If you are an entrepreneur who’s wondering if you should expand your operations into another market, this interview with Rhonda Wong is perfect for you.
Rhonda Wong is the CEO and co-founder of Ohmyhome, a three-year-old prop-tech start-up that has recently set up a new office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide their growing property services to a market that is more than six times that of Singapore. So how did she and her team decide on Malaysia and how did they determine that it’s the right time to expand their operations?
Here’s Rhonda Wong sharing her thoughts and challenges on the move with you.
Why did you choose Malaysia as your first overseas market?
With the current property market in Malaysia, we see an opportunity for Ohmyhome to introduce the first DIY platform in Malaysia. We want to empower Malaysians to take charge of their property transactions, and to equip them with the relevant information before they make decisions regarding the buying, selling, or renting of their homes. We also see it as a way to help Singaporeans with their Malaysia property transactions. Singaporeans face many issues in their Malaysia property transactions, due to a lack of access to good, reliable, professional agents and a lack of familiarity.
How did you determine whether it’s the right time to enter the market or not?
To Ohmyhome, it has never been about entering the market at the right time. We started Ohmyhome in Singapore to make housing transactions simpler, faster and affordable; to be the one-stop-shop for everyone’s housing needs. With that as our mission, we ventured into Malaysia to continue revolutionising and revitalising the housing market, to provide seamless end-to-end housing solutions for all.
What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Starting out in any city always comes with the challenge of being a newcomer, without local traction and may come across as unreliable. We spent 12 months preparing for our entry, and 6 months on the ground in KL preparing for our official launch. Taking a real interest to understand the consumers, meeting the industry stakeholders, abiding by their rules and respecting the way things are done in the market are all important. All of these behind-the-scenes hard work will eventually translate into the real work that people see, and that’s when they make the judgement that “even though they are new, they are very good”.
How different is the process for building your second base in Malaysia as compared to Singapore?
The challenges are not very different from building Ohmyhome Singapore. While we have perfected our model in Singapore, it needs to be adapted to Malaysia’s local policies, property landscape, and market needs. Comparing our entry into Malaysia and the official launch in Singapore, we see a marked difference in reception towards Ohmyhome. Our entry into Malaysia has been very welcomed, and the demand for our services has been overwhelming. In fact, in just one month, we have received tremendous demand from the market and have closed our first few deals. We entered with a strong track record from Singapore’s success. Contrastingly, during our Singapore launch in 2016, we were a first-of-its-kind concept and had to go through an education process with our customers.
What are the differences between Malaysian and Singaporean buyers and sellers?
There are many Malaysians, young and old, who have multiple properties and therefore being able to trust their keys with a reputable company has been crucial to our initial success in KL. Because regulations are strict in Singapore, the worry that things could go wrong with your property in the hands of an unprofessional agent is significantly less. In Singapore, while there is also a degree of distrust towards agents, the larger pain point for consumers is the cost of agents.
How is the market in Malaysia, and what do you think property investors should take note before splashing their cash?
The market in Malaysia is soft, with higher than usual vacancy rates. However, because it has been on the downtrend for several years, good value properties for sale do spring up quite often. Rental yield varies for different districts within a state, and it is important to have a strong local understanding of the property landscape. A street away could be a difference of 20% in pricing. Guiding fellow Singaporeans through the policies and procedures, and providing trusted market knowledge, are additional reasons why Ohmyhome decided to expand into Malaysia. The property investors will be able to lean on Ohmyhome to navigate the complex process and handle everything for them.
Now that your first overseas market is up and running, do you intend to enter into another market in the region in the next two years?
Which one would it be? We have global ambitions for Ohmyhome, and plans to enter new markets will continue in the next 24 months. We are looking at those markets with a strong potential for technology-enabled real estate transactions, for example, Manila and Bangkok. These markets will benefit the most from our one-stop property solutions. Within Malaysia itself, a growth from Greater KL to Johor will also occur in the next 12 months. We have personally done real estate transactions in over 7 countries and realised that while localization is extremely important in each city, the overarching issues and pain points are very similar.
Looking back at your entrepreneurship journey, if you are to change one thing, what would you change?
I would be more confident speaking about my vision even if people may not believe in it.
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who are contemplating whether they should enter into a new market or not?
Focus on getting your service model right before you consider expansion. While speed to market is important for certain businesses to secure a first-mover advantage, doing things right before hastily expanding can greatly save you from making the same mistakes multiple times across your expansion journey. For our industry, real estate is often the most expensive purchase in one’s life, so we have to get it right.
About Rhonda Wong
Ms Rhonda Wong is the co-founder of Ohmyhome and serves as the Chief Executive Officer. Rhonda’s wealth of experience in the business and the real-estate sector has helped her drive the company to become Singapore’s first one-stop property solution. The platform officially launched in September 2016, and quickly emerged as Singapore’s #1 HDB app in January 2017. Responsible for the overall management of Ohmyhome and driving its growth, Rhonda’s many accomplishments include leading the company to become one of the best start-ups of 2017. Her mission is to simplify housing transactions and provide an enhanced home search experience that saves time and money.
Rhonda is a founding member of the inaugural Singapore PropTech Association which aims to innovate the traditional real estate industry. Her astute business acumen and passion for property make Rhonda a sought-after mentor at entrepreneurial and proptech events, and she is often invited to speak at schools and business leadership seminars. In March 2017, Rhonda was recognized as Women Icon at the Inaugural Women Icons Summit & Awards. She received the award for her entrepreneurial spirit and efforts to revolutionize the way people buy, sell and rent their homes. Avid in giving back to the community, she has volunteered across the world from Detroit, Chicago, the Dominican Republic to Singapore and Myanmar.
Before Ohmyhome, Rhonda started Anthill Realtors, a real estate agency, at the age of 29 in 2014. Headquartered in Singapore, Anthill Realtors’ forte is sourcing investment grade properties from within and abroad, with a one of a kind concierge service. Rhonda started consulting for developers in 2013 and before that, she was a salesperson at Savills where she was promoted to sales director within a year and was recognized as the best newcomer. Her journey into Savills was encouraged by her personal real estate investments.
A serial entrepreneur at heart, Rhonda has gathered a vast amount of experience as she had worked on several businesses including retail in Singapore; import and export of equipment from the USA and acted as a consultant on other businesses such as children’s education in Suzhou, China.
Rhonda graduated with distinction from Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, with majors in Finance, Entrepreneurial, Accounting and a minor in Economics. While in University, she was also awarded the Carson Scholarship to study public policy in Washington D.C. Upon graduation, Rhonda joined Nico Trading Chicago and was the only female trader employed at that time.