Prior to starting Different, Mina was Global Head of Product at Uber (as employee 20). She's also worked for Google, Goldman Sachs, Redpoint Ventures, and ModCloth. When not working, you'll find her practicing yoga, or tweeting on @minarad. She's also a former competitive scrabble champ.
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Traditionally speaking, real estate agents are plenty, helping tenants find properties which are available for sale or rent; you’ve gone the opposite way with Different to make life easier for landlords. Where did this idea come from?
My Husband and I had just gotten married and we knew we wanted to start a company together, but we didn’t know what it was that we wanted to do. While I had been more involved in the start-up space, he was coming from a background of big investment companies.
So, we decided to take a year to enjoy ourselves and have fun; we quit our jobs, sold our houses, packed a bag, and travelled the world for a year. We gave ourselves this buffer to decide what we were going to do and started a Google doc with a list of start-up ideas, most of which were really bad - but eventually we came across this one, and it happened to be pretty great.
The idea was actually inspired a little bit by my father-in-law who’s an investment property owner in Australia. We were chatting with him over the Christmas break that year, checking his finances, and digging into the intricacies of his investment property. To say the least, it wasn’t great. That was really the impetus, just trying to find a better way to do this.
When did you start Different, and what are some of the milestone accomplishments that you have achieved since the company’s inception?
Well, we started building and growing the business in January of 2017. We officially launched in October of 2017 when we raised our first round of funding. From there, we launched our second city in Melbourne in October of 2018, and our third city in Brisbane in October of 2019. Most recently, we launched our series A round of funding in April of 2020. This was probably the hardest experience we’ve had because it was during the height of the pandemic and people were spooked, naturally. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but I feel pretty battle-tested as a result of that experience and I also think it speaks to the strength of the company.
You’ve spent a considerable amount of your life in San Francisco, and the United States in general; what brought you to Australia?
I’m Canadian but I went to the States for university and lived there for pretty much my entire adult life, so I think I was just ready for a change. Also, my husband is originally Australian so everything just aligned because Australia also just happened to be the best place to start a business like this. That’s why we ultimately decided to try this out, because in the worst case scenario we could always leave - that just never happened because we really loved living in Sydney and the business picked up.
Why do you think Australia is the best place to start a business like this?
I think there are a few reasons. Firstly, if you talk to any Australian, the conversation almost always steers towards discussing properties. People love it. They're obsessed with it, really. The country has a very large base of property investors, so about 10% of all Australians own an investment property. In addition to that, the vast majority of property investors prefer to hire professional property managers. So, we knew that there was a big market here for what we were trying to do.
Despite you feeling like Australia has the ideal conditions for a business like this, do you have any plans for expansion?
We actually had big plans to expand to the U.S. in 2020, but that obviously didn’t work out due to the pandemic. So, for now it just doesn’t make sense. We want to be really conscious with where we try to grow next so that we can have a better chance of being successful. For at least the first half of 2021, we’re just going to focus on growing our business in Australia as there is still a huge opportunity here to do that. I think property is one of the few industries where you can build a really massive business in Australia alone, and we’ll re-evaluate towards the end of the year if it makes sense to go anywhere else.
So, how does your software work? Does it target a specific type of property?
We target residential investment properties. The nature of investing in those properties in Australia is very different from the U.S. and other areas where you have a landlord who owns anywhere between five and 20 properties, or a bunch of apartments in the building, or a building that has a bunch of apartments. It’s very uncommon to see that in Australia. It's much, much more normal for people to have one property which is passed down from family to family, and then after 15 years maybe they sell it - so we focus more on these types of properties.
On the other hand, we do have clients who own multiple properties and we are growing this partnership base. There will also be new products that we build to provide better reporting and analytics around that. However, our bread and butter from when we started has really been the individual property investor.
As someone who handles a variety of responsibilities - from serving as advisor to multiple companies, to the multiple jobs that you work - how do you find time to balance your personal life with your professional life (especially when considering your responsibilities as a mother)?
Yeah, I’ve got a two year old and it's a challenge. So, I’ve reduced a lot of my day-to-day commitments, in terms of being a full-time advisor for companies. I’m still a board advisor to Airtasker, which is a task management platform here in Australia, but my main focuses now are definitely the business and my son.
I live and die by Google calendar, and I use an app called clockwise. Having time to work is super critical. I can’t just be in meeting after meeting because I’m an introvert, and by the end of a day like that I’ll be drained. Clockwise is great because it automatically blocks out “focus time” on my calendar for me to sit and work. This is really useful and needed for when I’m mapping out strategy, direction, growth, the future, team culture, and so forth. Having clockwise set that time for me, usually prevents people from scheduling meetings with me during those blocks, and it helps me better control my time.
