Pavlos Loizou: For Ask Wire Scaling Was A Necessary Move

by Marios Roussos
Mr Pavlos Loizou CEO of Ask Wire

Lessons from real estate and the need for enhanced support for Cyprus' ecosystem

As innovation drives change across industries, the intersection of real estate and startups presents a compelling narrative of evolution and opportunity.

From revolutionizing property management to reshaping the home-buying experience, these entrepreneurial ventures are not only reshaping the way we think about real estate but also reimagining the very foundations of urban living.

The journey with Ask Wire is still fresh and growing, from which startups can learn a lot.

“We have made every mistake that a startup founder does;” Mr Pavlos Loizou CEO of Ask Wire, says to “The Future”, and continued “We launched the company without knowing exactly what problem we were trying to solve, we didn’t go out to talk and listen to our clients, and we spent too much time looking inwards than outwards”.

Ask Wire started in September 2020, right after the first lockdown, planning to offer real estate advisory services leveraging 20 years of experience in managing real estate across Cyprus, Greece, Romania and other countries.

“We quickly realised that the market was saturated with competition, everyone was focused on ‘getting a cut’ from a transaction, and there was a lack of data for clients to base their decisions upon” he notes.

Mr Loizou says they decided to ‘create a digital replica; of themselves, turning our experience into processes, models and KPIs and using reliable data to power insights and decisions. It sounds cliché, but we are using technology to be able to reach a bigger market with lower costs.

“Cyprus is our MVP, as it’s easy to reach out for help but the market is small; Greece, which we entered in September 2022 offers more opportunities, but the sales cycle is long and data analytics is still in its infancy. Romania is a very open market, with considerable potential to scale and access other jurisdictions as there are many international companies active there. This is why we entered the market in November 2023” he highlighted.

Ask Wire is very much a “work in progress”, he says, as they want to bridge the information gap by leveraging cutting-edge technology to provide real-time, comprehensive analytics and insights.

“Our goal was to simplify these processes, making it easier for SMEs and individual investors to make informed decisions. The question remains whether or not people want to know before making decisions” Mr Loizou reflected.

Raising funds

Gather funds, for Ask Wire, was and still is something that went through a lot of stages. “We started the company by investing our capital, as well as working without pay for almost a year” Mr Loizou remembers.

“We then raised pre-seed from HD360, a subsidiary of Hellas Direct, which not only provided us with initial capital but also with a vote of confidence that proved invaluable for subsequent funding rounds,” he says and continued “following the development of our MVP (minimum viable product) and initial traction, we secured a Cyprus SME Innovation Certificate, which bolstered our credibility and positioned us for further investment opportunities for our Seed round, mainly from Cyprus-based high net-worth individuals. At the end of 2023, we raised a bridge round to boost our market penetration to Greece and launch Romania”.

Notably, Ask Wire received an investment from Lars Rasmussen, the co-founder of Google Maps, which was not just financial but an endorsement of the innovation and potential of the company.

The obstacles were many, with Mr Loizou listing the most notable being that:

  • Everyone wants “a cut” to introduce you to someone – ignore them and move on,
  • Many people will waste your time asking for detailed projections and financials – ignore them, as they don’t understand that the financial projections of a startup are worthless; you are backing the idea and a team,
  • You need to devote time to develop your business plan, and the pitch, and follow up with everyone you speak – the first round was a result of at least 120 pitches.

Scaling was necessary

Mr Loizou offers some insights from the experience he gained in this journey about the startup ecosystem of Cyprus.

The startup journey in Cyprus revealed a compelling need for scaling beyond its borders, primarily due to the small size of the local market and a notable gap in innovation. This environment prompted a swift expansion into Greece and Romania. Cyprus served as an excellent starting point and testing ground for our ideas, thanks to its accessibility and supportive network. However, the limited market size meant that staying solely within Cyprus could hinder our growth and impact potential” he acknowledges.

He also notes that Greece offered a larger playground with more opportunities, despite its longer sales cycles and nascent stage in data analytics.

“This was a strategic move to test our solutions in a more diverse and challenging environment, where the potential for scale and impact was significantly higher” revealed.

Romania also presented a unique opportunity with its openness to innovation and the presence of many active international companies.

“This market’s receptiveness to new technologies and services made it an ideal candidate for our next phase of expansion. Romania’s market dynamics allowed for considerable scalability and provided a gateway to other jurisdictions, highlighting the importance of selecting markets with growth potential for startups looking to make a significant impact” he observed.

Scaling to Greece and Romania was not just a strategic decision for growth; it was a necessary move to validate the business model in varied environments he says.

Mr Loizou shared that “these expansions helped us to refine our offerings, understand different market needs, and prove that our solutions could thrive and provide value in diverse settings. This approach underlines the importance for startups, especially in niches like real estate technology, to think globally and seek out markets that offer the right mix of challenges and opportunities for innovation and growth”.

Real estate has room for all, but…

Real estate and startups seem to go together for Mr Loizou, as he admits there is space for both in this new digital era.

“The real estate domain not only has space for startups but is practically beckoning for innovation” he says and explains “Traditionally a sector reliant on legacy practices, it’s now at a tipping point, driven by digital transformation and evolving consumer behaviours. Startups, with their agility and fresh perspectives, are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this shift. They can introduce cutting-edge tech like AI for smarter analytics, blockchain for transparent transactions, and VR for virtual tours, enhancing decision-making and customer engagement”.

