Carey Eaton’s Legacy: How Tech Changed The Way People Buy And Rent Kenya Real Estate

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Written by Ann Brown

When Jamie Pujara moved from New York City back to his native Kenya, he had to find a place to live the old fashioned way — by walking from neighborhood to neighborhood looking for property for sale or rent.

Out of frustration, Pujara co-founded and launched in 2012 the online property portal BuyRentKenya.

Pujara, 33, wanted to bring to Kenyans the ease of online property searches that he had become accustomed to while living in the U.S. It took some convincing to get Kenyans consumers to use the online service and post listings on the site.

In May, 2014, South African online media firm One Africa Media acquired a stake in BuyRentKenya. Carey Eaton was the co-founder of One Africa Media group of companies that included Cheki, BrighterMonday, and StayNow.

The entire African tech startup community was shocked in 2014 when Eaton was murdered in a Nairobi robbery.

One Africa Media was the largest online classifieds company in Africa, Forbes reported at the time of Eaton’s death.

BuyRentKenya has become one of Kenya’s most popular property listing sites, reporting 150,000 visitors a month and featuring more than 15,000 listings of residential and commercial properties.

Jamie Pujara talked to AFKInsider about his relationship with Eaton and the journey for BuyRentKenya.

AFKInsider: Why did you start the company?

Jamie Pujara: My co-founder, Nicolas Adamjee, and I launched BuyRentKenya in August 2012. A year earlier I had been looking for a new place in Nairobi and had a really tough time getting access to information and listings. It was a very frustrating experience and I had to deal with numerous brokers and spend a lot of time finding a new apartment. In the end I found the most efficient way was to drive around town asking security guards or caretakers of apartment buildings that I liked if there was any availability. The tipping point happened a few months after. Nicolas was visiting me in Nairobi and was looking at investment in property and again we struggled to find centralized information about what was available. It was then that we decided to launch BuyRentKenya. We figured if we were frustrated by the process of finding property we may as well try create a solution to fix it.

AFKInsider: How did you fund the startup?

Jamie Pujara: In the beginning we bootstrapped. And then within a year as we established ourselves as the No. 1 portal in the country we began receiving offers for investment. We decided to go with One Africa Media (OAM), who owned the Cheki (car classifieds) and Brighter Monday (job classifieds) brands in Kenya, and they ended up buying a minority stake in BuyRentKenya.

AFKInsider: What were some major challenges you faced when you started?

Jamie Pujara: Initially, the barrier was educating agents on how to use the platform. We had to explain to agents the need and benefits of advertising online. Once we got the initial listings the challenge was to improve the quality. So we held workshops and one-to-one trainings on educating agents what information to include and what photos to include and how to regularly update their content to ensure we could get quality listings. The other major challenge was fraud. We had to ensure that every property uploaded was moderated and put in systems to monitor and evaluate each broker and agency that was using our system.

AFKInsider: Why is your company needed?

Jamie Pujara: Property affects everyone, whether it’s the young person moving out to their own place, a married couple looking for a larger space because they’re expecting a child, the investor who is looking to have a property portfolio, or someone looking for a holiday or retirement home. BuyRentKenya has a purpose for all these groups, and ultimately, it’s about making the property search easier. I feel sometimes we get distracted when we discuss new products and developments and I always have to bring my team back to this core principle of “are we making it easier for people to find their next home?”

AFKInsider: How do you stand out from your competitors?

Jamie Pujara: First and foremost, we are local. Our competitors are not. We feel we have a better understanding of the Kenya market. Secondly, we are much smaller and more agile. Our competitors are part of large networks and so we feel that when we spot an opportunity we are able to move first and alter our product offering to fit the market.

AFKInsider: What is the Kenya real estate market like?

Jamie Pujara: Like many emerging markets it is the driving force of the economy. There is increased urbanization, a growing middle class and more access to capital. The past few years has seen a lot of new property development and we feel very bullish about real estate in Kenya.

AFKInsider: What are some challenges of doing business in Kenya?

Jamie Pujara: Specifically to BuyRentKenya, I’d say access to information and structure within the market. In Kenya it almost feels like anyone and everyone is involved in property and so for us it presents a challenge as to whether someone has the official mandate to sell or advertise a property which is critical to us as we are trying to create a trusted platform. Also getting reliable data on property transactions is not as easy as we would like which makes our data analytics team work that much harder when publishing their property reports.

AFKInsider: What are some of the positives of doing business in Kenya?

Jamie Pujara: The opportunity to be able to change the way things are done. I think that’s the greatest reward. The high and growing percentage of internet penetration and the fact that Kenyans embrace new technology (as illustrated by the mass adoption of mobile money) means we really have the opportunity to change the way people look for property.

AFKInsider: What are your goals for the rest of 2016?

Jamie Pujara: When we set out our plan of BuyRentKenya, we had three phases. Phase 1 was about building the platform, getting brand recognition, educating the market and having a large user base and rich content of listings. Phase 2 will be very much about adding value to both the property seller and seeker. I think the end of 2016 will see us enter phase 2 which will be very exciting.

AFKInsider: How did you deal with the death of Carey Eaton?

Jamie Pujara: The passing of Carey was a terrible shock and loss. Carey was one of the brightest lights in African technology and was taken from us too soon. As a young entrepreneur every conversation with Carey was priceless. You would leave every meeting feeling more focused and confident. He had an innate gift of conveying his immense knowledge and business acumen through his warm and friendly persona. There is so much I learned from Carey in such a short time and I think in his passing I’m constantly aware of what we have lost but I’m also more conscious of the fact living and executing the lessons he taught me.

AFKInsider: Did his death affect the company’s operations?

Jamie Pujara: From the onset, Carey was a mentor to me. When we first started he would regularly meet me to talk about BuyRentKenya. He would share similar experiences, he would challenge me, he would refocus me, and he would bring out the best in me. When we decided to look for investment, we decided to partner with One Africa Media primarily because I knew it would mean I’d get to share an office space with Carey. Although he was not directly involved in our operations, his passing definitely left a hole in terms of our strategic thinking. He would be the one person who we would bounce our new products and ideas off and losing him left us short of knowledge and experience in what was a very testing year.

AFKInsider: What do you like the most about being an entrepreneur?

Jamie Pujara: I’d say it’s the opportunity be in control of your own destiny and chart the course of yourself and your organization. There is this quote that I love about entrepreneurship that resonates very strongly with me “Don’t climb mountains so the world can see you. Climb mountains so you can see the world”