Meet Gil Sperling, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Flow, a proptech startup based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sperling, together with his Co-founder and Co-CEO Daniel Levy, founded Flow which is revolutionizing the property industry. Flow uses normal social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to connect people with property.
Gil and Daniel are building Flow for the larger property ecosystem to integrate everything a prospective tenant or buyer needs in one place, from listings to mortgage origination and deposit loan solutions. Most importantly, they are collecting significant amounts of data on how renters and buyers behave.
TechMoran caught up with Gil Sperling and this is what he shared.
What is Flow and what inspired you to start it?
We launched Flow to change the way that people find places to live and work. We’ve built a platform that connects people with property, essentially allowing real estate agents and property developers to fully automate their advertising efforts and effortlessly create listing ads on social media, notably Facebook but also Instagram and LinkedIn. Until now, fully fledged advertising on social media wasn’t really a possibility for most property agents and developers due to the sheer amount of time, skills and resources it requires, so we were driven to bring the industry into the 21st century and design tools that could bridge that gap between an archaic sector and the hyper-connected world that we’re all used to operating in today.
Share with us about your business model, the products you offer, and how do they operate individually?
At present, 4,000 real estate agents in South Africa use Flow to generate leads through social media for their property and rental listings. That’s the equivalent of 10% of the country’s real estate agents. Our product provides an API that connects their websites and internal databases with social media platforms and is designed to feed back metrics and enquiries straight to their mobile phones. In terms of our model, clients place their marketing media budgets through Flow. The product offers a similar solution for property developers by helping them advertise and therefore presell units within large developments.
Why did you choose real estate and not any other sector?
Quite simply because property is the largest sector in the world. Property relates to where people live and work and is such a pivotal part of our lives with so much value for companies to unlock in an extremely impactful way. On top of that, it’s calling out for innovation, particularly across Africa, because the industry is in major need of transformation and so we wanted to dedicate our experience in the advertising and technology space to solve some very real problems holding back the sector’s growth and efficiency.
There are hundreds of companies in the real estate sector in South Africa. How does Flow stand out?
Absolutely, but many of these are involved in property management, development, investment or construction. What we’ve created really stands out because there are very few proptech companies in South Africa and our platform is enabling businesses within the property sector to build their brands at incredible scale. Approximately 9 million South African buyers and tenants have been reached via Flow about agency brands and property listings in the past year – that’s the equivalent of about 40% of all Facebook and Instagram users in the country and just demonstrates the size of audience we’ve been able to connect with.
What are some of the obstacles you have faced and how are you solving them?
The onset of the pandemic was a difficult time for everyone in the property industry, for our clients, for us, for prospective buyers and renters. At the time we were running Flow as a platform that rewarded tenants for paying rent on time, but the pandemic forced us to change our model and led us to where we are today. In hindsight we were probably a bit fortunate because the product and market that we have now is a much better fit and we’re setting our sights on quite significant growth over the next year.
Fundraising is always a challenging journey. It absorbs time and energy, both things that are super valuable for a young and growing business. We were in the privileged position of having launched and exited a business already. albeit an organically grown one, and so that put us in a really good position. We had sold Popimedia – at the time the largest buyers of Facebook media inventory in Africa – to Publicis in 2015, and so that track record meant that all the conversations we were having had a certain amount of experience and standing behind them. That doesn’t mean the fundraising process was easy, but we’d recommend leaning on what you’ve done in the past and using that to the max in demonstrating how you can build your business. Additionally, VCs want to know that you are playing in a large and valuable market and that you have access to that market. Part of the fundraising process involves articulating this in a convincing way, so I’d say do your research and really focus on communicating that in an efficient manner.
Any plans to expand across South Africa and across the entire continent?
We’ve earmarked a few countries across Africa where we’re aiming to roll out Flow over the next 6 months. Beyond that, we’ve got some early conversations up and running in markets like Australia and Israel where we’ve had positive feedback from potential customers.
What advice would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs?
Find a good co-founder. We’re a really strong partnership. Daniel Levy, my co-founder, has a legal background and I’ve got an engineering background and our skill sets complement each other very nicely. I really can’t understate how important that is when it comes to growing a venture-backed company. You can’t do everything yourself, and you need to be working with someone you trust, someone that shares your value system and someone that’s working towards the same vision.
Where would you like to see Flow in the next 5 years?