I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Hizzle co-founder Erik Evripidou. Erik and I talked about the Hizzle, its culture and guiding principles, the startup ecosystem in Cyprus, as well as what improvements can be made so that Cyprus fosters a fertile environment for startups. You can find the full interview below.
UBVIA: Can you describe your company in a sentence? If so, what would it be?
Erik: We are Tinder for Real Estate [laughs]. But allow me to take a minute and expand on this. Hizzle is a digital startup operating in the real estate industry. We are building the most innovative real estate platform redefining the Search and Sell experience.
We enable people looking to buy or rent a property, to post a classified ad describing the property they want, at the budget they feel comfortable with.
“We are building the most innovative real estate platform.”
On the other hand, homeowners (private owners and/or real estate agents) can respond to these ads by submitting properties that best match the ad’s description.
In the end, homebuyers can accept or reject the proposed properties.
If they accept, they automatically enter in direct contact with the owners to determine the next steps.
At this point, I would like to state that the ads are completely anonymous and free as well as submitting properties. In fact, the entire process is 100% free. Hizzle does not take part in the transaction between a buyer and a seller and there are no hidden fees.
UBVIA: You mentioned that Hizzle is not involved in the transaction. How do you ensure anonymity and that you indeed stay out of the transaction?
Erik: Classified ads are anonymous because personal data (of home buyers or renters) are never shown to the home-seller. The only visible attribute is the username which is picked by the user. When a property is matched, the two parties enter in a direct, private chat with the seller. Hizzle has no visibility of this discussion. Hizzle only facilitates the matching process. They match, they chat.
UBVIA: Do you feel the timing is right for Hizzle?
Erik: Personally, I don’t really share the feeling that everything is about timing. If you refer to timing in the sense of period, then my answer is no [smiles]. Historically, it’s not always the first-timer that becomes the most established. There are plenty of examples of good products and companies that had all the prominent tools and major advantages to be the dominant player in their space but never made it and it’s almost never a zero-sum competition.
I believe having the right execution plan is far more important and this often comes down to having the right people making the right decisions at the right time.
“Having the right execution plan is far more important and this often comes down to having the right people making the right decisions at the right time.”
For example, if you started a photo-sharing online site (let’s not mention names) back in 1998, supporting large HD images, while internet speed was at a fraction of today’s speed, you would probably not survive long as a company.
On the other hand, opening a DVD rental boutique in 1998 and progressively introducing an online rental shop before building the world’s largest streaming service, well…you get the picture.
UBVIA: Staying on the same theme of external factors and their influence, how do you anticipate market forces to impact your goals?
Erik: We look at this from a completely different angle. We focus on delivering great customer experience rather than studying the market per se. Every decision we take is directed towards the customer experience. In my opinion, the consumer will always want more information, low prices, ease of use, faster execution and great customer service, all of which fundamentally form the customer experience.
We know that technology can be confusing and that’s why we built an easy-to-use system that serves everyone.
Furthermore, we developed a platform that allows the buyer to shortlist properties based on his pricing criteria and gather more information in order to make better purchasing decisions. We also thought of the home sellers and the real estate professionals and we built tools allowing them to sell easier and build up their business.
“We focus on delivering great customer experience rather than studying the market per se. Every decision we take is directed towards the customer experience.”
UBVIA: So what you’re saying is that you’re immune from the condition of the real estate market?
Erik: The real estate market is cyclical. People will always need a place to stay. Companies might not need an office, but they need a space to work in, shared or not.
If we operate in a seller’s market, inevitably rates increase. However, you’re still going to have a lot of people who’ll want to buy or rent cheap properties because salaries don’t correlate with rates in the economy.
What do we provide? Prime digital space where you can post your request, based on your needs, at the budget you’re comfortable in, for free!
So when the market changes, sellers allocate more marketing resources to find leads and, in this scenario, Hizzle provides highly qualified and active buyers and renters to whom sellers can make offers.
“The market doesn’t dictate what we do. That’s why our interests and objectives are focused on customer experience.”
In short, we look at the market in terms of the evolution of the real estate industry – known as proptech. So we are constantly on the lookout for new features and ideas whose primary objective is to improve and enrich the experience on our platform. We have a well-thought-out product roadmap ahead and we plan on executing it in the right way.
So, if the question is, do we look at the market from an economic point of view and take decisions affecting the business based on the market’s general direction? The answer is no!
The market doesn’t dictate what we do. That’s why our interests and objectives are focused on the customer experience. Further, we will always make sure that shareholder interests also fall in that line.
UBVIA: How would you best describe what makes yourself and the team at Hizzle stand out among potential competitors, at least domestically?
