AsiaXPAT.com is a one-stop shop for expatriates coming to Asia. Whether they need information on property, travel, relocation companies, finding a maid, classified advertisements or readers' advice on any subject, this is the site. And access is free to its nearly 500,000 monthly visitors. Like so many internet-based companies, founder and managing director Paul Luciw has had to blaze his own trail, adapting the business model as the site has developed. It was wanderlust, he says, that first brought him to Hong Kong in 1991 from north Ontario, Canada, determined to do something different. After a stint as a physical education teacher, he teamed up with some Canadian ice-hockey-playing friends who managed property-related projects for an investment fund. That provided the germ of the asiaXPAT.com idea: generating revenue from property advertisements for the expatriate market. 'The big developers had all the luxury stuff and locals didn't rent,' he explains. Getting Shama serviced apartments as clients early on was a stroke of luck. 'It worked for them and they've stayed for years,' Mr Luciw says, adding that he has always believed the internet is a better medium to display property than print. Now the site's special property ad alerts have 'every bell and whistle' imaginable. Content has evolved with readers' needs, with affluent expatriates and blue-chip advertisers the targets. 'The first thing people do before coming to Hong Kong is to look online. So we tried to complement that by carrying items that would get them to come on each day.' Particularly popular are the buy and sell classifieds. 'People like the immediacy of being able to post an ad with a picture right away.' Even so, everything is vetted before it goes live. This also goes for the online forum, Ask an Expat, which is monitored round the clock to prevent the streams of vitriol that often characterise such internet discussions, Mr Luciw says. 'We don't want that kind of people; it puts other users off if they are insulted.' The first sign of sarcasm and an entry is deleted. 'If they do that we ban them. We don't want a blog; we want a readership forum for serious discussion.' Another successful feature has been the domestic helper job finding service. By charging the employers and not the workers, the site has seen off the ruthless employment agencies which exploited helpers. 'Many were overcharging helpers and have closed since we started this,' says Mr Luciw. The helper side of the business keeps two staff busy. On top of the eight staff and office costs, US$5,000 a month is spent staying abreast of search engines such as Google. Competition is fierce in this field, though being free helps fend it off, he says. 'But we like competition because it motivates us. If you're not paranoid, you'll be overtaken. That's why I work 18 hours a day to improve the site.' Mr Luciw, 40, is the main shareholder, with his younger brother John, 38, and others holding small stakes. The siblings complement each other. 'He has an IT background - I don't,' says Paul Luciw. 'I see it as an advantage in that I can relate to what most people can do online and that's how we have survived.' His Average Joe technology ability has stopped his brother from making the site too complex, he believes. 'He can't understand why most people can't even resize a one meg photo! But you have to think user-friendly.' There have been mistakes. Any start-up is inefficient with money, he says. 'We opened in Singapore for example, then found a presence in every market wasn't needed. 'From four people there it's now down to one media representative. I could be sitting in a villa in Bali doing this and it wouldn't lose much.' So why is he stuck in a Central office then? 'I like doing the interaction with clients and Hong Kong has such a buzz.' Looking ahead, Middle East cities will join the13 Asian centres with expatriate populations, but the key markets remain Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai. AsiaXPAT.com came up against stiff competition when it opened in Shanghai. 'We couldn't unseat the online That's Shanghai, so we bought them,' says Mr Luciw. It's vital to be the market leader. 'Advertisers always go with the big one and 70 per cent of our ads are regional - that suits our clients like HSBC, Meridien hotels and Santa Fe [Relocation Services].' Many have stayed since the beginning, he adds. 'Our prices are such that [a small or medium-scale business] can afford to sign on for five years - and we don't have to go and sell to them again.' Advertising rates range from $1 a day for an A to Z listing to the US$10,000 a blue-chip client such as Leading Hotels would spend on an month-long campaign with 'super banners' and exclusive deals emailed to as many as 60,000 of the site's members - but only those who have 'opted in' to receive such offers. This combination of upmarket promotions and reasonable rates, and the fact that most advertising campaigns now include an online component are driving the site's success. As for the future, Mr Luciw has no radical plans. 'We grew 50 per cent last year, 50 per cent the year before, we overshoot revenue targets every year and we still think it's a cheap platform, considering how many we're reaching.' It's an easy business to run, he adds, and he's not interested in selling. 'Anyway, if I sold it, what would I do?'