THE toughest part of purchasing a property when you don't reside in the same country or even town is making the trips required to actually view the property to see if it fits your requirements. As a result, many international investors are prevented from purchasing properties abroad.
Malaysian startup VR Lab hopes to solve this pain point for international investors with their virtual reality-based solution called V-Prop Touch, which was launched in August last year.
Eye on dominating the Asian property market
In a recent phone interview with Digital News Asia, VR Lab chief executive officer and co-founder Shireen Tan shared her aspirations for the company. "In the mid-term, we aspire to dominate the Southeast Asian (SEA) market for virtual reality (VR) technology. We are still educating people on VR and need more statistics [examples] to affirm that it works and is what the market demands.â€
Disrupting property showrooms, a time tested approach for developers the world over, is in her crosshairs. "Property developers no longer need showrooms. They can pay us US$75,800 (RM300,000) for a VR showroom and do away with building a US$252,000 (RM1 million) showroom. The savings can then be passed on to property buyers.â€
Last year, VR Lab successfully secured UEM Sunrise Bhd as their first property client, building a VR showroom for the developer's new high-rise development in the Klang Valley. According to Tan, the property developer is the first in the country to use the multi-user VR solution V-Prop Touch, which allows prospective buyers to â€˜view' the property in a VR environment.
"Sales increased to 66% versus the expected 50% sales. That is an affirmation to us about the success of the solution" she says. Since then VR Lab has been working with UEM to promote their projects in Johor Bahru, Hong Kong, Singapore and upcoming projects in China as well. They are also currently in discussions with other property developers to implement the solution.
So what makes V-Prop Touch different from other VR solutions? "It is the VR live experience. You can â€˜walk' around the space, touch and interact with objects and experience the space. Our VR is an immersive, sales closure tool" she says.
The long term goal is ambitious and bold. "In three years' time we hope that the entire SEA market will accept VR technology when it comes to buying property. The long-term vision is for us to become the largest player in the world with a VR property sales platform.â€
To achieve that goal, they plan to expand to Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Japan; namely, the major property hubs that international investors are interested in.
Tan credits being in the current cohort of Telstra-backed accelerator muru-D for helping further their focus on VR solutions for the property market. "The feedback from international investors while in the accelerator is that they would like to see more of V-Prop Touch, compared to the gaming centres we have in Malaysia.â€
She is referring to the 8 VR experience centres the company currently has, which are centred on gaming. "We have 7 in the Klang Valley, one in Kuching. We started this VR chain in 2016 with our goal to educate the market on the power of VR and the various types of VR" she explains.
The muru-D experience
Commenting on her experience in the muru-D accelerator, Tan feels the accelerator is a good platform for startups who want to go international. "First of all, the mentorship is awesome, because they actually invited lots of different mentors to come in and share. They taught us how to improve pitching, what international investors look for.
"It helped us to grow. My co-founder and I have run businesses for more than 10 years in Malaysia, which is very different than running a business for the international scene, where muru-D has really helped us.â€
As a CEO and co-founder how has the experience helped her become a better leader? Tan explains that part of the mentor masterclasses also covers leadership. "It's about understanding yourself before you can actually lead people. Sometimes we set expectations for ourselves and expect everyone else to be able to accomplish something. But sometimes we need to step back and see that it is our strength and not expect everyone else to be the same. I realised that what is most important to the business is the people.â€
The next level for VR
Tan believes that VR will replace computers and smartphones a few years down the line. "VR is still primitive, but five years down the road, it can phase out mobile phones and laptops" she predicts.
"This is also the reason Google, Microsoft, HTC, Apple are focusing on VR-related products right now. Therefore, the advancement in mobile phone technology is not as fast as before, because they have changed their focus. VR is something that mobile phone makers and computer makers do not know how to sell.â€
She also believes that the next big thing is VR will be the hardware stores. "Right now our experience centres focus on gaming, but one day they will be VR hardware stores.â€
Are they looking at offering VR live solutions for verticals other than property?
"Yes. Right now we're looking at property, the industry which is currently the most primitive. Most buyers still have to go to a physical showroom, whereas our VR live solution allows them to book a property from anywhere in the world.
"Because of this platform we are also working with banks and lawyers, to complete the property sale transaction process. We have a few lawyers on board already and are already in discussions with three local banks in Malaysia.â€
She shares that once the financial side has been addressed the next phase will kick in. "Once we can make payments in VR and once the market matures in about three years' time, and VR headsets are much cheaper, that's where we see v-commerce taking off.â€
"Virtual reality will help v-commerce become widespread. We want to create a v-commerce platform, like PayPal, except using virtual reality. We are already talking to some banks concerning this" she concludes.