Loving to create something from nothing | Fin24

Loving to create something from nothing

Mar 10 2015 15:43
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Ruark Ferreira and his partners at Ekaya.com have seen an opportunity to create a place where both property owners and tenants can come together in a trusted environment for a better rental experience. He tells Fin24 how this came about.

Ruark Ferreira (Ekaya.com)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Ekaya was founded by Justin R. Melville (CEO), myself (COO) and Rudolf Vavruch (CTO).

Justin R. Melville (Ekaya.com)

Justin and I have been friends and business partners for almost 10 years, founding and collaborating on a number of ventures, including Airborne Music (AirborneMusic.com) a global music platform where we met Rudolf.

Rudolf Vavruch (Ekaya.com)

In 2013, the three of us teamed up to create Ekaya, bringing together a wealth of experience and expertise in the fields of design, technology development and community/customer experience.

Ekaya graduated from the 88mph Accelerator Program in 2014, and has since gone on to raise capital from some of South Africa's most well-respected angel investors, a tremendous validation of both our team and business case.

How did you become an entrepreneur and why?

Entrepreneurs are people who see solutions to problems in a market and set about delivering it to customers in pursuit of great rewards despite the risks and sacrifices.

I'm not exactly sure why one would want be one (because it is hard as nails) but we were just born like this, it's in our DNA. As a team we love the challenge of creating something from nothing, growing it into something significant and making the world a better place in process.

What gap did you see in the market for your business?

More people are renting today than ever before, but the way we do it hasn't changed in decades.

More and more property owners are choosing to let their properties themselves (versus using an agent) but the tools available make it difficult to find a great tenant amongst all the faceless strangers of the internet. Managing your property and the tenant relationship can be stressful and time-consuming.

For tenants facing an increasingly competitive rental space, even finding a place is hard since you need to navigate your way through multiple sites and hundreds of classifieds and deposit scams only to find out the place you like is already taken.

It's impossible to stand out in the crowded market and secure the place you want and having to supply all your confidential information in paper form is not only a pain, but a real security risk.

Nobody is winning.

We see an opportunity to create a place where both property owners and tenants can come together in a trusted environment to rent better.

What does the business do and what is innovative about it?

With Ekaya, would-be tenants can verify themselves through our quick and easy verification tool, which builds a neat (and ultra-secure) profile containing everything they need to nab the property they want - including verified identity, references, credit history and bank statements.

By having all this information available in a single, secure place they can beat out the competition by coming to the property owner "pre-vetted" making them three times more likely to be selected than any faceless stranger. The whole process is more efficient, cheaper and a lot more secure than the traditional way of finding and applying for rentals.

On the other side of the coin, property owners are getting access to a steady stream of pre-vetted tenants who meet their standards for affordability and risk profile, making it elegantly simple to find and select a great tenant for their investment property.

We're so confident in ability to deliver on this promise that we guarantee our qualified tenants with the most comprehensive risk cover for property owners in South Africa (up-to five times the monthly rental) as well as a host of other great benefits that make renting a stress-free breeze for property owners.


What have been the challenges in starting a business and why?

For us refining our understanding of what our customers actually want and what they'll pay for (the "product/market fit") has been a long journey of trial and error. There is a big difference between a good idea and a good business and we try to keep that in mind, always.

Access to mentorship, capital and resources is also a challenge for any early stage venture in South Africa since the ecosystem is still finding it feet.

How did you handle these?

Getting out there and talking to your potential customers at every step of the development process has been incredibly valuable in reducing the timeframe between idea and execution. As a company we endeavour to be agile, responsive and service-oriented in our approach to the market and our customers.

In terms of access to capital, it was a long journey (almost nine months) and we had to get creative. We explored every opportunity and went outside our comfort zones to take a few risks, but at the end of the day it came down to relationships.

No one was buying our idea, they bought into the people behind it. We count ourselves lucky to have attracted such a great group of investors to Ekaya. The capital aside, we simply would not have been able to achieve what we have without the support and input of these great entrepreneurs and mentors.

What have been the successes?

We are proud of the road we've walked to get here. Graduating from 88mph, killing it at SparkUp Live!, getting nominated as one of Africa's most promising start-ups and taming the Dragons (Den) were some real highlights, but ultimately the fact that we've built this from nothing, launched it and get to go about growing it into an empire is a real success.

People are loving what we're doing and that's so satisfying. It makes all the hard yards worth it.

We've also enjoyed being able to give back to the startup community and hope that we can continue to do so as we move to the next level(s). South Africa needs success stories.


What advice do you have for other (would be) entrepreneurs?

It's all about people. You will achieve nothing of value on your own. Build a great team, work with amazing investors and partners and always listen and talk-to your customers. When it comes to your team, partners and investors remember that DNA is everything. If you're incompatible - the results could be disastrous.

What are your future plans?

Our next steps are to launch Ekaya on a national level as well as introducing some of the awesome new things we've been working on behind the scenes to make renting even better.
Our vision is to make our mark as a global player in the rental/residential property space and make renting better for everyone, everywhere.

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property  |  entrepreneurship  |  small business


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