30 minutes with Domain’s John Foong: real estate the Australian way

That’s the view of Domain’s new chief revenue officer John Foong, who joined the platform in Australia after almost 15 years with Google and Uber.

Speaking exclusively to Elite Agent, just two weeks before leaving the US to return home to Australia, John says there are many things the Australian real estate market, and the Domain platform, could harness and amplify from big business in America.

“I find that Silicon Valley has that tech-centric thinking, which is very positive when we’re thinking about how to scale business because they really value their employees,” he says.

“They treat them like gold, they fight for them, and they know they have to keep competing for their talents, for their loyalty, because those people are very marketable.

“They know that acquiring customers and retaining customers is the lifeblood of business. So everything you do – spending a lot of money to get a customer to try you, fighting hard when they’re trying you, so they have a good experience and fighting to keep them – determines your valuation as a company.”

A growth mentality

John says the US had a great growth mentality and embraced the philosophy that a great idea, anywhere, can change the world.

“I think the exciting thing is, that’s where Australia is going,” he says.

“It’s been great to see some of the Australian companies like Atlassian or Canva or companies like that, that want to take great ideas, wherever they are made, and amplify them.

“I think that’s the machine that these Silicon Valley giants have built, and I’m grateful to have lived, eaten and breathed in that for the past 15 years.

“And that’s where we, as Domain, want to go. We want to have a huge impact.”

That huge impact will focus on making agents more successful, as without agents, Domain would not succeed.

“We have a great brand, so it’s all about how we can have an even bigger impact, particularly on agents to help them build their business and be successful, in less time and with less work,” John explains.

But there are also some elements of big business culture in the US that won’t work in Australia, and John notes they revolve around people, trust and relationship building.

He says Silicon Valley moves quickly and operates in a “transactional” rather than “relational” manner, which doesn’t correlate with the Australian real estate market’s ecosystem, which is built on trust.

“Even though I have this great brand behind me, this great brand of Domain, I need to earn the trust of real estate agents and their principals,” John says.

“Silicon Valley is not so strong on that; it’s a bit more transactional. The Australian way is more about, ‘Hey, get to know me first before we do business together, and then when we do a partnership, we do it for life’.

“Ultimately, that’s a great thing, and I’m a student of that.”

Building relationships at scale

John spent 12 years at Google holding a range of go-to-market leadership roles, including leading Google Cloud’s multi-billion-dollar global partner program with 20,000 partners.

His job was to make sure these partners were successful because if they were, then Google would be too, not just because they received a commission from the partner, but because the partner helped generate more raving fans.

“It’s because you have someone that’s built their business on Google and is there shouting and talking about Google and helping other people install their Google products,” John says.

“That’s ultimately what gives your product global influence.

“I’m sure you can see a really clear analogy for (real estate) agencies. Domain is nothing without agents.

“We are a conduit for people seeking houses and people seeking to sell houses to find each other. The key person in that is the agent. 

“We are only going to be successful when we help agents be very successful themselves.”

A love of real estate

John says while his working life hasn’t always involved real estate, it has always played an important part in his home life.

When his parents, who are from Malaysia and Hong Kong, moved to Australia in the ‘80s one of the first things they set their mind to was buying a property.

“Part of the Cantonese- Asian culture is that as soon as you can, you get into property,” John says.

“As soon as you have money, you don’t put it in the bank, you start paying off or buying a home … then, when you get your feet under you, you get the next one.

“So I’ve always grown up with that mindset.”

Over the years, John has bought and sold many investment properties both here in Australia and the US.

In fact, it was selling his investment properties in Cairns that paid for him to go through business school at Stanford University.

“From a wealth creation point of view, I think housing as an investment is just amazing,” he notes.

“There are unbelievable opportunities that would not have been possible without property.”

John says property is also integral in the way people’s lives are shaped and can be associated with fond memories of childhood, growing up and life events.

He says investing enables him to provide that, not just for his family but for others that may not be in a position to buy. 

“So much of it is about creating an efficient property market and creating a fairer way of doing property,” John says.

Housing affordability

John also has clear views on how housing affordability issues can be tackled and says it’s not just about legislation in connection to taxation but also around mobility and construction.

“So (we need) both legislation and expansive thinking about how do we create more space to build and the infrastructure around it,” he says.

“Thinking about financing and incentives is important too, whether it’s the first home buyers grant or whether it’s how you think about taxation breaks for people who are buying, either first-time buyers or upgrading.

“And even incentives for people who really think about moving to rural places. Because the exciting thing is, with Covid, we’ve started to taste that you could actually live in Wagga or Albury and be an executive in an ASX100 company.

“When you think about it, you could potentially live anywhere and have high impact.

“That’s probably the biggest thing we could do for housing affordability – reframe where an appropriate house is, or needs to be, and Covid has changed that conversation.”

Trends to watch

Other property market trends John expects we will soon see include homeowners refinancing more often.

He says currently the refinancing rate in Australia is less than half of that in the US, mostly due to the inefficient process borrowers need to go through and some uncertainty in the financial markets.

“What you’re going to see over time is that there’s going to be incentives for people to bring that down,” John explains.

“Whether it’s financial agents stepping in or PropTech coming up, or parts of the bank or pressure on legislation, these are things that can get people the gratification they deserve, which helps build a more efficient market where people can get more bang for their buck.”

In terms of what Domain is doing to help agents become more efficient, John says the platform’s Early Access product is all about getting more eyes on a property as soon as possible and helping lower days on market.

He says another key focus for the portal is helping agents generate more leads to secure future listings. 

“We’ve been investing a lot in using the many different sources of data that we have and the many signals where different people are searching the web or things we can see in public, to create intelligence and insights,” John says.

“So if you are a real estate agent, you can better prioritise the customer leads that you already have and try and figure out who is most likely to sell and therefore nurture them accordingly.

“It’s a product that we’d call Lead Scope. It’s early on in the market right now, but we think that that’s something that’s going to help agents more bang for the time buck that they have.

“It’s going to help great agents stand out more and scale their impact.”

Caring approach to leadership

John says one of the main things he’s looking forward to about touching down in Australia is engaging with the 350-person strong Domain sales team.

He has already met with 50 agencies virtually.

“I try to meet with one every day,” John explains.

“But I’m looking forward to meeting groups next year and travelling around.

“I just want to hear about their story and what they’re doing.

“This is not just a job. This is about a relationship. This is about the Australian way of doing things.”

Show More

Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.