Courtesy of Eversheds
I may have been the first one to use the words “disruptive” and “property” in the same sentence. “Disruptive” is a term usually used to describe ground-breaking technology companies that go against the grain and innovate but you rarely hear it in the context of property.
In an industry so-lacking in innovation, I think a disruptive property start-up has a lot to offer. It is a system that has improved on existing models while offering something improved and future-proof. My latest venture, Ivy Gate, introduces the American personally-branded “realtor” model into London estate agency (a market that I believe is ripe for disruption).
Entrepreneurship is about making mistakes, learning from them and making damn sure they don’t happen again. It’s about a desire to build something from nothing, develop as an individual and keep the business in a constant state of growth and change. However, there are more ingredients needed for successful growth. It’s a journey of self-discovery with lessons to be learned at every turn. Failure is part of the progress, although at the time, it can be hard to see. Through such tribulations it is vital you keep your self-belief.
Entrepreneurship is also about bringing the right people together for the right opportunity. James Caan and I invest together in our ventures based on his time-tested mantra of “investing in people with passion”. My investment strategy is people driven, and I place the “human capital” of any new venture on the top of my priority list. I spend time getting to know the founders of a venture to develop a clear understanding of the “soft characteristics” of the team.
In addition to a stellar track record, I look for characteristics like ambition, resilience, and personal charm. Such individuals are likely to set their targets higher and will look to scale up faster, resilient individuals are more likely to bounce back as they navigate the treacherous journey of entrepreneurship, and charming individuals can attract talent and clients. People gravitate toward charming individuals because they exude positivity and confidence.
Teaming up with someone who complements you is essential to succeed as an entrepreneur. During my MBA at Oxford I met entrepreneur James Caan, who would become my mentor and eventual business partner.
You never know when you are going to meet someone who you could work with in a successful business relationship. I would encourage you to seize every opportunity that comes your way. Learn how to make a lasting impression. Opportunity is all around you if you open your eyes and become aware. Once you do this, it is important you have the skill set to seize it.
During my time at Oxford’s Said Business School, I was quite outspoken and had some unconventional points of view. When James came to talk to the students, I challenged him a couple of times and engaged him in debate. I approached him to discuss business after the event. It was quickly apparent we had good chemistry.
After I introduced myself to James, I wasn’t getting any replies to the texts and e-mails I sent him. Understandably, I realised he was a busy man. Instead of giving up, I turned up at his office to speak to him. We have since invested in several businesses together; 90 North, Accouter Design, Boxnine7, London Management Company, Leadership and Management, and Ivy Gate.
As you can see my resilience and persistence were vital to ensuring that my business aspirations became a reality. I’ve had successes, but businesses I’ve set up or backed have failed also. Bouncing back quickly is extremely important. If one venture doesn’t work out as planned, pick yourself up, learn your lessons fast, and keep marching.
My investments to date cover residential interior design, property management, investment management and estate agency. I am an open minded venture capital investor, and I look at all ventures related to property in some way. I’ll be as bold as to say because of my sector-agnostic approach, I’ve been able to establish myself as one of the most active property focused VC investors in London over the past year, and there is more in the pipeline.
I like to back founders with past successes and proven track-records. The people I invest in know their space and run their businesses like owners; I don’t have to be involved in the day-to-day. I let my all-star founders get on with creating and building the businesses, while James and I keep our heads above the parapet and focus on strategy and scale.
Since human capital is my main driver, I am a firm believer that strong individuals and teams will go on to do great things regardless of idea or sector. I invest at the team formation stage – when an all-star team has come together. This could be pre-revenue and pre-pilot. I also invest in existing early-stage companies looking for the “rocket fuel” to scale up their business.
Each business James and I back has a focused five year plan. My overall five year plan for the HBRE platform as a whole is to have around 20 businesses that span the property sector, including investment management, property services, development management, technology, consultancy, etc.
In conclusion, there are common threads across everything I do; innovation, scalability, and most importantly, an all-star founder team. These are the vital components to creating ground breaking and innovative companies in industries with stagnant and unchanging business models. My whole operation was founded on the following mantra: “see what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.”