I’m also quite strict about how I spend my time in a day. For example, since I’m not a morning person, I spend my mornings having breakfast with my husband and son, FaceTiming my Dad in Canada, and maybe doing a crossword. I’ll then start my work around 9:30 or 10 in the morning, and at this point I’m not doing anything else but work until around 7:00 in the evening before I resume family time. I think having that big regimented schedule is really critical.
Given that you're in business with your husband, how do you separate being spouses and being business partners?
It’s a challenge sometimes. We try not to discuss business during family hours, but each of us at some random point will bring it up because it’s such a huge part of our life. So, it’s something that we’re still working on but I think the year we spent travelling around the world really helped us; when you’re stuck in a country where you don’t know anybody, you don’t know what’s going on, you’re in a tiny hotel room, and the only person you have is each other, then you have to get to know how to spend time together. I think we’ve developed a really good approach when it comes to how to do that.
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What’s your goal for Different? Do you have an exit in mind, or are you looking to build this company that’s going to last for 20, 30 years.
I'd love to build a long-term sustainable company. I mean, exits are great but my vision for Different has always been the same, which is to make it the assistant for the home today.
Right now we have 70 full-time employees. I focus on operations, product design, and engineering. My husband focuses on finance, legal, marketing, and growth. After the series A funding last year, we were able to place a leadership team and this has helped us pull ourselves away from the day-to-day and be a bit more strategic.
As we develop and become more efficient and scalable, we’ll be able to expand out. So, when you need anything done in your home, Different is the company that you’ll turn to. I really believe that we can accomplish this.
Your personal website mentions that in your spare time, you are a yogini; what importance has yoga played in your life?
It’s my sanity, every Saturday and every Sunday. I’ve been practicing yoga for a long time now, and it’s the time in my life when I’m 100% focused on the thing that I’m doing at that moment. There’s no other thoughts going through my head. It’s just about the next breath, the next step, the next movement. Afterwards, I just feel so deeply relaxed. It’s my time, for no one other than myself.
Your website also mentions that you are a voracious reader; what is your favourite book of all time, and what are you currently reading?
I actually read mostly fiction. The things I read in terms of business, entrepreneurship, and start-ups, I actually tend to read more online. I’m subscribed to Medium and I have a bunch of great people that I follow.
The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky, is a book that I often find myself coming back to. It’s about how you endure the really tough times in a start-up, and how you optimize when things are going really well.
In terms of fiction, there’s a series of books I really enjoy, which I recently just finished. The author’s name is Dorothy Gilman, and the series revolves around a woman named Mrs. Pollifax. As an elderly woman who just became a widow, Mrs. Pollifax decides she wants to become a spy for the CIA and the books are a funny journey about everything she goes through, and what happens as a result of that.
How do you find your book recommendations?
I used to read physical books, but when I moved again eight years ago, I decided that I’m switching to Kindle and I’ve never looked back. Kindle has great recommendations, and I’m a Kindle unlimited subscriber so I get a lot of books through that.
What do you think the 16-year-old Mina would say to your current self?
Oh man, I feel like I need to tell 16-year-old Mina a lot more. That’s a tough question, but I think she would tell me to just be surprised at what life throws at you. I didn’t know what my horizons were at 16, and I think it’s just important to remember that you don’t have to put constraints on anything because life is just constantly surprising you and bringing new things to you. So, keep that in mind as you make decisions.
Who has been your biggest mentor/inspiration?
I don’t know if it's any one person because I feel like I’ve learned so much from all the experiences that I’ve had. If I think about the person in my life who’s impacted me most, it’s really my parents. I think that’s the case for a lot of immigrant kids. I just see how much my parents sacrificed for me to be in the place that I am, and the level of depth and gratitude you have to have for your parents is just unending.
What’s a piece of advice you would give to other Tamil entrepreneurs?
I think it's to always have a yes mindset. Don’t ask the question of can it be done. Just ask the question of how it can be done. First worry about how you can do it, then you can worry about if you should do it.
What is your favourite Tamil food?
I’ve got to say Rasam.
Lastly, what does Tamil culture mean to you?
I think I was much more connected to it when I was younger, but it’s not about pop culture, movies, shows or whatever else. To me, it’s very much about family and food more than anything else. I think those are the two biggest things that I really like. I’ve always thought about it like that.
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