- Making his first investment shortly after graduating, John Foong encourages people to get their start as early as possible
- With a background in sales for Google and Uber, he brings valuable lessons in scaling to his new role as CRO at Domain
- While a career in property was unexpected for Mr Foong, he is excited to join Domain in fulfilling peoples' property dreams
With an impressively long resume and a passport to match, Mr Foong has worked for some of the world’s largest technology companies and has been stationed across Europe, Africa, and most recently the United States.
Now, he has returned to his Sydney home base to take on his latest challenge, assuming the role of Chief Revenue Officer for leading real estate listing platform Domain.
An early start to investment
Born in Sydney to parents who had immigrated from Malaysia and Hong Kong, Mr Foong was introduced to property investment from an early age.
“In the culture where my parents came from, property investing is something that happens very early on in life,” he explained.
His parents, including his real estate agent father, strongly encouraged him to follow in their footsteps and enter the property market.
Growing up, he watched his family expand their property portfolio throughout almost every state and territory, working their way up from apartments, to houses, commercial holdings and off the plan properties.
“They had been investing since they were very young and as I’m a teenager they’re telling me “Okay John, once you get your first job, you’re going to start saving money and put a down payment on a house”,” he said.
Heeding their advice, Mr Foong graduated high school at the age of 18 and leveraged money from a university scholarship, pouring it into the first property he could buy before even starting work.
The outcome was a small university apartment in Sydney, worth $60,000.
Mr Foong has continued to develop his property investment portfolio ever since, able to support his Masters in Business Administration in the United States using the profits of one investment alone.
Valuable lessons in scaling
In 2005, Mr Foong made the decision to leave his job in Sydney as a Business Analyst.
Following a short stint in Mozambique as a Project Manager for USAID, he spent 12 years working for multinational technology company Google.
First stationed in Dublin Ireland as a European Manager of Trust and Safety, he relocated to California in 2014 where he worked his way up to become Google’s Global Director of Partner Sales and Strategic Alliances.
In 2019, Mr Foong departed Sunnyvale California to join ride-share company Uber as the Global Head of Account Management and Customer Engineering, stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Speaking of his time at both Google and Uber, he said valuable lessons about scaling up an idea into a successful business is something he really took away from his experiences.
“The great thing about Uber and Google and those companies are they are some of the most interesting and fast-moving companies in the world,” Mr Foong said.
Having recently left Uber in July 2021, he was appointed as Chief Revenue Officer of Australian real estate platform Domain in September of last year.
He began the position remotely from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area, before returning to Sydney with his young family a month ago.
While a career in property was never firmly in Mr Foong’s sights, he was glad when the opportunity to join the leading real estate platform arose.
“Property is what I love. It’s not just about running listings, it’s that whole vision of how we connect those commercial property folks or retail investors or owner-occupiers with their dreams.”
“I was really excited that it all came together, they were looking for someone like me, I wasn’t looking necessarily to get into property as a full time vocation but it’s the perfect job for me,” he said.
Mr Foong said the beneficial lessons in scaling from his past positions helped prepare him to take on his latest role at Domain.
“If you think about those lessons and what you have to do to scale technology, to scale leadership, to scale a brand, to scale marketing, that’s what we’re looking to do not just in Domain Australia but the whole of Australian companies.
“In Domain’s case we’ve got a great brand, a great app, a really good legacy knowledge, we’ve got that set of assets,” he added.
A roller coaster ride for Aussie property
While Mr Foong admits he was “watching from afar” from his home in the United States, he agreed it had been an amazing year for Australian real estate.
“I think there’s probably never been such a swing in terms of how bad folks though it would be. The start of the year was full of optimism, vaccines were coming out and Australia had weathered the storm magnificently, and then we had the Delta wave which wiped out inspections and sales went to a standstill.
“Then towards the end of the year this incredible roaring back happened in terms of the availability and the prices, which had already started to increase because of the constraints, just kept going up,” he said.
While Mr Foong said it was a year for property that no one could have predicted, he acknowledged that people will always have a desire for the Australian dream, hence why people must be provided multiple ways to enter the property market.
“We’re grateful that we’ve seen agents go from doing well, to being full of fear, to now really full of optimism and having the busiest last quarter of 2021 anyone could imagine.”
As for Domain, he indicated a fantastic year as the platform’s influence grew, it’s customers and agents did better than ever, and Domain’s real estate products continued to develop.
“At Domain we are just grateful that we see people transacting and connecting with their Australian dream, and that we can be part of that picture,” he said.
Australian dream to remain alight
For the year ahead, Mr Foong expects that demand will continue rising for property of all shapes and sizes, with all ends of the market looking up.
“We don’t expect that to change because the long-term fundamentals of demand and supply aren’t changing,” he said.
“People love Australia, people want to own their own properties at all stages of the market, and the supply of people that are going to demand properties are only going to increase.”
While he expects little movement in the long-term trends for owner-occupiers and investors, he does anticipate the market will get tougher for renters.
“We expect the rental market, which continues to be tight, to go under even more demand as international travels come back. We do expect to see even more rental activity which has been slightly muted as students, international folks and expatriates are shut out.”
He added that the work from anywhere movement is likely to continue driving an uptick in office vacancies and an increased demand for commuting and rural towns, a trend Domain is excited to see as rural areas pick up.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, there is still not enough office expansion supply for the folks that are expected to come into the country, and for the countries expecting to build.
“The big thing for industrial is data centres and fulfillment centres. As more people go online and use e-commerce more and more, these are some of the second and third order effects,” he explained.
Mr Foong added that the ongoing shortages of physical goods and labour is expected to further constrain the industry, making building increasingly difficult.
He described Domain as passionate about overcoming these barriers, as an advocate for good government policy that addresses inflation, unlocks availability of workers (either domestic or international) and creates opportunities through zoning reforms.
Never too late to get started
When asked what advice he would like to impart, Mr Foong identified two audiences he would like to speak to, beginning by thanking those in the real estate industry which has embraced him so readily.
“I am a transplant into this industry, I was the son of a real estate agent but I haven’t worked my way up the agencies, I haven’t owned my own agency practice. But what I will say to those folks is thank you, it’s such an interesting business,” he said.
“You put your heart and soul into that and you’re helping other people fulfill their family dreams, not just their business dreams. I’m very grateful that Domain has been able to build a business in terms of helping folks.”
Mr Foong described the real estate industry as a very relational business, where creating and nurturing connections matters.
“The only advice I’d offer is what I’ve observed, this is a relationship business, this is a business where your reputation matters, where your reputation is grown over decades. I’m excited to embark on that as someone who is very new to the industry.”
As for the wisdom he could offer to those seeking to enter the property market, he encouraged people to follow his path and invest as soon as possible.
“As you get older, you realise that the best advice is to go back 10 years in the past and do this. I’m very grateful that I got to start really early, and I think my advice to folks is get started early as an investor.”
Mr Foong explained that investing in property is unique as you have the magic of leverage, which allowed him to create returns he was very unlikely to see when investing in the stock market.
“You know that if you buy property somewhere in the metropolitan cities or the regions which is in a good school district, those things will increase the value at least the rate of inflation.
“If you can unlock that, that is the way you can really get on the property ladder, use those learnings and use those capital gains to invest in more. Or do something like me and take that money off the table and throw it into a graduate degree and get a different kind of return. I feel very grateful I got to learn those lessons decades ago.”
“I encourage anyone reading this, no matter what stage you’re at, it’s not too late to get started,” Mr Foong concluded.