'Urban Compass' founder heads in the right direction
Serial entrepreneur Ori Allon and business partner Robert Reffkin launch an online tool to help New Yorkers find their ideal property.PT0M50S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2j7se 620 349 May 8, 2013
Ori Allon built his reputation as a gun entrepreneur by developing algorithms to improve the process of search.
The Israeli-born computer scientist, who studied at universities in Melbourne and Sydney and became a naturalised Australian, sold the first idea to Google and the second one to Twitter. He walked away with millions.
Call it a local network, not a social network.Ori Allon
Now, after six months in stealth mode and $8 million in seed capital, the 32-year-old has taken the wraps off his latest venture. It was launched overnight in New York by the mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Ready to disrupt ... Urban Compass co-founder Dr Ori Allon.
Urban Compass is a hyperlocal play designed to disrupt the business of renting, buying and selling residential property and Dr Allon is testing it first in New York, the city with one of the world's most dysfunctional real estate markets.
But Urban Compass is more than just about property. Dr Allon and his partners have hired 80 employees, half of whom are "neighbourhood specialists". Their job is to become what can be best described as turbo-charged concierges.
Apartment rentals are first, with sales following. But the start-up also wants to become the go-to place for people looking for information about schools, restaurants and entertainment.
Creating a local network ... Urban Compass co-founder Dr Ori Allon, centre, launches his latest venture in New York. Photo: Supplied
"Call it a local network, not a social network," Dr Allon said in a telephone call from his office in New York.
Neighbourhood specialists will be both the behind-the-scenes data gatherers and the customer service operators who are the public face of Urban Compass.
The business is powered by an unusual mix of data and algorithms with a human touch. But Dr Allon admits he is venturing into a business category that is littered with the corpses of a multitude of start-ups which eventually had to be put down.
The hyperlocal market has long been in the cross-hairs of many start-ups and publishers with ventures such as Backfence, Every Block and Patch. But to date, none has cracked it.
Dr Allon believes that real estate - finding people homes to rent or buy - is the key and that once you solve that problem for them, you gain their loyalty and their eyeballs.
After he has disrupted New York's real estate business, Dr Allon wants to expand across the country, and then across the Pacific to Australia, where he still maintains strong ties.
"[The business model] scales," he said. "If we go to a new city, it's not going to take more than a few months to get going."
Dr Allon said that while the Urban Compass “platform” - as he described it - would accept some user generated contributions, the bulk of the of the content would be curated by staff.
Urban Compass has attracted millions in seed capital from investment bank Goldman Sachs, venture capital funds Thrive Capital and FF Angel and several private investors, including the chairman and CEO of American Express.
And Urban Compass's co-founders and senior management team includes several Goldman Sachs alumni as well as engineers from Google and Twitter.
Dr Allon first made headlines in 2006 when it was revealed that he had sold Google the rights to an advanced text search algorithm that he developed while a PhD student at the University of NSW.
He had previously completed his undergraduate and masters degree at Melbourne's Monash University.
He was later employed by Google where he helped to integrate his search technology - dubbed Orion - into Google's all powerful, all conquering search engine.
After leaving Google in 2009, he set up a company called Julpan in New York and hired five former UNSW students to join him to help develop a system to capture and analyse real-time activity on the social web. Microsoft was among his backers.
In 2012, he sold Julpan to Twitter for a sum believed to be in excess of $40 million and then joined as director of engineering.