Cover Photo: Propertyguru

From finding his own home on PropertyGuru to leading the company to incredible heights, here's how Hari Krishnan changed the way homeowners buy and rent forever

How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.

When Hari Krishnan, the chief executive officer and managing director of PropertyGuru, first met co-founder Jani Rautiainen in 2005, he had no idea that the friendship would end up not only redirecting his career path but also reshaping the way an entire generation of people would look for homes to rent and buy.

15 years later and with six years at the helm, Hari has seen the company successfully list on the New York Stock Exchange and welcome over 40 million property seekers monthly with around three and a half million real estate listings across its property marketplaces in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

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“I started out with an Electronics and Telecommunications engineering degree from the University of Mumbai. I also studied Telecommunications at the University of Colorado, Boulder and got an MBA at Insead,” shared Hari. “While property was never on my mind, when I think back, I realise that I have always been drawn to emerging fields and the potent power of technology to solve real-world problems.”

It was at Insead that Hari met Rautiainen, a classmate and one of the co-founders of PropertyGuru. While the two went down their separate paths upon graduating, they reconnected in 2015. “At that point, PropertyGuru was already in existence and we began talking about how we could leverage technology to push the company even further,” Hari shared. 

Just a year later, in 2016, Hari decided to join PropertyGuru and to see how his background in technology could come in to solve the difficulties faced by homeowners and renters.  

“My goal has always been to build a world-class company based in Southeast Asia and so to achieve that, my first goal was to set the bar high in terms of our talent and our product,” explained Hari. 

“Irrespective of nationality, race, gender, religion or other differences, I believe that people want to work for a company where their work makes a difference to the world,” he continued.

“At PropertyGuru, our employees are inspired by the fact that millions of people have found their homes using our marketplaces. Tens of thousands of property agents, developers, valuers and bankers are more productive and efficient as a result of our solutions. These customers, and their evolving needs, keep us humble and focused on creating what’s next: the future.”

Truly, Hari believes in the brand so much that he even used PropertyGuru to secure his own home when he first moved to Singapore. He has since moved multiple times and has used PropertyGuru each time.

Today, Hari has spearheaded the company’s growth into five markets across South East Asia. With PropertyGuru’s tech solutions, it also revolutionised the real estate market in Singapore by taking property search online which has opened up a world of opportunities for the real estate industry. 

Besides leading the team to immense growth, Hari is also the Culture Steward at PropertyGuru, a role he assumes seriously, especially in post-pandemic work where priorities have shifted.

“I am very strict about maintaining boundaries between work and personal time and making sure that outside of work, employees are only contacted if there is a really big emergency,” explained Hari. “We’ve also recently launched our Future of Work (FOW) program where our teams make their own choices about how frequently to work from the office and to collaborate from wherever works for them.”

Between juggling his role at PropertyGuru and family life, here’s how Hari makes it work in his own words.

What is a typical morning like for you?

Hari Krishnan (HK): I am an early riser. I wake up my kids and we have breakfast as a family. I then read the newspaper and some key news sites to understand what happened in the world while I was sleeping. Then I look at my schedule for the day and get my mind back into work mode. When possible, I get in a quick run.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

HK: Breakfast for me is always the same, except on Saturdays, which is cheat day. It’s a big bowl of oatmeal with honey, flax seeds and chia seeds. And a lot of fruits. No coffee or tea. This cleansing but filling breakfast gets me set up with energy and the right nutrition.

Cheat day is normally an Indian breakfast: dosa or uttapam with chutney and spicy chilli powder.

What does a standard workday look like for you?

HK: When I’m in Singapore, my preference is to work from the office at least three days a week, as we have an exceptional space in PLQ and I love the energy of being with the team.

On those days, I typically arrive around 8.30 am and work through the day to about 6 pm before returning home for family dinner.

During the work day, I explicitly block off periods of time for thinking and introspection. As the chief executive, my job is much more about thinking about the future, stepping back and seeing things from 30,000 feet above and then guiding the business leaders. Time needs to be allocated for this.

I also like to allocate a dedicated day during the week for external meetings with board members, investors and partners and typically spend that day at one of the business clubs or visiting other offices.

How would you describe your working style?

HK: I thrive in a working culture where bright people make bold bets and then work hard in pursuit of these lofty ambitions. This requires me to hire exceptional leaders with a strong emotional quotient (EQ) as well as intellectual curiosity. The best teams I have led include a diversity of thought, this makes it more challenging as a manager, but so much more rewarding as a leader.

I tend to test hard to ensure we hire the best. Once they are on board, I try and ensure I am actively involved in onboarding them and setting them up to be successful. And then, I step out of their way. From then on, my leadership style involves me periodically checking in, and aligning with the individual on goal setting and measurement.

However, I try and give them a lot of space and support to bring the best version of themselves to the role and to our culture. I find this works best and attracts and engages the right kind of people for a growth environment.

What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?

HK: Like most Singaporeans, I like to have lunch around 12 pm and most often I will dine with one of my team members in order to spend quality time catching up on how they view their business, the market and any personal or professional challenges they are experiencing.

In that case, we’ll select a nearby restaurant and as a vegetarian and foodie, I look for places which offer at least some vegetarian food choices. I actually love to explore different cuisines.

Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

HK: Underrated. Making time to disconnect and recharge the mind as well as the body via exercise and quality rest is imperative to being able to operate effectively in a corporate environment.

Every Wednesday, I create time for unstructured thinking as well as meeting external partners, advisors or interesting people. Inspired by them, I am best able to lead my team and the business.

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

HK: As a technology company it’s very easy to lose sight of the boundaries and work 24/7.  It’s important to me that we invest in a culture of respecting boundaries and empowering our employees to manage their time in ways that work for them. I draw a line of “WhatsApp for emergencies only” and my email signature advises that “My working hours may not match yours. Please respond when convenient.”.

How do you chase your dreams?

HK: I set myself lofty goals. Then I try and break those goals down into more manageable steps to progress towards them. With the support of my family, friends and colleagues, I then pursue those steps with an attitude that I refer to as relentless optimism.

Risks: should you take them? Why or why not?

HK: Yes. For me, a life worth living involves some risk-taking. It pushes you to grow. The key is to take disproportionate risks—where the upside is significantly higher than the downside. While you might not succeed, you might also be wildly successful.

How do you deal with your shortcomings?

HK: Staying humble, actively seeking feedback from those around me, investing in listening and constantly upskilling via peer-to-peer engagement and meeting other leaders.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

HK: If you do anything, do it well. Or else, stop doing it completely.

What is an idea/thought that you heard recently that you thought was interesting?

HK: Greek stateman Pericles said, “Your legacy is what you teach”. The emphasis on learning, giving back, and this lens on framing how to think about my legacy was interesting.

How do you unplug?

HK: I swim and run, during which time I am unreachable. It frees my mind to think and just be. In addition, once a year, I practice taking a ‘blackout holiday’, where I am unreachable except for major emergencies. My colleagues have learned to fully respect it, and I believe some now practice it too.

How do you stay grounded?

HK: My family is my highest priority. This way our big corporate successes and failures don’t become all-consuming. I am a hands-on father, and I feel I learn a lot from my two children.

Do you have moments of doubt and how do you overcome them?

HK: Absolutely. I challenge myself every day by competing with my own ambition. This allows me to become the best version of myself. With an ever-raising bar, self-doubt is overcome with the relentless optimistic attitude that I live by every day.

What would you still like to accomplish?

HK: I endeavour to always keep learning, and contributing back to society for as long as I live. That virtuous cycle combined with my relentless optimism keeps me excited about what I am yet to accomplish.

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