Erik: Let me clarify a key difference. We are not a real estate company, we’re a digital technology company that happens to be in this space and operates within the conditions that exist in it. We take bold bets every week and bold bets mean running user-tests every other day.
I think that’s important because tests can either succeed or fail. The more you repeat this process, inevitably you will also meet failures, and that’s fine too. We accept failure in the process of reaching the desired target. Embracing failure becomes a key ingredient in becoming who we are as a company.
“We accept failure in the process of reaching the desired target. Embracing failure becomes a key ingredient in becoming who we are as a company.”
I believe as a startup it’s fundamental to be flexible and agile while keeping a strong direction towards the grand vision. It could happen that we might never reach it as the final product may be very different than what originally set out to develop. I think you kind of need to always operate in the future.
I am not sure if this is what sets us apart from the competitors, but this is our culture. We are relentlessly stubborn in working towards the grand vision and flexible enough to develop tools with the objective of improving the end customer experience. This is what makes us special.
UBVIA: How do you feel about the startup ecosystem in Cyprus? Further, how do you feel that the ecosystem is served by public institutions and current infrastructure?
Erik: There’s not a great deal of startup companies with an international approach, however, some do exist and indeed have great foundations.
Overall, the startup scene on the island is at a nascent stage which is a pity if you consider that Israel is only an hour away and it’s one of the biggest innovation clusters in the world attracting the best and the brightest.
To clear things up, there is a big difference between a small business (or a very small business) and a startup. Steve Blank – who is considered a startup guru – defines a startup as a “temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”, while a small business runs according to a fixed business model such as a local bakery or a hairdresser.
From that perspective I believe that in order to deliver a sound startup ecosystem we should look at it as a formula of three dependent variables:
public institutions X private sector X mentality of the local taskforce
Should we copy rules and principles that exist in most types of businesses and apply them to startups? Probably not, there should be a certain degree of flexibility. In most cases, an idea is literally born out from 2-3 friends who join in on a common vision and probably started out in their own apartment. Do we really need to bear all the costs of setting up an office and a private company? Early-stage funding is a startup’s biggest problem.
This is a good example where the public authorities could propose a creative solution to help young entrepreneurs, not only by preparing the groundwork to apply for funding to different institutions but to acknowledge the startup initiative and allow them to be flexible.
“I believe the most important variable is to engrave the startup mentality from early on.”
However, I believe the most important variable is to engrave the startup mentality from early on. Universities could play a big role here either by organizing startups competitions or by focusing on specific issues and forming team projects to solve them. We need to embed the word “create” in our system and to train ourselves to operate outside of our comfort zone.
Overall, I would say that we need to create a different set of rules for startups in order to attract a higher number of people trying to bring their idea into life. Local startup companies lack international exposure more than anything, even more than funding, this kind of exposure is usually given through incubators or accelerators and VCs so we should work creatively and collectively to reach the point that these institutions consider Cyprus as an innovation cluster.
UBVIA: How does one go about so that can be achieved? How does Cyprus work towards that course-correction?
Erik: Firstly, we need to create a startup mentality. This needs to come early on. It comes down to our own culture. It’s about factoring failure into your model. We accept failure. If you’re willing to operate outside of your comfort zone that means you’re willing to take more risks and be bold in your decisions.
Now, how do we do this? Schools and universities. Find a specific issue to focus one and work creatively to propose solutions. It could be an initiative co-organized by a university and the public or private sector. We need to move past the stalwart professions in Cyprus. Not everyone has to be a lawyer or accountant. Everyone has a gift, but it doesn’t mean your gift is your calling.
“We need to move past the stalwart professions in Cyprus. Everyone has a gift, but it doesn’t mean your gift is your calling.”
Jeff Bezos said, “you can be great at math, that’s your skill, how you’re going to use that knowledge and find your calling, that’s a choice you make.” In order to embed the word ‘create’ in our mentality, we need to make a choice to move out of our comfort zone. That might mean pushing against traditional norms and habits prevalent on the island.
Expanding on that, public institutions should embrace and encourage young people to seek entrepreneurship and startups. Startups are very easy to double in size, whereas, large corporations more than often lay people off.
UBVIA: What are your short-term goals for Hizzle? Further, what are some of your milestones?
Erik: The objectives are always the same, work towards the customer experience and improve it.
I can tell you though that we are super hyped for the next two quarters as we are in the process of developing new features that will make the experience even more exciting.
During the course of this year, we are also planning to expand to other regions, Greece being the next one in line.
UBVIA: Finally, if you could describe your current outlook for the company in one phrase, what would it be?
Erik: Bold bets!