How to build a portal – Lessons from a success

One of the perennial themes on Business2 is the need for a strong competitor to realestate.com.au and domain.com.au. I’ve previously told you that, if you think you’re going to launch an “REA killer,” you’re dreaming.

I stand by that prior post. But three things make it worth looking at exactly what is involved in setting up a portal that serves real estate agents: the anti-REA sentiment, the creation of Real Estate Digital Marketing Services and the expected launch of a new industry portal.

To reveal the secrets of starting a successful portal, I turned to someone with direct experience: Bill Tamvakologos.

Over the last four months, Bill has helped launch and build a successful business-for-sale portal, anybusiness.com.au. His advertisers are business brokers, and commercial and residential real estate agents from across Australia.

Serving real estate agents as he does, Bill has great insight into the industry, but is impartial in the battle over listings. [Disclaimer: I work for Juwai.com, which has a commercial relationship with Bill’s company.]

Q. Why did you launch Anybusiness.com.au?

Bill: My previous role was the national manager of realbusinesses.com.au (RBA), part of the REA Group and then the #1 businesses-for-sale site in Australia. When the decision was made internally to shutdown RBA, we saw an opportunity to build a new portal by improving on the best elements of RBA, but also incorporating key business-critical tools specifically designed for the business broking market, like our AnyDigitalSolutionSuite.

Q. How hard was it?

Bill: We knew the biggest obstacle we had to face was building traffic and enquiry. To be honest it wasn’t that hard to actually build the site. That’s the easy part. The support that we received from the brokers across the country was humbling, so building subscribers and listings were also not a major challenge.

Q. What does it take for a new portal to become a raging success?

Bill: You have to focus on generating real value to the advertiser. For example, raging success for us in 5 years equates to our members receiving bucket loads of value from AnyBusiness, but all at a very reasonable cost.

Q. You recently signed a partnership with my employer, Juwai.com. What’s that about?

Bill: That’s part of our effort to generate more visibility for our customers’ business listings, and more leads for our members. Buyers from China and India generate 30% to 50% of inquiries into the purchase of Australian businesses.

Q. How does the competitive landscape affect a new portal’s chances of success?

Bill: Every new portal faces the challenge of explaining why they are better than sites that have been established for many years. In our case, when RBA exited the businesses-for-sale space, it left a gapping hole and a splintered marketplace with many small sites. This confused the consumer and gave us an opportunity to grow quickly, provided we could offer a better solution.

Q. Are there some things that are vital when launching a new portal, but overlooked by most entrepreneurs with stars in their eyes?

Bill: A lot of people think that setting up a portal is straightforward – but it’s not that simple. Anyone can build a website, but it’s elements such as the user experience, the database structure, the back-end administration, the SEO considerations, the industry knowledge and most importantly the financial backing that are the more complicated and can make or break a portal.

Q. What does it take for a new portal to become the leader?

Bill: Over the years I have seen many new portals come and go. Most never get the needed traction with the advertisers or the users.

You need to be in it for the long-run and invest heavily. You simply can’t be focused on short-term financial gains. It takes time to become No. 1.

A crucial element is to not operate as a one-man-band. You need to build the business with solid foundations, systems and structure. If you can make the founders obsolete, you have a viable business that doesn’t depend on any individual to keep growing.

Q. What growth strategies should new portals follow?

Bill: At anybusiness.com.au, we found that sustained investment and offering a suite of tools made the most sense. We have to deliver as much value as possible to our members, so we don’t rely solely on the site itself. We also provide tailored digital solutions to pro-actively stimulate enquiry and positive ROI for brokers.

Any portal should also have a major focus on SEO and SEM, as we do. And, you have to invest all of your profits back into the business for research and development, to build new products like our AnyApp for smart phones and tablets.

Q. How much of its revenue does a portal spend on marketing?

Bill: If you are serious, marketing and technology will easily be the majority of your portal’s spend. Many of the small sites have a free-to-list or very low-cost model. That is not sustainable for building a market leader because you won’t have the resources to invest in growth. In our case, we spend on SEO, paid search, online display advertising, remarketing, partnerships etc. We operate very lean, so that the majority of our revenue and funding can be dedicated to marketing.

Q. Is it necessary to have a sales team that calls or visits customers in person?

Bill: I believe it is essential for any portal to have a sales team. It doesn’t necessarily have to always be in person, but it is crucial to provide your members access to a team of specialists. This obviously starts with a sales team, but you also need IT & customer support.

Q. Any last words?

Bill: Try to find a niche or market that you can dominate. For example, our portal anybusiness.com.au is the only serious player in the market that is dedicated to the business-broking space. We live and breathe ‘businesses for sale’ and will continue to develop and build value for our members. That focus gives us a real advantage.

SEO For Real Estate
Listing Leads
Agentpoint Real estate

About Dave Platter

Dave does PR in real estate and technology.

