Despite the negative news surrounding Pakistan, the country remains on the investors’ radar, at least in some areas of the economy.
Gilles Blanchard, a French real estate portal expert, is one such example.
Bullish on the country’s online real estate market, the French investor placed his bet on the Pakistani real estate portal zameen.com, joining as its chairman in 2012. Founded by two brothers, Zeeshan Ali Khan and Imran Ali Khan, zameen.com is Pakistan’s first dedicated real estate portal.
The French investor has been frequently visiting the company’s headquarter in Lahore. In his latest trip, fifth to the country, he also visited zameen’s offices in Karachi and Islamabad.
An authority in the property portal world, Blanchard is the founder of SeLoger.com, France’s largest online web portal. He left three years ago after serving the company’s Merger and Acquisition Department for over a decade.
In his visit to Karachi earlier this month, the French expert of online property sales told The Express Tribune what got him interested in the Pakistani real estate and the opportunities it offers.
“More than 30% of Google searches in Pakistan are done through mobile phones,” Blanchard said quoting Google Pakistan. Pointing towards his cell phone, he said, “What’s the penetration for this!”
His statement came in response to the question whether he considered Pakistan’s low internet penetration – about 10% or 3 million broadband connections – before investing in the country’s online real estate market.
“If Pakistan’s internet penetration was 80%, what would be the point of coming here,” he asked. This indicates that the market has a lot of room for growth, he said. “You have got 10 million Facebook users and that’s without 3G, which is a positive sign.”
With a population of 200 million people and a large diaspora worldwide, according to Blanchard, the country offers great opportunities for investors especially when everybody has a real estate concern.
What makes Blanchard’s story even more interesting is the fact that he received a straight ‘no’ from SeLoger.com’s German parent when he first tried to convince the latter to acquire zameen.com.
While working with SeLoger.com, Blanchard was looking for business opportunities in emerging markets. He looked at Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to get a flavour of emerging markets – he also looked at China and India but thought they were too big for him.
When he compiled data, such as population growth and internet penetration, for the emerging markets, one of the countries that popped up high was Pakistan, Blanchard said.
“I looked if there was any online portal for real estate in that country and found zameen.com. picked up my phone and called them. They didn’t answer initially but responded to my email. I met their partner in London and talked to them via video conference.
“I knew zameen.com was a golden nugget in Pakistan right after their first presentation,” Blanchard said. “I suggested we acquire them but SeLoger.com’s parent company was not interested.”
Despite a negative response from his holding company, zameen.com remained on Blanchard’s radar as he remained in contact with the two brothers.
“When I left SeLoger.com, I sold all my shares around end of 2011,” Blanchard said.
He then visited Pakistan to understand the market and then invested his money in zameen.com. While did not disclose financial details, he said that he invested exclusively in zameen’s Pakistan business.
If one explores zameen.com, it gives a clear idea as to why Blanchard chose this company for his investment. When he joined the company there was no competition as the market was very open – they now boast over 220,000 monthly visitors and 10,000 site listings a month.
“We are not bothered about break-even at this moment. We are investing continuously in marketing, team building and office expansion.
“We are spending on our sales development team, which increased about 30% to 50%. We have about 100 employees and plan to more than double that in a year.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.
Like Business on Facebook, follow @TribuneBiz on Twitter to stay informed and join in the conversation.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