CEO Series

Meet The Man Behind The First 'Unicorn' Startup In Philippines - Valued At Over US$1B In Under 2 Years

True to his startup’s name – Revolution Precrafted – Robbie Antonio believes that he’s starting a revolution with his property business.

His startup mixes prefab homes and luxury branding to revolutionize the real estate industry – not just in the Philippines, but also around the world.

Its innovativeness has made it the first startup in the Philippines to achieve ‘unicorn’ status, a term used to describe a company that has a valuation of US$1 billion.

According to TechinAsia, it is one of the fastest companies to achieve this billion-dollar status in the Southeast region.

Early last year, prolific startup accelerator 500 Startups poured money into Revolution, bringing the company’s valuation to US$256 million.

Then in October 2017, a fresh round of funding led by Singaporean venture capital firm K2 Global raised an undisclosed amount that brought the startup over the billion-dollar mark.

Real Estate Runs In His Blood 

Robbie Antonio (left) and his father Jose E.B. Antonio (right) / Image Credit: Forbes

Robbie, the youngest to be featured in Forbes’ 2017 list of the 50 richest people in the Philippines, belongs to a family that has made its fortune in real estate.

His father – Jose E.B. Antonio – owns Century Properties and shook up the real estate market by selling an aspirational lifestyle to Filipinos, and played to their penchant for celebrities and branded names.

Trump Tower in Manila / Image Credit: Condo Rent Sale

As the managing director, Robbie is responsible for spearheading the company’s direction and branded collaborations like the Trump Tower in Manila, a Paris Hilton-branded collection of condos, Milano Resides by Versace, Acqua Livingstone by Missoni Home, and the world’s first Forbes Tower.

“I’ve done about US$2.1 billion worth of branded deals for the family business,” Robbie said in an interview with Tech Wire Asia.

He added that this hands-on experience has made him “understand the pain points in real estate”, and working on these glitzy projects is what led him to start up his own company.

Established in December 2015, Revolution Precrafted is a manifestation of Robbie’s dream to fuse his experience in constructing stunning, exclusive buildings with his deep love for contemporary art.

Robbie is actually an avid art collector who has been recognised as one of the top collectors in the world by Artnet in 2016, placed alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernard Arnault, Paul Allen, and other point-one percenters.

According to him, this obsession with art is what led him to develop branded homes for the middle market and ultimately want to make designer homes accessible to more people.

“My inspiration for the project came from my own passion and experience in art collection. I wanted to make architecture collectible – but at an accessible price point,” Robbie said in an interview with Huffington Post.

“Revolution preserves the exclusivity of art collection and by introducing prefabricated technology, it expands the potential of ownership.”

Making Designer Homes More Accessible

Revolution Precrafted sells highly customisable prefabricated properties such as modular homes, condominiums, pavilions, pop-up retail stores, and fitness centres.

Prefab Pavilion by Zaha Hadid / Image Credit: Mike Butler

Developed by world-renowned architects and designers like the late Zaha Hadid, David Salle, Tom Dixon, and Marcel Wanders, the homes are priced at an average of US$120,000.

Prefabricated homes, often referred to as prefab homes or simply prefabs, are specialist dwelling types of prefabricated building, which are manufactured off-site in advance, usually in standard sections that can be easily shipped and assembled.

This means that you don’t have to go through the hassle of hiring a whole team of contractors, manufacturers or builders, and also save on the astronomical fees of commissioning a famous architect.

The only instructions Robbie gave his designers was to make a structure from 50 to 250 square meters with components that could fit in a shipping container.

Through his ties with quality fabricators here and abroad, Revolution can also complete the developments faster.

A 50-square-meter home can be done in as fast as 90 days as opposed to the usual two years, since most of the components have already been fabricated.

Robbie told Esquire PH that he has “worked with 13 Pritzker Prize architects, possibly more than any human being in the world.”

“I love doing this! It’s not just about the valuation. It’s [about] creating something so inherently different.”

We have intellectual property over all these names – you can get them at a ridiculously high price and wait a number of years, or get it from us in three months at a much cheaper price.

In a separate interview with CoBo, Robbie said that he has a penchant for “[working] with the best people in the world”.

Learning from the best is a “privilege” and he wants to “impart that to the world”, he added.