“Moreover, they can tackle inefficiencies, automate time-consuming processes, and redefine the client experience. Their potential to deliver impactful solutions is significant, perhaps even necessary, for the real estate industry to progress and meet the modern market demands. Whether it’s through sustainable building practices, innovative financing models, or property management software, startups are poised to deliver value in ways that traditional real estate models can’t readily match” he concludes.

Startups can leverage technology and “indeed revolutionize the real estate sector by smartly incorporating technology to streamline operations, boost efficiency, and enrich the customer experience”.  

Mr Loizou explains that startups can manage that by harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), predicting market trends, assessing property values more accurately, and personalising customer interactions based on behaviour patterns.

Utilizing Open Data allows for a deeper analysis of markets and trends, providing valuable insights that can guide investment and development decisions. These technologies enable real-time, data-driven decisions, making processes like property search, transactions, and valuations more efficient and user-friendly. For example, AI can automate repetitive tasks, freeing up time for focusing on customer service.

But there are surely risks associated with real estate startups. These common risks include market volatility, regulatory challenges, and technology adoption barriers. These can be mitigated by conducting thorough market research, staying abreast of regulatory changes, and closely engaging with users to understand their needs and resistance points.

“Building a flexible business model that can adapt to market changes and focusing on delivering tangible value to users can help navigate these risks. At the same time the industry is entrenched in very traditional practices and sales methods, e.g. selling insurance through a physical broker network, lack of transparency around pricing data, etc which makes it difficult for things to change. This, combined with a relatively long sales cycle, especially in Cyprus and Greece where the market lacks awareness around proptech and where digital services are still relatively new, creates financial problems for startups” he clarified.

A green turn

Sustainability and environmental protection are the main themes of the emerging trends in the real estate industry that startups follow.

“The surging focus on sustainability is leading to a demand for eco-friendly construction materials, energy-efficient design, and green certification. Startups can tap into this by offering innovative products and services that prioritize environmental responsibility and resilience” he says.

Data analytics is another arena where startups can shine according to Mr Loizou. “The real estate sector is a treasure trove of data waiting to be analysed for patterns, valuations, and market predictions. By utilizing machine learning and predictive analytics, startups can offer unparalleled insights into property valuation, investment risks, and market dynamics”.

But how startups can leverage these trends? Well, it is in their nature. “The shift toward digital transactions is accelerating, and startups are well-placed to facilitate this transition. By creating secure, user-friendly platforms for online property listings, virtual tours, and seamless digital contracts, they can streamline the buying and selling process, making it faster and more efficient” he remarked.

Furthermore, regulatory requirements are driving the need for transparency in market fluctuations, environmental risks, and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors. Startups that develop solutions to aid in reporting and compliance will find a ready market.

Mr Loizou notes that the rise of tech-savvy consumers demands information to be readily available, pushing for innovations that allow for instant decision-making. Solutions that cater to the immediacy of today’s consumer behaviour—like mobile apps for on-the-go property management or AI chatbots for instant customer service—can set a startup apart.

“Understanding and leveraging these trends can put a startup at the forefront of the real estate revolution. With the right approach, startups can not only succeed in this competitive space but also drive significant advancements in how the real estate industry operates” he reflects.

Enhanced support is needed

For the future of the ecosystem in Cyprus, Mr Loizou was very clear. “I hope to see enhanced support for startups in Cyprus, including more accessible funding options, greater collaboration between startups and established businesses, and a stronger focus on fostering innovation across sectors”.

For him, enhancing the startup ecosystem with better mentorship programs and encouraging a culture of innovation would significantly contribute to the growth and success of startups in Cyprus.

He also sends his message to the companies to be more open. “At the core though is the need for companies to become more open (and to make it their aim) to collaborate with startups so that both sides invest and benefit from such relationships. This will accelerate the growth of innovation in the Cyprus industry, but also foster fertile ground for startups to set up their operations on the island turning it into an “MVP destination”. This “innovation mindset” will empower startups and position Cyprus as a breeding ground for groundbreaking ventures” he explains. 


Startup World Cup Cyprus

A message for the future

 Mr. Loizou, based on his years of experience underlines that failure is something good for startups. “To those starting in this space, be passionate but also pragmatic. Understand your market deeply, be ready to pivot when necessary, and don’t fear failure—it’s part of the learning process. Surround yourself with a strong team and network that can support and challenge you. Above all though, my suggestion is “don’t do it”. It sounds cool, sexy, etc but it’s a lot of work with a high probability of failure, that will put pressure on your health, friendships, and finances” he says.

As of Ask Wire, the immediate focus is to solidify its base in Cyprus, Greece and Romania through comprehensive data collection, standardization, processing, and automation. “This forms the bedrock for leveraging generative AI, which we believe is the future of real estate analytics and advisory services” he notes.

Mr Loizou shares that “in the real estate dynamics sector, we’ve hit some roadblocks, primarily in the data modelling and reporting phases. These challenges, while they’ve slowed us down, have provided rich insights that we’re incorporating into our co-piloting phase (companion AI assistants for insurance brokers, real estate investors, etc). We’re committed to transforming these insights into a robust advisory product that can cater to various stakeholders in the real estate market”.

Looking at the broader picture, Ask Wire is focused on expanding its services to a wide user base while ensuring full regulatory compliance. The end goal for Ask Wire is to democratize access to AI-driven real estate insights, making sophisticated investment advice available not just the high-net-worth individuals or institutional investors, but also to the average consumer.

This vision is about inclusivity in investment opportunities and empowering more people with cutting-edge technology to make better, data-informed decisions in real estate.

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