The dynamic duo behind the app that’s revolutionising Australian property management shares strategies for leading a new direction in the industry
:Different is making property managers more efficient and productive while delighting tenants, which is a genuinely groundbreaking feat in and of itself. The app, whose initial version launched in 2017, automates myriad details of rental ownership that may slip through the cracks, assisting tenants with maintenance requests and communication, and even guaranteeing on-time rent payment to property owners. The app lowers cost of ownership by reducing property management fees. If you don’t own property, :Different just might be the enticement you need to take the plunge.
The enticement for Mina Radhakrishnan and Ruwin Perera to create :Different came, as the best innovations do, from the intersection of love and need. The spousal team cooked up the notion as a way to help their property-owning parents, who expressed their wish for a better way to manage rental properties.
As Radhakrishnan explained, “We were looking at building a company and creating something that was really fundamentally about creating a joyful consumer experience for everyday people. It wasn’t about trying to create a luxury experience for the really affluent, it was just, ‘How can we build something that is used by ordinary people all the time?’ When you think of the things that we all do — family, love, home — home was the common theme and element.”
They examined the ways people live in their homes, regardless of whether they own or rent. “In some ways, homes are like children because they have needs, and nobody else can attend to them except the people who consider the place they live in to be home. (Creating :Different) was about making it easier and happier to be in your home.”
“Property Management as an industry has a very unique place in the home,” Perera added. “The only person that an owner will trust with the keys to their home is the property manager. There’s a fundamental opportunity to change how people live, but I think that in order to deliver something great for owners and occupants you need to have that trust.”
Out of the frying pan, into a home of their own
The opportunity to strike out on their own as a team gives Radhakrishnan and Perera a different (so to speak) level of satisfaction than creating and fostering others’ ideas. “We both have been very early employees at fast-growing companies, and there certainly is something special about that,” said Radhakrishnan. “But when it’s your own business, how you make decisions, your level of involvement in everything, every bit of love and passion that you have for it is at a different level. There are times that no matter what company you’re at, even if you’re very senior and reporting to the CEO at the end of the day, someone can say, ‘This happened and this is going to be what we do.’
“There’s something about being able to drive the direction of how you build a company, what the company values are, what we want to do for our customers, how we treat each other as employees, all of that is something that, especially for Ruwin and myself, getting to do it together as husband and wife is a major thing for us because it’s such a huge part of what we do. Our relationship exists on another level as well.”
Perera concurred. “Mina and I have interesting complementary experience that I think is very helpful as a husband and wife team. My background is in much more of the global business side, having been with Google and SoftBank, and Mina is much more on the product and technical side as she was with Uber.” (When Radhakrishnan joined the rideshare innovator, “it was still just a big green button,” she revealed.)
“Together we can make decisions as a team and our interests are always aligned,” he continued. “We’re married, we are executing on a shared vision, and with respect to our team we make every single different employee an owner because we want them to feel ownership in the business. In doing that, they can get the same level of satisfaction. … We’re trying to change how people think. And that’s a really cool thing.”
Because you don’t have to be a real estate magnate to invest in the Australian rental property market, owning rental homes is a reliable and convenient source of income for many everyday Aussies, and is the No. 1 choice of small investors.
“My dad is an accountant, my mum’s a bank teller,” Perera said. “These are regular people. This investment is their nest egg.” Their folks were plunking down a month’s rent each year to pay for a property manager, and the couple was convinced there had to be a more affordable management service to choose. There wasn’t, so they set out to build it themselves.
In addition to pinpointing the consumer need for fairer pricing, the pair was very much aware that property management isn’t the most transparent industry, especially compared to consumer financial institutions. “You might have $10,000 in your bank account or $500 in your bank account, but you always know exactly what is happening with your bank account. You can go online and see your balance, every transaction, every fee,” Perera pointed out.
As a property owner, he stressed, “You might have $700,000 tied up in your property, or $100 million and you don’t have any transparency. We’re used to dealing with every other aspect of our financial lives. You bring that transparency and visibility to property management through a combination of linking technology and people. There’s a consumer need here, we are blending technology and people to help us solve it, and then secondly, as we looked at a whole bunch of people that are paying more than they fairly ought to be paying we felt that there was a business opportunity there. And then, beyond that, it leads to so many other things that you can do in your home.”
