99.co, a property rental and sales site that launched in Singapore last November, has scored a deal of its own after closing $1.6 million (SG$2 million) in funding from Sequoia and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. The company confirmed that the round values it at $8 million (SG$10 million).
This new funding will go towards continuing to scale the business, as it begins to look at overseas expansion opportunities this year. 99.co raised a $650,000 seed round from a range of investors including 500 Startups last year when it soft-launched its website.
At this point, 99.co is operational in Singapore only. That may be a relatively small market of five million people, but its real estate industry is arguably the most developed in Southeast Asia. As we wrote last year, existing players PropertyGuru and iProperty lead the domestic market. 99.co claims to have 26,000 listings, more than double the 11,000 it had in November, and it is aiming to do things differently to its more established rivals.
99.co CEO and co-founder Darius Cheung told TechCrunch that the ad-based model of other services effectively allows real estate agents to pay to have their listings feature more prominently. 99.co takes a more user-centric approach, it doesn’t prioritize any results and uses only its search algorithm to surface listings.
“We’re offering a new way of doing property search. Our search results are relevant to our visitors and not corrupted by advertising money,” Cheung — who sold his previous security software startup to McAfee for a reported $25 million — told TechCrunch.
Though it is not yet monetizing its service yet, Cheung said 99.co will likely make money via a fee to property owners that secure business from the site. The site could charge a flat fee for all listings too, he added.
The idea for the service came from Cheung’s own experience trying to find a flat in Singapore. That’s also how Saverin — who relocated to Singapore from the U.S. in 2012 — got involved in the startup. Cheung said that Saverin, who he knows via mutual friends, grew frustrated by property agents demanding high commission rates for helping him find a place to live.
“It’s a personal problem he identifies with,” Cheung said.
99.co has plans to expand its site across Southeast Asia this year. Cheung said that an expansion will probably happen in the second half of 2015, and he is not ruling out the possibility of acquiring sites in other countries to grow.
While he said that Singapore is probably the most lucrative market right now — he claimed it is worth more than Indonesia, despite its far larger population of 250 million people — he does see things changing in the not too distant future.
“We do believe that the growth over the next five to seven years will come from the region, and that there’s an opportunity to be king of the hill in Southeast Asia for property search,” he added.
Correction: The figures in the original version of this story were in Singapore Dollars not US Dollars, that’s now been fixed.