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Building an Online Real Estate Business From Brazil: Brian Requarth, CEO of VivaReal (Part 2)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 9th 2014

Sramana: What’s the name of your German friend?

Brian Requarth: His name is Thomas Floracks.

Sramana: So Thomas was doing the technical work, you were doing the sales and marketing work in this little web development business that you put together?

Brian Requarth: Yes. He built the first couple of websites. I would sell the website and he would go build it. We basically did anything that we could do ranging from a website for a Christmas tree farm that sold Christmas trees to a product called QuickClot that was used in military warfare situations to stop hemorrhaging. Our portfolio was quite eclectic. I realized that we should focus on more verticals. So we started building real estate websites in Columbia. And then around 2005, VoIP was just starting to happen, and I bought some VoIP lines and started selling real estate websites in the US market.

Sramana: You were basically dialing real estate agencies and offering to build the websites for them?

Brian Requarth: Yes. Actually, it was funny because I had a background in Spanish and I was in Colombia. I started researching databases of real estate agents for Spanish surnames. So I would find names like Rodriguez or Gonzalez assuming they spoke Spanish. We built bilingual websites, and that was our product positioning and our differentiator given that there are so many Spanish-speaking people in the US. We built a template website that we sold and we also made money on the hosting of the website. I then hired some more people. Since we translated into Spanish simultaneously, I created a translation business just to make money on the side. We had translators in Colombia doing translation work for companies in Arkansas and other places in the US with a lot of immigration.

Sramana: So that’s how you were making money where on the one hand, you were building websites for Spanish-speaking real estate agents and then on the other hand, you were doing some Spanish translations from Colombia?

Brian Requarth: Exactly. We had one in-house translator. We were basically doing just anything to make ends meet because we didn’t have any money. We did that for several years. The business did okay. A couple of years later, we had 300 to 400 clients that were paying monthly fees. However, it wasn’t as big an opportunity. One thing we realized was that we were building these websites but weren’t generating any value for the agents because they weren’t getting any traffic to their websites. So I decided to evolve the business into more of a pure play marketplace model. We started building more of a central marketplace for real estate. We did that in the US Hispanic market, so we had a website in Spanish.

Sramana: What were on the two sides of the marketplace, what does that mean?

Brian Requarth: Instead of building these individual websites for the companies that didn’t get any traffic, we realized that in order to get traffic, you need to have lots of properties. So we started building more of a marketplace business connecting Spanish-speaking home buyers with real estate agents and their properties instead of just individual websites.

Sramana: You basically consolidated the inventory on each of the websites that you were building and then you brought it all together?

Brian Requarth: Exactly. We brought it all into one site. Then we started sourcing data from other places and making the website more relevant by having more content. We started that in 2007, and this whole time we’ve been pretty much bootstrapped. My dad gave me about $5,000 as seed capital when I was 25, that’s the only outside money that we took initially. In the 2007-2008 timeframe when the real estate crisis happened in the US, we started reevaluating our business because it wasn’t a very good business to be in. A lot of the agencies that we had as clients were starting to get out of the business and the business didn’t look very promising. In 2009, we had to reevaluate and we decided to pivot and look towards the more domestic markets in Latin America since we were already living there. In 2009, we launched the website in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico from Colombia.

Sramana: You were trying to do the same thing that you did for the US Hispanic market but now in a different geographical premise?

Brian Requarth: Exactly. We launched that in 2009. Around December 2008, right before we launched the websites, I received a message from an old classmate Diego Simon on LinkedIn saying he wanted to reconnect with me. Frankly, we didn’t really remember each other because it was a big group. But I responded because I was actually heading to Rio the week after that and he was in São Paulo. He was actually in a small city, a very small town in Minas Gerais where he lived with his family. Instead of asking how he was, I straightaway told him about my plans of building this business in Brazil and asked him for his feedback.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Building an Online Real Estate Business From Brazil: Brian Requarth, CEO of VivaReal
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