Crowdvilla is a Singapore-based start-up using distributed ledger technology to re-invent the market for timeshare properties. With the company’s first properties expected to be available for rental in Japan later this year, we spoke to the company’s founder and CEO, Darvin Kurniawan
The Jet: What sparked the idea for Crowdvilla and for using blockchain for villa rentals?
DK: In late 2007 we started a company similar to Airbnb – a daily rental website in Singapore. We wanted to take advantage of the social aspect to the sharing economy and what we see is a new paradigm in the concept of asset ownership. Unfortunately, we had to close it two years ago as the regulations in Singapore don’t allow short-term rental of private property, so we started to look at other areas of the property market.
The Jet: Why villa rental and not some other area for applying blockchain?
DK: As a team we are not from the travel industry. We actually started a programme trying to tokenise real estate to solve a real estate problem – a sector which is high value but also highly illiquid.
We saw this growing idea that currency can be decentralised and then we thought that perhaps we could build a concept of asset ownership in the spirit of the decentralised model.
None of the main cryptocurrencies are based on physical assets, so we felt that by linking a crypto token to property you can unlock more value from property and create a more liquid real estate asset class.
Property is the most exclusive asset class in Singapore. Unfortunately, with the hype surrounding ICOs [the release of new cryptocurrencies] the regulator stepped in, so we pivoted to the current model focusing on villa rental. Technologically speaking it’s the same with a token in Crowdvilla representing a share of one of the villas owned by the community. We’ve now validated the model and are in the middle of discussions with real estate partners in Singapore with the target of a token sale in May.
The Jet: You mentioned community – how will the villas be owned and managed?
We’re trying to define a new concept of a community-based asset. The idea behind Crowdvilla is that the property can be truly shared between stakeholders. We’ve set up a non-profit organisation which is mandated so that the property is managed and owned by token holders and not on a revenue-generating model. Token owners will have a claim on the time value of the property.
The token sale in May will allow people to buy tokens which will help fund the purchase of properties. Contributors will be allocated a Crowdvilla token (CRV) based on the amount of their contribution. CRV token holders will then be able to generate utility tokens to stay in any property owned by the community. As long as you hold the tokens you will have the right to access the properties in the network.
The Jet: What’s the next step for the business?
DK: We’re now in the middle of discussions with real estate players in Singapore to help us with the token sale in May. Our first challenge is really the token sale and the inter-play with traditional, fiat currency – we’re looking for the right partners so that we can securely convert crypto holdings into fiat currencies. It’s early days but there are already some smaller developers starting to accept bitcoin. We also need help in identifying the right partners for the NPO.
Our first target partners or community members will focus on people that are already part of the crypto community – mainly because they’ll have an easier understanding of what we’re trying to do and how it works. The token sale will be based on exchanging Ether [the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain network] for Crowdvilla tokens. Ether will be held centrally by the non-profit organisation which will be used to buy real estate.
The Jet: How long until the first properties are available for rental?
DK: We’re aiming to have our first properties later this year. We won’t start in Singapore first as short-term rental market is still illegal so we’ll start with properties in Japan, Bali, Bangkok and are working with partners have regional reach in these markets.
The Jet: How are you communicating the solution to potential partners and customers?
We see marketing and distribution as less of a challenge for the token sale. But we are
trying to educate the market – and if we do our job well, and make the system transparent, we’ll be able to build interest and awareness.
A large part of our activity today focuses on building communities and relationships and answering questions, like where the tokens can be used. We already have own community back from where we started with the short-term rental site – so we have a strong network of contacts already.