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A French Startup with Silicon Valley Dreams

Lamia Hanafi has just discovered that her brother Safir is using Tinder, the mobile dating app famous for its swiping functionality. “Did you find your wife?” she playfully asks.

“Not my wife,” he replies in French, “but dates.”

While the search for Mrs. Right continues, all of Safir’s swiping ultimately became part of the inspiration for Lok-Iz, a real estate app co-founded by the brother and sister. The endeavor has brought them from Normandy, France to Silicon Valley for a recent visit.

Encouraged by the success of tech startups that have emerged from the region, the siblings are hoping to glean advice and perhaps even funding from investors. For them, the startup environment in Silicon Valley stands in stark contrast to France’s.

“We just noticed that things are going really faster here. It’s different than in France, you have to send an email, keep waiting for two weeks or one month to get this famous interview with this partner. Here, it was just so informal and things are going quicker,” said Lamia.

Lok-Iz matches prospective tenants with property owners, taking real estate brokers and more importantly, their pricey commissions, out of the equation. Users can recommend their friends or family as potential tenants, while homeowners can list their rental or sale properties and add a commission of their choice. The influence of Silicon Valley’s startups have clearly struck a chord across the Atlantic.

“Just like Uber did with the taxi drivers, [where] everyone around the world is able to be an Uber driver, Lok-Iz will make everyone able to be a real estate broker,” said Lamia. “We just want to foster this collaborative economy... this sharing economy,” she added. Since its launch seven months ago, Lok-Iz has amassed over 2,000 listings and made more than 700 matches in France.

It was their father, an immigrant from Morocco, who gave Lamia and Safir their first taste of the real estate business.

“Our dad was in charge of buying and selling real estate properties,” said Lamia, “When he was coming home, he was often challenging my brother and I, asking us, ‘Okay, guys... who’s going to be the first [to] help me find the right buyer or the right tenant?’”

In the race to defeat his older sister, Safir would offer his services for a lower commission and typically offload properties quicker as a result. “He was always cheating!” exclaims Lamia, laughing. “That’s why I was always losing in that game!”

Not unlike their father’s journey to France in search of better opportunities, Lamia and Safir have traveled to Silicon Valley, inspired by the success of American startups famous the world over.

Speaking in French, Safir explains how he’d like to change the rules of buying and selling real estate, much in the same way that Facebook, Uber and AirBnb transformed their respective industries.

Only time will tell whether their efforts prove successful. “We say it in France, ‘Croise les doigts’” said Lamia. The phrase means “fingers crossed”, and in Silicon Valley, where big bets pay off in even bigger ways, it’s a sentiment that’s especially fitting.