She dropped out of grad school at Stanford to transform the massive real estate market in Europe and the Middle East. Now Co-Founder and CEO of Nomad Homes, Helen Chen, is living proof that following your passion is one of the building blocks of success.
Born in Palo Alto, California, Nomad Homes is a digital real estate platform that helps home seekers buy and rent residential real estate. The company just launched in its first city, Dubai, United Arab Emirates last month.
A passion for real estate
It all started with Chen’s passion for real estate — which dates back to her childhood. She says she has fond memories of fixing up rental properties with her parents as a kid. This experience morphed into a side business, as she made her own investment into a rental property as a young adult.
After graduating from Penn with a degree in finance and real estate, Chen worked as an investor for Blackstone and Goldman Sachs. While an educational experience, Chen knew by the amount of time she spent scrolling Zillow, that she needed to be true to her passion.
She enrolled in Stanford’s MBA program and spent her free time researching proptech trends around the world. She quickly realized that successful U.S. companies like Zillow and Opendoor work because they’re built atop the MLS, allowing them to offer historical transaction history, estimated values, and neighborhood information. However, markets across the EMEA do not use the MLS, and have little accurate information online.
“I looked into what the home buying process was like, and it turns out there’s a lot to be improved. The main reason for that is there’s no MLS in the region, but there’s also no exclusivity.”
The majority of the process of buying and renting is still done offline in EMEA. Through the use of better technology and customer service, Nomad is bringing the entire journey online through a seamless, personalized experience.
Launching in Dubai
Chen says she saw an immense opportunity as EMEA’s real estate market represents over $600 billion transactions per year, but the customer experience component remains far behind the U.S.
She said she really started digging into the Dubai market after Careem, where her husband was an early investor, exited to Uber for over $3 billion. She found that for such a modern city, many online listings were fake, duplicates, unverified, or old — a very frustrating process for the customer.
Chen recognizes that finding your home is an important decision and a significant financial commitment, and believes customers across EMEA deserve that level of information that is available in the U.S.
How Nomad is transforming real estate
Nomad has partnered with real estate brokerages in the market to offer customers the widest variety of homes through a managed marketplace. They’ve removed all fake and duplicate listings and bring the entire journey online. The company is also building a database that’s the equivalent of an MLS across EMEA; this will help with the financing process of buying a home.
“I saw room to improve the customer experience, but we see a lot of opportunities to really build an end to end platform. So not only help customers search, but search, transact, and finance,” said Chen.
The platform offers search tools, virtual tours, digital document signing, to create a seamless customer experience from start to finish. In light of the pandemic, it also makes the home seeking process contact-free.
Along with its digital features, Nomad also offers an advisor to make it a concierge-type service. The company takes a percentage of the commission from the seller’s agent for helping the buyer through the process. In Dubai, there is no buyer agent; so in essence, Nomad will act as a buyers-agent — being the sole point to contact.
Choosing an investor
When choosing an investor, Chen says she wanted someone that felt like a partner. Being a global company, the team also wanted an investor from the valley, who had their finger on the pulse of proptech trends.
“We like to think of Nomad as a plane in the air, and our investors are the control tower, telling us if there are choppy skies ahead and what they’re seeing across the market and in their portfolio,” said Chen.
Chen explained that it was a classmate at Stanford and former venture capitalist, that referred her to Comcast Ventures’ Managing Director, Daniel Gulati. Her friend told her that if she were to start a company, Daniel would be her first check. Chen said this was huge, coming from such a close source.
“When I spoke with Daniel, he immediately saw the vision and the potential the company had,” Chen explained. She emphasized the importance of building your team with people you trust and enjoy being around; Gulati was one of those people.
The funding will be used to scale Nomad’s engineering team in the U.S. and grow its marketplace and services. The company is also laying the groundwork for its second launch city in Europe.
Challenges as a female founder
As a female Co-founder and CEO, Chen says she feels extra pressure to prove herself as the face of the company.
“I like to make sure that I speak first, especially in business development meetings, because it’s important that whoever we’re speaking to knows that a woman is in charge of the company.”
She says she feels fortunate to have received funding, as historically women often have to jump over extra hurdles to compete for venture dollars.
She admired that the Head of Funds for Comcast Ventures, Amy Banse, was a woman. Through her company, Chen says she also hopes to provide opportunities to women in tech.
She’s joined by co-founders Dan Piehler and Damien Drap. Piehler was previously a Senior Product Manager at Addepar, and Drap was an early employee at Uber, who helped launch Uber in Europe and Uber Eats across the Middle East. Together they’re confident they have the right mix of skills and experience to transform real estate throughout EMEA.
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Nomad Redefines Home Buying in Europe and the Middle East was originally published in The Forecast on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.