11 Responses to How to build a portal – Lessons from a success

  1. Glenn Batten August 4, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Nice article Dave..

    I think the timing for these guys was the most important factor in this one. I dont want to take away from the technical aspect, the overall design and user interface and the sales talent… but If they would have tried the same thing in the marketplace just 12 months earlier whilst RBA was in operation I bet their first 12 months would have been very different.

    You have to congratulate the entrepreneurial spirit to identify the opportunity and then to act on it. They have then employed much of the stategies that have made the REA Group a success as well as benefiting from operating a tighter and leaner machine and learning from their mistakes..

    I am surprised you did not ask the obvious question. “When do you think REA will offer to buy you out?” 🙂

    The biggest difference with the residential space is that it is not the right time as their is no hole in the market ready for a new player to walk into. They have to fight for every scrap they get.

    • Dave Platter August 4, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

      Great comments, Glenn. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Anybusiness benefitted from great timing, and I don’t know that any new residential portal will have that same benefit.

  2. Peter August 4, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    I wish these guys all the best, but the hole left by REA was filled with the site which ranked directly beneath them in the serps (www.BizListings.com.au, http://www.SeekCommercial.com.au, Gumtree, etc).

    REA wasn’t a site that was on the top of peoples heads when selling a business, like RealEstate.com.au is when selling a house. So the only people effected by their departure were the brokers who advertised with them.

    Any Business have done a fantastic job (as they were employed by REA) scooping up REA’s broker advertisers when they closed. And my prediction is that when the brokers realise that their listings are getting no enquiries, they will start looking elsewhere.

    I’ve been in the business for sale niche since 2004 and it is extremely competitive! I can already see that 99% of Any Business’s traffic comes from paid search (adwords), and unless they have a huge budget for online marketing/SEO, they can expect that trend to continue.

  3. Geoff Baldwin August 6, 2014 at 5:26 am #

    Not so many years ago Realtor.com was the absolute dominant force in the USA. Today it is a poor cousin to Zillow and Trulia…..,the latter now in the process of being swallowed by the former. I visit the US at least once a year and I can assure you that back then, no one would have predicted the changes that have taken place in the online real estate landscape over there. It was once considered to be impossible to break the 4 minute mile, to land on the moon, to climb Everest. I’m so glad some people were not convinced. Establishing a sustainable competitor to REA maybe our industry’s Everest but I for one am up for the climb.

    • Dave Platter August 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

      I love the poetry of your comment, Geoff. And I love its spirit. But, I don’t entirely agree that Realtor.com is a good model. For one, realtor.com never had the dominance in the US that REA has here. Also, it was hampered by its structure, in which the Realtors association exercised final control and forced it to compete with Zillow and Trulia with one hand tied behind its back. I’m willing to concede a new portal could beat REA – if REA gives it plenty of unintentional help by making mistakes. In fact, they are already making many mistakes, as it is.

    • Glenn Rogers August 7, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

      I agree Geoff but whoever does it will have to charge very little and give exceptional service.
      You can still make a lot of money doing it that way, no need to create a monster such as REA.

    • Glenn Batten August 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

      Realtor.com was not the dominant force. It was certainly the market leader but its marketshare of realestate traffic in the USA at its peak was still only barely in the double digit range.

      As at January this year Zillow has about 16%, Trulia 8% and Realtor.com 7%. Last year they were all under 10% marketshare. None of those are dominant dominant numbers.

      However, with Zillow to buy Trulia and Zillow recently growing their market share aggressively ( by more than 50% in the previous 12 months from 9% to 16%) they will be the dominant market if not so already. Potentially in January 2015 they could have 40% of all real estate traffic in the USA which is a massive beast !!!

  4. Brian Linnekens August 6, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Real estate business projects have long gestation projects and therefore as a real estate businessman one should be patient and persevering about success

    Brian Linnekens

  5. Martin Crampton August 8, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    “REA has posted a net profit of $149.9 million for the year ending June 30 2014, with revenue up 30 per cent”. http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2014/8/8/technology/rea-group-full-year-profit-jumps-37
    At some stage, price matters in any market.

  6. Robbert Dekker August 27, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    I Agree that timming in this case was/in an essential pilar for the success of anybusiness.com.au.
    I´m currently building a new portal and I´m investigating the key factors that in my opinion are also valuable:

    1) Content and quality: user will tend to go to those property portals that offer them the best properties. Good photos and descriptions are essential.

    2) Quantity: in my opinion users will go to those portals offering the largest offering.

    3) Freshness of content: There is nothing more anoying for a user to submitt an enquiry to find out it was sold.

    4) Usability & Adaptability: Think mobile. Probably 50% of all visits nowadays come from tablets or mobile devices an this percentage is growing each day.

    5) Having a good team is essential. By that I mean no duplicate functions or friends involved. Hire people that are capable and complement the key aspects of your business and get rid of those with a negative influence.

    Regards from Spain.

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