In this interview, Gerard Paratte, CEO of Properstar, looks back on his career and tells us how he arrived in the world of real estate, what fascinates him about the industry and his ambitions for the future of Properstar.
1- What is your background?
My parents are into real estate, so I have been immersed in this field since I was a child. After my studies, I had two options: start working for a company or start my own business. In 1995 – 1996, I had the idea to launch a project related to real estate ads on the internet. Luckily, I dove into real estate at the right time! However, the market was not yet ready to welcome my idea.
We launched the first real estate portal in Switzerland, starting from a blank sheet of paper because nothing similar existed on the market at that time. It looked like a Yahoo-type directory. The idea was to maintain website traffic and have the ads on our platform. At first, it was a failure because we were too avant-garde for the market. There was demand from consumers, but the agencies were not ready. So we had to be patient.
From 2012 and 2016, patience paid off, because in the end we sold our portals. So, it's a long story that lasted twenty years. It's also an interesting story because we had big media in front of us, but we always knew how to remain nimble and stayed one step ahead.
Once this part of the adventure was over, I embarked on another version, which was just as interesting. In 2013, I bought a small company in France that specialized in international real estate. My goal was to find out how to do international online real estate and to reach the whole world without having to set up a large structure. However, the volume of traffic was limiting, hence the idea to launch Properstar in 2017 and have our own brand in addition to the international network.
From that moment on, the company gained new momentum. The company has grown, even more than I had originally planned. I realized that we could really change the market, by transforming the way that real estate players work on a platform. The adventure continues, and we proceed to develop Properstar and offer the best solutions to agents and our customers.
2- What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
When I finished my studies, I went to Asia because there weren't many job opportunities in Switzerland. I wanted to find a job quickly and start my professional career. So I went to Hong Kong, telling myself that I was going to find an expat job there, that it was going to be great, that I would have a nice apartment and a nice salary. But finally, after a month there, I hadn't found anything. The father of a friend I was living with at the time, told me that if I really wanted to succeed in Asia, I had to take my backpack, go to work in China in a factory, learn Chinese, come back to Hong Kong with work experience and from then on I could find a job.
The idea did not appeal to me and that's when I told myself that I had to do something related to the internet. I embarked on entrepreneurship. I still took my backpack and went to Asia, but to travel. I took advantage of these two months of travel to put my project on paper and return to Switzerland with a plan and the idea of this real estate portal.
My parents are also entrepreneurs, so it's a fiber that we have in the family and I followed the same path!
3- What projects have you worked on in recent years?
Properstar, of course! This is the project that allowed us to launch a global portal and it is something that did not exist before. Even today, we see real estate portals that cover two or three countries, but the idea of having a platform that brings together real estate and agents in more than 40 countries was really the most exciting project in recent years.
It is a project that requires a lot of ambition, time and work. It would have taken a lot of money to get it done, but we managed to do great things with relatively little money, since I funded everything myself each time. It was also one of the main constraints of the project, to develop without necessarily seeking external funding.
4- What are you passionate about in real estate?
I have always been immersed in real estate. I think that once you have been working in this field for a long time, it is difficult to get out of it. I've seen a lot of people who landed in real estate by chance, without any knowledge of the sector and stayed there. I have a passion for real estate that comes mainly from wanting to help people in their buying projects. Properstar supports real estate transactions with new ideas, new products, and new solutions to facilitate the purchase or sale of an apartment or a house.
Personally, I love real estate. I prefer to buy a property, feel good at home, invest time and energy in it, rather than in cars or clothes for example.
5- Can you tell us about an event that has particularly impacted you in your career?
I think the most significant event of my career is the 20 years of working with the first platform, all the time and personal energy put into it, the employees involved, to finally sell it and then start again on something else. It was a difficult decision that had to be made and at the same time, it was the right decision because thanks to it I was able to create Properstar and ListGlobally.
It was a big change in my life, a change that allowed me to finally be able to do everything I wanted to do on my first project. Today with Properstar, we are taking on much more important ambitions. Our goal is to change the real estate market.
6- What is your greatest professional achievement so far?
My greatest professional achievement is a little bit in line with what I said before. Having the opportunity to sell my first platform, create Properstar and develop this project without the need to find outside funding, to have the freedom to do what I always wanted to do, is my biggest achievement so far.
7- What footprint would you like to leave around you?
Perhaps I will answer the question differently. When you have worked in real estate for more than 20 years in the same market, you have to have a good reputation. You have to be straight in your boots and stay on course, and I think that's the most important thing.
Doing business is about making decisions. But if you stay focused, people recognize you for that. This is the imprint I would like to leave and that I hope to infuse into society. I want everyone to be like that at Properstar. When we do things, we do them correctly and respectfully. Of course, it's not always easy, there are decisions to be made, but staying consistent is the best guideline.
In the end, being recognized for one's integrity and values is the most important. If you work with real estate players on a long-term basis, if you have agencies that have been clients for 30 years and remain so, it is because you have always behaved respectably.