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Niche property site set to go national

The unimaginative among us may lament that ‘all the good ideas are taken’. For young Melbourne entrepreneurs Jordan Catalano and Tom Hywood, that notion is ridiculous.

Already with a number of successful pursuits under their belts, including an iPhone app and an international art distribution business, Catalano (23) and Hywood (22) – are making waves in the property business.

Like many bright ideas, the idea for Apartment Developments came to Catalano when he was looking to purchase an off-the-plan property.

Jordan tom
Jordan Catalano and Tom Hywood,
Apartment Developments

“In looking at the main property websites, I couldn’t find anywhere that was dedicated to off-the-plan developments. I was having to go through countless pages of established homes, only to find one or two results amongst them, and it didn’t seem like a particularly efficient way to go about it. So I thought it was definitely a big enough market, and why not grab the opportunity and start a business which allows people to look for off-the-plan developments,” Catalano tells Dynamic Business.

Having always wanted to go into business together, old school-friend Hywood loved the idea, and the pair starting making the website a reality.

“Especially in Melbourne, apartment developments are such a prominent and huge chunk of the real estate industry, and it was just absurd that there was no dedicated resource to showcase what is available. So it was a bit of a no-brainer as soon as Jordan voiced his idea to me,” Hywood says.

Officially launching earlier this year, Apartment Developments has already received $200k in investment from the development community. With plans to soon branch into the Sydney market, Catalano and Hywood say the local investment climate is no Silicon Valley though.

“We’ve found that investors still aren’t seeing the full potential in digital ventures, and while we’re definitely on our way, it’s certainly a bit harder to raise capital in an environment which still isn’t sold on digital ventures,” Catalano says. “But in saying that, we’ve been lucky enough to have interest from industry figures who do definitely see the value in it. We’re in an industry where there is a lot of money, and if they do see a good idea they are willing to get behind it, which has been lucky for us.”

The website build is an ongoing process, and as the pair attests, getting all the creases ironed out always takes longer than one anticipates. “We started getting the designs done at the end of last year, and we hired one of the best design agencies in Melbourne to do it. They took a couple of months until we got everything perfected, and then the build started in February of this year, and we’re just perfecting it now. I think it always takes longer than you expect, but we’re really happy with how it’s looking,” Catalano says.

As with any product-heavy website, the pair also encountered a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, and had to offer some free space to advertisers in order to have a product to showcase.

“You can’t really go to the market with a website with no content, and we can’t start dealing with advertisers if we don’t have an audience. So what we did first was we offered free ads to the industry to get some content on there, and now we’re really starting the push towards the general public,” Hywood says.

The reception so far has been strong from the development industry, but the pair have been surprised by the response from the public, despite not having yet launched their full-scale marketing campaign.

As for the incumbents in the online real estate space posing a threat to their idea, the pair are confident their startup mentality gives them the edge.

“Both realestate.com.au and Domain do have sections on their websites, but they’re not comprehensive. They’re also so established now, they don’t have that startup mentality and they don’t have the ability to just up and start something new, because it could jeopardise their existing user-base,” Hywood says.

“I think the way that internet usage is going, people want to use niche sites, people tend to want to go to sites that specifically cater to what they want, rather than a myriad of other things. So I think we’re lucky that we are a startup, and we’ve got the flexibility of trying different things, and if they don’t work, then we can scrap them, and if they do work, then we can further develop them,” Catalano adds.

With plans to soon launch in Sydney, both Catalano and Hywood have made this venture their full-time jobs, and their sights are firmly set on raising further capital, and spreading nationwide.

Stephanie Zillmanhttp://www.dynamicbusiness.com.au
Stephanie is the editor-at-large of Dynamic Business. Stephanie brings with her a passion for journalism, business, and new ideas. On her days off, you might find her reading a book on the beach.