Propzy predicament signals warning to property startups

September 22, 2022 | 11:00
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Once considered a rising star in the field of real estate technology, Propzy announced its closure last week.

Following its internal announcement to cease all operations, all Propzy employee labour contracts were terminated effective September 13.

Founded by John Le in 2015, Propzy was the first company in Vietnam to provide a technology-based solution for real estate transactions in a closed process by directly connecting buyers and sellers.

Up until early 2021, Propzy’s business model was still an integrated all-in-one service, allowing the company to collect commission of 1 per cent from every transaction as a middleman. When a piece of property encountered legal issues, the company would also provide legal services with an off-contract fee.

Propzy predicament signals warning to property startups
Propzy was on top of the proptech world in 2019 but, as with many startups, the pandemic damaged them beyond repair

According to Tech in Asia, Propzy successfully raised $33 million during its operation, the second-largest total investment in Vietnam’s proptech market.

Like many well-known startups with groundbreaking business ideas, Propzy’s initial recipe for success was expansion. By 2017 the company had increased to 120 employees and moved to a new office. The following year, the number of employees increased to 200 and a transaction centre system was formed.

By 2020, Propzy had 1,200 employees, 80,000 customers, and more than 30 transaction centres. It was in the process of building a lending strategy to assist its homebuyers before encountering a series of operational and capital management issues at the onset of the pandemic.

According to Tran Khanh Quang, general director of Viet An Hoa Real Estate Investment JSC and one of the industry insiders who had followed Propzy since its early days, the startup was typical in that it boasted a good model but poor execution.

“In the beginning, John Le was in charge of finance, with a team of highly qualified technology and real estate staff members. However, over time, it seems that the management line in the company was no longer as clear, and the founder seemed to have made many decisions on his own,” Quang told VIR.

By the end of May this year, Propzy dissolved its subsidiary Propzy Services. A month later, in a restructuring effort to develop new products and enter a new round of funding, the company cut half of its staff, mainly in sales. Along with that, Propzy also temporarily closed all transaction centres.

Despite considerable doubts from the market at the time, Le insisted that all the changes were in line with the company’s new business model and strategy. It was hoped that the company would sub-divide its service segments for easier management, including an exchange that connected all real estate needs, a transaction support service, real estate financial solution service Propzy Stay, and a new product line called Propzy Home.

The turnaround and restructuring plans could neither improve the business situation nor convince investors to put down money. Tech in Asia a fortnight ago reported that Propzy was in early-stage negotiations with 99 Group of Singapore about an acquisition agreement. However, it was uncertain whether 99 Group would continue to pursue the deal.

Le Minh Duc, founder and CEO of Remaps, another proptech startup, noted that Propzy’s income source was not sufficient enough.

“Its only source of income was a small commission on every successful transaction and, as its tech portion was insufficient, they were forced to bring many brokers into the same transaction to avoid risks,” Duc assessed. “It is difficult for a startup to survive when the personnel apparatus becomes cumbersome.”

Quang of Viet An Hoa added that the unfortunate event was a typical case of overspending. “In addition, as Vietnam’s real estate industry is quite fragmented and complex, it takes someone with practical hands-on experience to fully understand the industry. Many real estate businesses nowadays like to attach technology to their products and service. But without the right execution, money will just be burnt in vain,” he said.

Propzy’s Management Board confirmed that remaining salaries and accumulated leave would be paid in full, and that the company will also try to provide a severance allowance commensurate with each employee’s tenure and contribution.

Founder and CEO of Propzy John Le was a big name in the fintech startup circle in the United States in the 2000s, with a total of more than $35 million raised for his companies.

Some of his prominent startups included LoanTrader and Portellus, with investments from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, GE Capital, Zurich, FBR Capital, and IAC.

In 2009, Le established TransUnion Vietnam - the country’s first international credit information company. Three years later, as bad debts were one of the country’s biggest problems, he teamed up with a number of stakeholders to support the establishment of Vietnam Asset Management Company.

Le said his idea of founding Propzy came from the many difficulties that he faced trying to rent houses in Vietnam, as he had to constantly travel between Vietnam and the US. With the goal of simplifying real estate transactions, he founded Propzy in 2015, officially transitioning from being a finance expert into a player in real estate.

Hai Nguyen-Co-chairman PropTech Vietnam Network

Propzy predicament signals warning to property startups

The biggest challenge for proptech startups in Vietnam is similar to that in the global property market: digital transformation in the real estate sector is very slow.

Even in the proptech market in Southeast Asia, the total number of active proptech startups currently accounts for only a very small percentage compared to other industries such as fintech, edtech, and e-commerce.

While the proptech ecosystem is still immature, attracting investment from venture capital funds will be difficult. And when there is a lack of investment capital, startups will find it difficult to create value for the real estate market in two ways: using technology to improve efficiency or complete disruption of the whole market.

Another difficulty for proptech startups is that public sources of real estate data is fragmented and inefficient. So, startups need a lot of expertise and business relationships to build their own. This creates huge costs and hinders the growth of startups.

Though Propzy’s shutdown is really bad news for the proptech market in Vietnam, the startup receiving huge capital from famous investment funds such as SoftBank Ventures Asia, Gaw Capital, and others was positive for other small-sized startups and the entire proptech Vietnam ecosystem.

However, the history of technology startups has proven that as long as difficulties exist, we will always have new solutions to overcome them, making people’s lives happier.

Propzy did not reach its final destination. However, it will leave a pathway for other young startups to step up. In fact, within the last two years, a new wave of proptech startups has launched to solve one of the most difficult challenges in our lives: buying and selling homes.

Vietnamese proptech startup Propzy ceases operation Vietnamese proptech startup Propzy ceases operation

Startup proptech Propzy just released an internal announcement to stop its operation on September 12, and all employee labour contracts are terminated effective September 13 at 12.01am.

The wider impact of Propzy collapse to the proptech sector The wider impact of Propzy collapse to the proptech sector

With proptech startup Propzy ceasing operations, VIR’s Bich Ngoc spoke with Doan Tung, chief marketing and growth officer from Houze Group, to discover how proptech businesses like Houze can reduce risks and if Propzy’s downfall will impact investment flows.

By Linh Dan

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