A business eco-system is not just for technology companies

A message from our CEO & Founder, Joseph Chou

In the natural world, an eco-system is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. These organisms co-exist, interacting with and influencing one another, adapting and evolving together within that environment.

These days, more and more often we hear this term in business – particularly with technology companies. Alibaba, Apple, Google, Facebook – these are companies which have become known for building their own business eco-system.

Alibaba, for example, started as a B2B company, but recognising customer needs, started their B2C offshoot ‘Taobao’. After realising that in China there was no logistics system, they set one up. Without a credit system, they set up Alipay. They have also created a financial service arm, offering buy now pay later service to consumers within their eco-system. All these elements combine to create an end-to-end chain of value for their customers, where every need is taken care of.

Apple has built a similar eco-system: iPhone to iPad to Mac – software and content all easily accessible and interlinked. I remember I first got an iPhone because I loved listening to music; downloading MP3 tracks on my computer and transferring them seemed too complex. The iPhone was simple, and with iTunes, purchasing new music was also simple.

At the heart of a business eco-system is finding ways to add value to your customers – so they have a great experience and have no need to go anywhere else. Sometimes this includes working with competitors to achieve this aim.

This idea started to gain shape for me, as an entrepreneur, back when I had my interpreting business and I was given a particular job to do some Mandarin translation work. What I discovered was that my client also needed someone to do a voiceover – reading the translation aloud – which was something I could help with. I then discovered they also needed it translated and recorded in 12 other languages. I thought at the time, if I can help my customer to find these talents, then I’m saving them the trouble of finding an agency or time and resources to find what they needed. In adding this value, I knew it would help to make myself more valuable longer-term, as I’d be providing them a valuable service.

The Ironfish eco-system

I translated this gem of an idea into a more concrete strategy when we started Ironfish.

In the property industry there are typically 3 types of companies: a developer, real estate agent and a project marketer.

The developer is the manufacturer of the product (the property), a real estate agent sells (usually) second-hand property as a home to someone in a one-off transaction. A project marketer sells off-the-plan developments on behalf of the developer. Like a real estate agent, project marketer companies are not looking at who their customers are, their needs as an investor/first home buyer or whether they can they afford to buy or not, it’s not their job to worry about if the buy settles or not, or whether they hold it long term after settlement.

On the surface, Ironfish may appear to fall under each of these categories; we develop, we operate under a real estate license, and we do sell new and off-the-plan property. However, from day one we wished to operate differently to these types of companies by creating our own eco-system of value for our customers.

Our eco-system consists of education, investment opportunity identification and property development, on-going support and long-term customer service.   

For us, it started with education. We knew there was a gap in financial or investment education; so we helped promote financial literacy – why it’s important to save and invest. We also wanted to provide an environment where people can confidently take action on what they’ve learned. For us, this meant having the best property strategists to guide them, an amazing property acquisition and research team, which would monitor the market, look for good investment opportunities on behalf of our customers. As a result, we only take on the best people as our strategists, many of whom are multimillion investors themselves, we’ve never listed every property that came our way. In fact, we are known to be the most selective when it comes to what we would recommend to our investors.

From there we keep our investors informed, inspired and educated along the way. We provide market reports, construction updates, seminars, webinars. We help put together credible brokers, solicitors to help with settlement, so investors don’t have to go out looking for these people or companies themselves. We then hand our investors over to our property managers. For many agents, a rent roll of about 200-500 properties is considered an asset to sell, or a ‘cash-cow’ in times when sales are not as strong. But we see our property management as an extension of Ironfish service.

While most property marketers stop their service after customers exchanges the contract, we have a dedicated client care team in each of our branches as well as our headquarter office – which is very rare in the industry. Our client care team look after our customers long term, we make sure they have a smooth experience between purchase and settlement and solve any property related question they may have, even long after their settlement.

For example, we had a customer just recently who bought with us 5 years ago in Sydney. Whilst he made some money on the property, he recently experienced some issues with a leak. He reached out to us when he had this issue and we reached out to the builder on his behalf. The problem was solved pretty quickly, and our customer, who appreciated the additional service five years after settlement, is looking to invest with us again.

Similarly, while we pride ourselves on working exclusively with leading developers, we did see a gap in certain markets or areas or for a certain type of property that other developers weren’t producing. As a result, we established our own development arms, to provide the Ironfish brand of quality, delivery, value, and customer experience from end-to-end.

It’s interesting to note that a business eco-system, much like a natural eco-system can comprise of competitors who co-exist in that environment. The iPhone, for example, is made up of multiple companies’ products – the software, the chips, and some other components. Though Samsung is a major competitor in the smartphone space, the iPhone comprises of some parts made by Samsung.

Like Apple and Samsung, we also care about our ‘competitors’ and we need them. If we decide to recommend properties in a particular development or building, we don’t want to sell all of them. One reason is that we don’t necessarily want the building to be full of investors – ideally you want a combination of owner occupiers and investors in a building or estate for better capital growth potential.

Secondly, in Australia, you need a certain number of pre-sales and funding for a residential development to get off the ground. Once our property acquisition team has identified a great development, and ticked off all the right boxes, the next question they will ask, is who else is selling in this building? If the other agents or companies involved are reputable and have a good track record, then we know the development is going to get off the ground in the timeline expected.

While we have built some strong foundations in the Ironfish eco-system, it’s not yet complete. We currently have identified a number of services that we can add to our eco-system, which we are very excited about. One of them is that we see great potential with our education offering; I am a strong believer in the ‘left hand/right hand theory’. We can help support with the investment side, but I would also like to help on the income / earning side. This is something I have started to build through my Bicycle to Bentley education brand.

Our ultimate dream is to help our customers to achieve greatness in life – not just investment success, but success all round. What an exciting thought!

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