Startup Insider is a series of articles with the goal of helping aspiring founders and entrepreneurs understand the ins and outs of starting a startup. We hope to dig deeper and showcase stories, advice and lessons from founders, investors and other key players in the growing startup ecosystem all over the world. You can sign up to stay up to date with this series here.
When John Dang first stepped into the Philippines, he couldn't help but notice the sheer number of new buildings being developed. Dang was excited to be seeing the country changing right before his eyes--he saw an opportunity to be part of this change.
This is where the idea of ZipMatch, an online platform that provides home buyers all the necessary information they need to be able to make smart, well-informed home buying decisions for themselves, was born. The company raised $2.5M in their Series A round of funding, and has developed new features like a 3-D floor plan feature for pre-selling condominiums and a map search feature that will allow you to go door-to-door for condominiums in an area.
I got to interview John, who shared with me his entrepreneurship journey and the different moments that helped him grow ZipMatch to what it is today.
The Journey from Asia to America and back
Prior to coming to Asia to help an online gaming company, John was the son of Chinese-Vietnam immigrants who had migrated to the US. John's parents worked hard to make sure that he had the opportunity to get a good education. His parents would leverage their home equity to purchase one home after another, exposing John early on to the real estate industry.
This would prove valuable to John especially when he decided to start his first business after graduating from the University of Southern California (USC). Along with his business partner Sean Work, John decided to start an online platform for realtors and mortgage brokers to generate leads through open house events.
After one year of planning and developing, John and Sean quickly learned that they didn't have enough experience and knowledge to build a web-based platform. John shared to me, "My partner and I would end up going our separate ways but I was still determined to learn the skills I needed."
John would jump into the real estate industry, riding the housing boom, getting a taste of what a high-octane sales environment. John shared, "It was like what you would see in movies like 'The Boiler Room' and 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'" At the same time, John felt that the real estate market couldn't sustain the high volume sales forever so he wanted to dig deeper and understand how the lead generation business worked on a mass scale.
So after spending some time learning about affiliate programs through the company called Affiliate Media Inc., John would take the opportunity to move to Asia to help an online gaming company break into the region. This would eventually lead John to the Philippines, where John saw the opportunity in the real estate industry and quickly jumped in.
The Birth of ZipMatch
John would partner with his friend and long time Filipino Real Estate Broker Chow Paredes, who understood the problems that both brokers and buyers faced. Together, they decided to solve this problem by starting a website called HomeMatch, which would later on evolve into ZipMatch, which provides both home and property buyers with information they need to make well-informed decisions.
John shared, "ZipMatch was started and was created here in the Philippines. So it was really made with the Filipino homebuyer in mind. We created ZipMatch because we know that realistically buying a home isn't easy in the Philippines and wanted to provide home buyers a place where they can get help to streamline the process."
John shared how they initially listed the pain points that homebuyers faced. This then led them to create more products and services to make it easier for homebuyers to find a home.
Life as an entrepreneur
For John, being an entrepreneur has been a continuous learning experience. He shared how every single day he's constantly learning about how to lead different types of people, how to build a superstar team, how to cultivate the right culture and how to stay true to the purpose and mission of the business.
When asked what the best thing about being an entrepreneur is, John shared, "Your business is a place you can express your creativity. The most motivating thing about it is you can create things from scratch and build projects that have never been built."
He gave the example of ZipMatch's 360degree views of properties feature, which allows homebuyers to take an actual street view of the property and other places inside the building.
Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
John recalls his days in USC and how networking was one of the biggest focuses of the business program. He shared how Greek Fraternities, the college football team and alumni associations are all things that he holds dear. He shared, "In the Philippines, I find there is a very strong connection among Filipinos and everyone is separated by a small degree of separation. In this country, more than ever, the saying 'it's not what you know but who you know' plays a big role in our success."
John is particularly excited about the Philippine tech community and how networking events like Geeks on the Beach, IdeaSpace Community Mixers and Startup Weekend sessions are becoming more common. He said, "In the beginning we were reluctant to join in fear that someone could copy our ideas. We quickly got over that and found it to be more beneficial building relationships even with our competitors."
He added, "Don't be afraid to network and share your ideas if it means you can gain more relationships. At the end of the day, ideas are a dime a dozen but execution is key."
Finally, John adviced young and aspiring entrepreneurs to try and solve real world problems, and to not just create the next social, chat app or networking type of product. He said, "Look at fundamental, real world problems like housing, transportation, education, and so on. Then see if you can create a product or provide a service where you can fix these problems for people. Focus on doing something bigger."
You can learn more about ZipMatch by visiting their website here.
---About the Author---
David Ongchoco is a student entrepreneur, avid storyteller and hustler from the Philippines studying at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in what he likes to call, LIFE. He is currently working on expanding his for-purpose organization YouthHack. It's David's goal to make an impact in the lives of as many people possible while constantly learning new things every single day. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.