Daham Gunaratna, the pioneer behind online property advertising
How Daham Gunaratna capitalized the property industry, online.
After Daham Gunaratna Established LankaPropertyWeb.com in 2007, it has grown to become Sri Lanka’s most visited property website that features the highest number of ads listed for a website of this nature in Sri Lanka. Owing its growth to the fact that the website went live as Sri Lanka’s first few property development projects were getting off the ground, this success story of Daham Gunaratna is an example of capitalizing on an emerging industry.
Why did you decide to establish such a platform?
When I started this business back in 2007, I saw an opportunity in the Sri Lankan market for property advertising. At the time, people would hear about properties mainly through word of mouth and classified paper advertisements; an effective online platform did not exist.
Can you recall your beginnings?
This venture began inside the confines of my home in the UK. It was mainly popularized by search engine optimization to make people aware of the existence of such a platform. Naturally, people began posting their properties as they didn’t have access to such a platform before.
How did you progress through the different stages of growth?
The growth was purely organic, at the time the civil war was going on and apartments were only gradually starting to come up. Looking back, it was a good time to start but the progress was slow. Later, we moved on to introducing tools such as the housing price index so stakeholders could understand where the market was heading. As a result, all parties made successful sales, including individual sellers and developers as well. In 2015, I made the decision to establish the business further and we set up shop in Sri Lanka where our initial team of 6 has now grown to 25.
What other services do you offer?
We have an obligation to assist buyers and sellers in order to make them aware of the numbers coupled with the processes and legal terms involved with selling and purchasing property. Our idea is to become the main information hub for everything related to property in Sri Lanka. From the initial stage of research and purchase all the way through to decorating the interior of your home, we aid our clients.
Describe your business model
We have varying client segments who advertise with us. The private seller or renter manages the post on their own, this includes publishing the ad along with responding to follow ups. Then there are the property agents for whom we have a membership program in place. Finally, we have the developers who do high profile advertising with us. We also have third parties onboard such as banks, movers, energy solution providers and so on.
There is a concern that the boom in the real estate market is due to a bubble, what are your thoughts?
People need to understand what a bubble is rather than plainly equating it to high prices. Bubbles form when economic factors that aren’t sustainable lead to a rapid price increase. Eventually, the market realizes that the property simply isn’t worth it and the bubble pops. The economic factors that contribute to a bubble are not present in Sri Lanka. Prices fluctuate based on supply and demand; this is the natural progress of the market.
What are the main challenges that your operations face?
One significant challenge was the internet penetration in Sri Lanka. Then there is the fact that the market size is also relatively small, compared to neighboring countries. Lastly, a lack of clarity exists in terms of policy – investors look for long term policies and solid foundations.
After establishing yourself as a successful entrepreneur, what have you learned?
Being an entrepreneur is not easy. The general theme is to work hard and work efficiently. Be prepared to sacrifice your lifestyle as well. If you find the right product-market fit backed by a strong belief that your brand will succeed, do not give up.