Robbie Antonio (left) and Paris Hilton (middle) at an Azure media conference in 2011 / Image Credit: Weekend Balita

This sort of branded collaboration has been done before in retail, such as Rodarte for Target and Balmain for H&M, but it’s definitely a novel concept in homes and architectures.

According to an interview with Tech Wire Asia, such branding can help increase the development’s sale price compared to competitors who might have a superior location, and it also tends to sell faster.

By leveraging the star power of these big names, Revolution successfully drives up the value of his buildings and simultaneously eliminates the idea that prefabricated homes are ‘cheap’.

But beyond the high valuation, Robbie said that such branded collaborations are great because they churn out designs that are “inherently different.”

“I’ve been [linking up architects with different celebrities] for well over a decade already, so [I’ve] understood how we could enhance the liveability and saleability of a product,” he told Tech Wire Asia.

The value proposition of [Revolution] is that you can go to Lenny Kravitz – if you can – pay him a million dollars, wait two to three years of your life – or do it through me for an affordable price.

“We’re the only branded housing company in the world.”

He admitted that keeping prices low has been a challenge – to “[create] something couture at Zara prices, while still keeping to the DNA of the architects and designers, who are used to blowing through sky-high budgets.”

Not Your Regular Real Estate Company

Image Credit: Revolution Precrafted

According to Robbie, his startup is greatly inspired by Airbnb and he aims to disrupt the real estate industry through lower price points and its technological innovations.

He admires Airbnb’s simple model of having no land and zero inventory, a global footprint, and its ability to use technology in a disruptive way.

And that’s exactly what Robbie wants to achieve with his own company.

“We are the complete antithesis of the traditional real estate company. We cater to the world. We do not have to be site-specific, buy land, take out construction loans, or have inventory,” he told DealstreetAsia.

“Our highly differentiated business model provides the best in architectural design globally, at lower costs and shorter timelines, through the ingenious application of technological innovation.”

With tech as the very fiber of its DNA, Revolution uses advanced robotics to create the house in order to reduce the errors and speed up the process.

Unlike traditional players, it’s very low on capital expenditures as it doesn’t own land; it’s not forced to sell in particular sites (it ships homes globally); and it gets its cash flow in three months versus the typical three to four years’ turnover time for brick and mortar firms.

“I would like to believe we have fundamentally transformed the real estate/property development sector by introducing affordability, accessibility, simplicity, convenience, and sustainability to an otherwise intimidating, complicated and generally expensive industry,” he told Forbes

As of March 2017, the company has booked US$110 million in orders for real estate projects.

When asked what he thinks are the contributing factor(s) of his startup’s success, he said that it’s “predicated on addressing the most common pain points of home buyers – speed, quality, cost, design, and complexity of the process.”

“Our fabricators can complete the developments faster. A home can be completed in three months as opposed to the usual two years as most of the components have already been fabricated, ready for assembly at the job site.”

“Moreover, instead of wasting six months to a year on design, our clients can choose from the works of the most revered award-winning architects and artists.”

Essentially, we democratize access to branded design of living spaces by combining world-renowned designers with the latest advances in construction technology.

The “Ikea Of Homebuilding”

Robbie Antonio, founder of Revolution Precrafted / Image Credit: Revolution Precrafted

Moving forward, Robbie said that he is confident that his startup will be the global leader in designer fabricated structures, and eventually be the “Ikea of homebuilding”.

Although its main markets lie in Southeast Asia, the startup is “making moves to penetrate the American, Middle-Eastern and European markets.”

By this year, it aims to have at least four to five offices within Southeast Asia.

Globally, they plan on having offices in 20 countries – UAE, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, USA, Mexico, UK, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy.

“And the list just keeps on growing. Global domination is our end goal,” Robbie told DealStreetAsia.

Sharing a piece of advice to fellow entrepreneurs, Robbie said that the real problem with the local startup community is the “lack of funding“.

If you do not have access to capital in the Philippines, be resourceful and go abroad. There are other countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, where there are more early-stage VC funds than the Philippines. Go pitch to them.

“Passion is not enough; obsession is key. You have to be extremely ambitious. Believe in your vision and see it through. Giving up should never be an option,” he added.

Featured Image Credit: Revolution Precrafted 

 

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