Connecting people, technology, and life’s experiences
“The way in which you create a really successful consumer business is by bringing people and technology together,” Radhakrishnan said. “You have to create technology that automates the work that people don’t want to do, like the 80 per cent of stuff that people aren’t, honestly, very good at. We procrastinate, we forget, we don’t like to do the same manual thing over and over again. That’s exactly the kind of thing that technology is great at: It remembers. It never forgets. It’s happy to do the same tasks repeatedly and never make a mistake. 80 per cent of this job is about that, doing those things consistently, doing them right, doing them every day without forgetting.
“Then there’s the other 20 per cent of the job, which is having empathy. Negotiating. Having hard conversations. For example, there’s a property that we have where a tree fell into the pool. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. We’re not in the place today that technology can magically handle that. It’s the kind of thing where you need people figuring out what actually happened, how to solve it, how to deal with it, and where we go from here.
“That’s exactly the way we built our system. The 80 per cent of work that people don’t really want to do and aren’t really good at is handled by technology. We track it, monitor it, and focus on it. The 20 per cent of things that people are really great at is seamlessly built into our system so there’s feedback going into that loop: We know there are things we can do, and how we can handle things. Ultimately, people continue to focus on the stuff they’re good at, and I think that’s a challenging thing. It’s much easier to build software for a task. It’s much more challenging to build software that is fundamentally enabling human workflows and human communication. That takes a lot of time. From my experience at Uber and Google and other companies, I know that’s the case. Continuing to build a company based around that concept is a huge part of what we do.”
As individuals and as a couple, the co-founders have lived and worked around the world. Choosing Australia as the perfect spot for :Different was easy to agree on. The Perera’s parents were born in Sri Lanka and call Australia home, as does their son. “For me, looking at Australia, I always wondered why people weren’t building great Australian companies,” he mused. “It’s the second wealthiest country in the world after Switzerland on a per-capita basis, and people here are willing to take a punt on new services. People here are very technology forward, and in percentage terms, technology penetration is higher in Australia than it is in the United States. For me it was an element of building an Australian company that was always there, but secondly, I felt it was a uniquely good market for it.”
His partner, born in Canada and raised in Africa, sees Australia as the next incubator for significant technological progress. “There are unique characteristics for the market that make it a really interesting place to build a company,” she said. “We felt like we wanted to try something a little bit different and challenge the concept that the only place you can build a technology company is in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.
“There’s something special about San Francisco and Silicon Valley that is not easy to replicate, but we’ve been privileged enough to be a part of that. To have this incredible network and to learn so much at these great companies, I feel like if you don’t get that kind of cross pollination, that specialness, it will never happen anywhere else. For us it was a great opportunity to try it in a new place.”
As Perera put it, “the next generation of great companies are those that can create great tech-enabled consumer experiences. Mina was responsible for a lot of what Uber developed, and when I look it over it seems really very simple, an app, but the reason it seemed so simple is because it is so complex. It’s not as much a technology business as it is a people business, and I think a lot of folks don’t realize that. The next generation of companies that are able to create great experiences for consumers while being able to move seamlessly between technology and people in a fashion that is completely transparent to the user. By virtue of Mina’s experience, we are really in a position to be able to do precisely that.”
While Radhakrishnan may be the technology driver in the enterprise, she, like her husband, is driven by the need for solutions to problems that are life-affirming. “We need to become more aware that there’s more to life than the screen in front of us. A really important part of the technology that we build is that it should enable us to do things that have nothing to do with tech, whether that’s taking a walk in the park, spending time with our families, whatever it happens to be. Those things should be enhanced by technology, not reduced by it.”
:Different is the first and only property management service to blend time-saving technology with expert property management agents to provide a fair and transparent service that allows both owners and tenants to have 24/7 access to an online platform with all information and tools they may need.
By automating the things that people forget, put off or let slip, :Different can offer full-service property management for just $100 per month. Its innovative technology — led by two business leaders from Silicon Valley — handles the day-to-day transactions while letting the property managers focus on creating and nurturing long-lasting relationships with owners and tenants.
Simply put, :Different’s smarter approach to property management allows you to get the most from your investment property while enjoying fairer prices and a better customer experience. Why settle for anything less?
85 William St.
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Phone: 1 300 00 GRIN (4746)