Written by: Annie Teh, Published in Tech in Asia
Sisters and startup founders Race and Rhonda Wong have had an interesting two years.
In September 2016, they launched Ohmyhome as a one-stop solution for housing-related transactions, providing a full range of services that includes agent services, mortgage consultancy, and home staging.
A little over a year into their proptech business, the Wongs became new mothers. By the time their company turned two in September 2018, the Ohmyhome app has had more than 200,000 downloads and 52,000 monthly users, as well as 5,000 active and genuine listings on the portal. They’ve also had transactions for over 2,000 homes – a combined value of more than US$618 million.
Tech in Asia spoke to chief operating officer Race and chief executive officer Rhonda about Ohmyhome’s milestones, and what it’s like to raise young children and a fledgling business at the same time.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Ohmyhome.
Race: Having moved from home to home in our growing-up years, we understand how difficult that could be and how important a home is to any individual. We have identified the problems – a lack of transparency and knowledge, the lengthy time it takes, the stress and the high costs involved – and were inspired to set up Ohmyhome.
We wanted to create solutions that could revolutionize the entire housing transaction experience, to provide people with a platform and services that are simple, fast and affordable. We wanted to put the control back into the hands of homeowners and home searchers because housing is the most important thing and most expensive asset in our lives – it deserves to be well taken cared of.
Rhonda: We’ve always wanted to create a company that could both be successful and positively benefit others’ lives in ways that matter. In our years of running real estate businesses, both from an own-stay and investment perspective, friends and family who encountered problems with their housing transactions often sought our help because we have industry experience. While they had our help, there are many others facing the same set of problems but do not have such help.
What unique problem is Ohmyhome solving? What makes Ohmyhome different from its competitors in the proptech space?
Rhonda: The problem that Ohmyhome is solving is the inefficiencies in the current process, and this is consistent across the world.
The problem can be broken down into three specific areas. First, the lack of information transparency. Ohmyhome addresses this by creating the agent agendum, which clearly sets out the agent’s work. Additionally, the DIY transaction directly links up buyers to sellers, and tenants to landlords.
Second, the long time it takes to find a suitable home/buyer. The market average selling time is 120 days. Ohmyhome solves this problem by having an extremely fast transaction speed that is made possible with superior matching algorithms, innovative features such as ShoutOut, where property sellers respond to buyers’ home requirements, as well as our capable team of agents. Our fastest selling time is one day, and our average is 33 days.
Third, high agent commission costs associated with each transaction. If a flat costs S$450,000 (US$327107), the standard agent commission for the buyer at 2 percent is S$9,000 (US$6,542), while the standard commission for the seller at 1 percent amounts to S$4,500 (US$3,271). Ohmyhome’s agent services are at a fixed rate of S$2,888 (US$2,099) net for sellers and S$1,888 (US$1,372) net for buyers.
What is it like starting a business with your sister? What are the best and worst parts of the experience?
Rhonda: It’s been an amazing journey with Race, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! The best business partners are reliable, capable and have the same vision as you, and Race is all that and more. Starting Ohmyhome was tough, but having Race brave this journey with me made it a lot easier to get through.
Race: We are very close and work well together. We keep each other inspired and motivated, and we understand our strengths and weaknesses. At work, we split our responsibilities and are able to trust that each is good at what she does. Discussions are thus more productive because we are able to speak our minds freely and develop better solutions.
The downside of this is that due to our busy schedule at work, we have to continue discussions over lunch and dinner, leaving our family with little room for leisure talk.
How was the experience of having children in the first few years of starting this business?
Race: It has been a fulfilling journey full of new challenges and experiences. It honestly feels much longer than two years because we have been doing so much every day. I am always a student of life, constantly learning through the ups and downs, so I love being a mom and running Ohmyhome. Both give me immense satisfaction.
How do you balance taking care of young children and a young business?
Rhonda: At this point, my work still requires a heavy time commitment from me. As the CEO, I have responsibility to fulfill the role and ensure that my company is constantly charging at full speed. The decision to spend more time at work than at home was made when I started my company.
In the first two weeks after I delivered, I worked from home. Different teammates would be invited to work with me at home on different days, and I would only head out to attend meetings that I couldn’t miss.
I planned my delivery to be in December, when days were quieter and I could rest more at home. The next two weeks I went to the office for a few hours each day, and I was fully back in the office in the second month. It helped that my team is capable and worked extremely quickly so that I could rest more during this period.
Race: Without a doubt, both require a lot of care and attention. As most working parents would, I try to spend as much as time as possible with my toddler in the mornings and nights. The rest of the day is focused on Ohmyhome. I have to be very disciplined, focused, and efficient to not allow myself to be distracted. I believe in prioritizing and spending quality time both at work and with my baby, rather than do both at the same time.
When at work, I hardly ever do baby stuff. And when I’m with my baby, I put my phone away in order to bond while I read to her and put her to bed.
I rely heavily on my to-do list and ensure to complete it daily whether at the office or working remotely. Platforms such as Trello and Jira help me manage my workflow and keep track of my team’s progress.
What is your day-to-day like?
Race: Every day is intense. I have to wake up early to spend precious time with my toddler, catch up on the news, exercise, have breakfast and reach the office by 9:00 am. If my amount of work were physical files, they would pile up so high to the ceiling. I rush home to have a quick lunch and play with my baby for five minutes – she sleeps at 1:00 pm – before heading back to work. Meetings, discussions and more work [till] 6:30 pm. After that, I head home, have dinner and tuck my baby in by 8:00 pm. Then its either go back to the office or continue working on my laptop till the end of the night.
There’s a popular saying when it comes to working mothers: “You can’t have it all.” Do you think that’s attainable? What sacrifices did you have to make to make it work?
Race: I think neither full-time moms nor working mothers can have it all. I’ve seen my share of unhappy full-time mothers. For most working parents, the first thing to sacrifice is ourselves. We forego our personal needs, including sleep. The constant juggle between work and baby leaves me with almost no time for personal relaxation. I believe it’s our mindset that matters. Do what you think contributes to the happiness of your family and others, and it will all be worth it.
Rhonda: The biggest change in lifestyle was the running of Ohmyhome. Race and I used to travel for leisure frequently and had a carefree mindset. Ever since we started Ohmyhome, we have been very focused on our jobs. There’s definitely less leisure time and less time for ourselves.
What advice would you give other parent entrepreneurs?
Rhonda: Your mind has to be ready for it. It is very easy to give yourself excuses to quit because there are problems every day. But if you’ve done your homework and made your mind up, then there’s a lot that determination can help overcome.
It’s important to be practical about who’s caring for your child and the financial side of things. If you are the sole caretaker, you will have to consider if your business allows you to work from home regularly.
It is important to also speak with your partner and get their understanding and support. I often read articles about startup founders taking the plunge to start their own business, and often a reason cited for success is the immense understanding and support from their partners. Now, I can personally understand why.
Race: Women here in Singapore are given privileges that other women in other countries can only dream of. Most of us have been provided with the same opportunities for good education and careers as men. So don’t waste this precious platform we have built to do something that is meaningful and will have a positive impact on our society. After all, we are spending precious time away from our children every day, so make it count. We have to keep growing not just as a mom but also as a whole person to also be a good role model for our children.