From Silicon Valley to Dubai: ft. Helen Chen


Helen Chen, CEO of Nomad Homes, shared her journey of dropping out of Stanford and moving from Silicon Valley to Dubai to set-up Nomad Homes at AstroLabs. Nomad Homes is Dubai’s first property technology company that provides customers with a fully digital end-to-end experience. This is an excerpt from the engaging session she conducted at AstroLabs where she answered questions about starting up, launching fast, finding co-founders, raising investment and much more!


Once you had your idea, how did you go about implementing it? Did you do all the research yourself or did you involve other people?

A lot of research was done by myself. That consisted of many customer interviews – speaking with people who bought a home or rented a home and asking them what they liked and did not like about the process. When we realized there is definitely something which we can improve, I asked Dan and Damian to be my co-founders. I have a finance background, Dan has a tech background and Damian has an operations background. We then started setting up our tech, building our MVP and running with it. You need to believe what you are doing is better for the customer and one day you are going to succeed!

How do you look for co-founders?

Look within your network first because your co-founder should be someone who you can trust, whether it’s a recommendation from a friend or someone else you know. Also, the experience and skill set of you and your co-founders should be different. Two people with the same background can work together but it’s better if your team can focus on aspects like tech, ops, finance etc separately.

What challenges have you faced disrupting the property market here in Dubai

Firstly, because real-estate is a really big asset class, disrupting the real estate industry is really tough not only in Dubai but around the world. Changing the way things are done is quite a challenge itself.

Secondly it’s important to establish trust in the market : Why should a customer work with us? Why should other real estate companies work with us? To establish that trust we at Nomad hold ourselves to an incredibly high bar of customer satisfaction and trust.

Lastly, I had to convince a lot of investors who traditionally invest in Silicon Valley to take a leap of faith and invest in Nomad in Dubai. They were not quite aware of the real-estate industry here and we had to convince them of the huge opportunity here.

How important is it to stay lean on MVP and prototyping?

To achieve product-market-fit it is very important to get your MVP out as quickly as possible and test it with customers. The more customers you have on your platform the more you will learn from them. Another important mantra for startups is “Learn fast, Fail fast”. It’s fine if your first product doesn’t work. You can survey your customers to find out why it didn’t work and what you can do to make it better. So, get your product out into the market with the customers, test it on the customers and take feedback

How do you continuously improve your customer experience and win new customers? 

Even if the customer doesn’t end up transacting with us, we take the feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t like working with us. There are times when my co-founders and I are on the phone with the customers helping them find homes, scheduling viewings and making sure they are getting the best prices and experience. Talking and interacting with customers and being close to them is very important.

How do you update yourself in current times where new technologies are evolving everyday?

In today’s times we are continuous learners. When it comes to keeping up with the latest technology – that’s where having a phenomenal engineering team comes into play. They are constantly learning and updating the technology we deploy. They implement it and make sure the company is on the forefront. One must have a growth mindset and not take things as they are. Always question and try to figure out a new and better way. It’s good to be curious about something and learn more!

What are your tips for fundraising?

First you should be thinking about the type of funding you want – Venture Capital (VC) funding or Bootstrapping from friends and family. Being a VC-backed company has a lot of appeal (like Uber, Airbnb). But it also comes with a lot of expectations and those often revolve around growth. For a VC-backed company, annual growth of 30% would not be a good outcome, the expectation is 3 to 4 times growth annually. If your company is well suited to these expectations, you should opt for VC funding

In terms of funding, VC’s firstly look at the kind of business you are building – In my experience they will only invest in a company if it has a $1 billion potential. Secondly, VC’s look at your team – you should have a proper team to tackle the opportunity. Thirdly, they look at  the importance of your business or product, and why is it necessary in the market

What are your plans for next year?

We are focused on our product technology. We want to continuously offer more tech solutions to our customers and double down on customer experience and make it 10x better than what it is today.


In case you missed it, you can watch the full MeetUp here.


AstroLabs has helped 300+ tech startups like Nomad Homes, Deliveroo, Deezer, NowMoney, Trukker, Justmop launch and scale in Dubai. Click here and to know more about our co-working spaces, network of global and regional mentors, and company setup services in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

Want to start your own business and want to avoid the mistakes made by many founders over the years? AstroLabs is bringing its style of no-fluff, practical incubators that have helped start ups launch and scale in the MENA region since 2013 to a fully online-self paced incubator that is open to all entrepreneurs. Click here to register your interest.



Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *