrossed in lots of different thing. There is nothing wrong with dividing your energy in several projects but at the end of the day, you can only hope to be good at some and best at none. A better idea is to focus on one project, give it all your time and effort and see it through. In 2009, we decided it was time to focus all our attention on Zameen and that approach helped us succeed.”

Despite the fact that Zeeshan and Imran were seasoned entrepreneurs, they had to work to overcome many different issues. When it came to getting investment for Zameen.com the founders had to face the same problems that many startups face today.

“We would pitch to investors and VCs in Pakistan and most of them were encouraging but nobody came forward to invest right away. We had to struggle alot to get people sufficiently interested so that they could invest in our business.”

It was only after much hard work that Zameen.com finally caught the eyes of the investors. When they finally got lucky, we had 9 different investors who wanted to put their stake in Zameen. Hard work pays off.”

Zameen is doing well in Pakistan right now and the business is generating good revenue but business expansion costs and reduces profit margins. After the success of Zameen, Zeeshan is looking to start another venture.

Also See: A Compariosn of 7 Pakistani eCommerce Websites

“Most of our revenue goes in marketing. There is a lot that needs to be done. The top position is a precarious one, we have to make sure we maintain and improve our business.”

When it comes to the property portals in Pakistan, Lamudi.pk is a name that can’t be ignored. In 2013, Rocket Internet, the famous German group consolidated its real estate ventures under the Lamudi name. Lamudi also launched in Pakistan with the intent of becoming market leaders. Backed by a major investment group, Lamudi.pk quickly rose the ranks and went on to become one of the most popular property portals in the country. With 300K fans on Facebook page, Lamudi.pk has seen a tremendous growth. The recent launch of the Android app for Lamudi is further expected to boost the growth of the websites as users will be able to access property listings on the go.

Given Lamudi.pk’s growth, does Zameen.com feel the pressure of the competition? Zeeshan feels otherwise. He said.

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