In 2006, whilst running five estate agency branch offices, I had an idea, prompted in fact by a Peter Knight seminar entitled Future Estate Agents.
The content was predicated around how property firms would operate henceforth and what some firms were already doing to embrace the future.
It got me thinking. A lot.
Even then, eight years ago, the power of the property portals was astounding. Office visitors were swiftly being replaced by clicks and calls. I seriously considered whether the estate agent in its traditional form was relevant anymore.
So I purchased the domain name, FutureAgent.com and had a website designed to reflect my ever growing belief that technology would change estate agency and make it more consumer friendly. Efficiencies of scale would make for a proposition that would be far far better value too.
One day to day distraction then led to another, followed by the 2008 financial crisis which occupied all my capacity in keeping my head above water at that time.
But the meltdown also raised an opportunity. Big overheads and a lack of footfall at that time, enabled me to focus on an alternative, a solution to that situation which was killing estate agency businesses. Estate agency had to become more efficient and it seemed that the portal surfing consumer was already telling us that they were fine with that concept.
By 2010 I had sold the remnants of my bricks and mortar estate agency and set about creating the next generation of property firms.
I sat at home in a darkened room with a laptop for a while. And then rented a cupboard sized room in a Regus office centre locally and got to work.
I created the name, wanting a snappy, property and ecommerce flavour (emove.co.uk had gone, but which we now own). Then the branding. The social media and blog presence. And the first version of the eMoov.co.uk website.
In the four years since we have doubled in size every year turning over next to nothing in year one; £250k in year two; £550k in year three; £965k last year and we’re on target to achieve £1.7m in 2014/15. Our current year is perhaps the most exciting of all with a gladiatorial management team and board in place including the brightest stars of business, tech, product, eCommerce and property amongst them. And a slab of funding too.
We’ll list over 3000 homes for sale this year and have maintained our market leadership in a sector that has become ever more crowded and includes over 50 online estate agent players now, up from about 5 when we started. In our early days, the mainstream industry ignored us. Then they laughed at us. More recently they have started to fight us and our superior customer service, lower fees and better selling performance. We’re now a considerable threat.
Now that we are in ‘not going away territory’ and have proved concept and monetised successfully, we’ll reach for the next stage of our growth which involves a massive push for an ultimate goal that I believe is nothing less than being the biggest. Not just the biggest internet estate agent but the biggest UK estate agency firm of all.
This involves big challenges to match these big aspirations but with a new entrant to our market raising £7m in investment this week, it’s clear that the business community ‘gets’ where this is going. The consumer does too, given that digital estate agency is now over 4% of our industry by inventory of properties, double what it was last year.
The direction of travel is therefore set. The touch-paper has been lit.