Serial entrepreneur Darius Cheung, 33, gets all of his start-up ideas from personal hurdles that he has had to overcome.
His latest start-up, 99.co, is a rental site which carries listings from landlords looking for tenants, and covers both private and HDB properties. After many painstaking searches for a place to rent over the years, he said he yearned for a site which would simplify the search through online classifieds.
Mr Cheung was 13 when he came to Singapore on a scholarship from Hong Kong. He has lived in rented homes for the past 20 years. "Searching for a place to rent is not a great experience and searching online is inefficient," he said.
Some online sites carry duplicate listings and bogus ones, he said, because landlords and agents post listings on multiple websites in order to gauge how the market reacts.
"People try to game the market and it's very frustrating for tenants," he said.
When Mr Cheung set up 99.co with three partners, they sank in about $300,000 of their own money. They chose the name because nine in Chinese symbolises longevity. "By helping customers find their best home, 99.co wishes everyone longevity," he said. They have also registered the name in Chinese.
Their company's aim is to improve the search process. They decided that it was worth the effort to manually verify and refresh listings to ensure that each is legitimate and unique.
They send a photographer to each address to take pictures of the place to give potential tenants an accurate idea of what they are about to rent. It is labour intensive and it takes time, but it is worth it, said Mr Cheung. After about half a year of work, the site now boasts 2,000 unique listings.
This is like how Airbnb runs its online rental service, he said. Both renters and property owners must register profiles on the site and their reputations online matter a lot.
Users with dodgy profiles are far less likely to connect with other users. The system encourages good behaviour and discourages fraud.
"Yes, we take a lot of inspiration from Airbnb. We're like a long-term Airbnb, I guess," he said. "They do a lot of education work, teaching people how to be a good host, and how to take photos for their listings," he said of the added level of detail Airbnb puts into its working process with property owners.
This is Mr Cheung's third start-up. His first was launched not long after he graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with an electrical engineering degree. He joined the NUS Overseas College programme, which took him to Silicon Valley, where he interned with an interactive marketing team for half a year. Then in 2005, he started TenCube, a mobile security firm, with two other engineers.