Startup Stories: Sam Zawadzki and Property Technology

This week’s Startup Story comes courtesy of Sam Zawadzki, the CEO and co-founder of www.propertytechnology.co.uk. Like many young entrepreneurs, Sam began by doing rather than just thinking – setting up his first online enterprise while still in university, before going on to win a number of awards and nominations. He’s a member of The Power of Youth, a global organisation of young entrepreneurs, and he also serves as Richard Branson’s Ambassador for Scotland in the Virgin Media Pioneers Network.

His current business, Property Technology, helps to improve the relationship between estate agents and their potential customers. They are currently working through EIS to raise £500k (which you can read more about via the link at the bottom of this page), so we sat down with Sam to find out what the project is all about.

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Sam – explain to us what www.propertytechnology.co.uk is all about.

We’re a marketing software platform for estate agents. We basically help estates agents to get new business.

Aren’t estate agents getting enough business already?

Well, estate agents are really bad at responding to buyer enquiries on properties. A study by Rightmove found that 40% of all the emails that Rightmove sent to estate agents received no response at all – no call up, no email, no nothing.

To put that into practice: a buyer using Rightmove sees a property they like, clicks to send a notification to the estate agent, and then 40% of these notifications are not followed up on. They get nothing back.

On top of that, what estate agents don’t realise is that three-quarters of people looking to buy a property have a property to sell. So, in ignoring viewing requests, they’re actually missing a trick. Estate agents could be winning so much more business and receiving so many more instructions.

And how does Property Technology assist in all of this?

So, what we do is fairly straightforward. We send an instant reply to every enquiry, which is personalised. In that email we ask whether they have a house to sell, whether they want mortgage advice, when the person wants to book in a viewing – some agents use an online diary so the person can simply book the viewing in. If they opt-in for mortgage advice, we send that data to a mortgage company, and if they say they have a property to sell we offer to come and out and value it. So, we’re taking viewing enquiries from buyers that are often ignored and we’re generating new instructions for vendors and selling mortgage data to help estate agents make more money there. We do all of this for lettings, too.

How did this idea come about?

Actually, we originally started by trying to do something completely different!

Isn’t it always the way?

It’s always the way! We tried to do an auction concept for rentals, and we realised that estate agents didn’t really have a problem there but they did have a problem getting new business and managing their leads. So everything we’re working on now came about through conversations we had when we were trying to sell to the agents.

So, actually paying attention as a learning process rather than dismissing negative responses as a dead end?

Exactly. Listening to what it was they actually needed.

How long has Property Technology been going, then?

For a little over two years. The first year was spent purely trying to sell this product that they didn’t want, so you might say that went terribly! But in the second year, once we’d changed the product, it went much better. We’re working with about 140 branches of estate agents across the UK, so we have Scotland, Cornwall, Manchester, London, Wales and Liverpool. Depending on the time of year, we process between about 20k-30k enquiries each month. So, yeah. It’s going well now.

In layman’s terms, the difference between what you’re doing and, say, Rightmove is that you provide more of a backend solution?

Yes, so there are three players. Player 1 is Rightmove, which generates the lead that is emailed to the estate agent, where it sits in their inbox (player 2). And then you have the estate agent’s property management software, which is player 3.

The problem with this model is that the estate agent’s inbox is usually a black hole where 40% of the leads are lost because they don’t bother to reply or qualify them. We sit there. What happens is that Rightmove emails those leads to us, we qualify those leads and then put them into the estate agent property management software so they’re ready to be followed up.

What’s your background then? What gave you the entrepreneurial bug?

Erm, I worked for quite a long time as a consultant to any company that wanted help with digital things. I worked with Yell.com, with recruiters, with ecommerce companies, startups… After a couple of years of doing that I thought, “Right, it’s time for me to do my own thing.”

And was Property Technology your first attempt?

No. I worked in lettings in uni and then I ran an online letting agency. That was my first attempt. Then I went to work at another software company before doing the consulting, after which I came back to get stuck into this one.

It’s interesting: there are so many young entrepreneurs these days who get started while they’re still at university. Why is that, do you think?

It’s exciting, right? It’s a very good question, though. I think there’s a real change towards portfolio careers – people wanting to build up skills and move between jobs, not staying in a job for life. People are much more interested in working and living abroad, because these days it’s possible to travel while working online as a freelancer and still earn a decent salary. The barriers to entry are lower – it’s maybe not seen as risky or expensive to set up a company these days. It’s much easier to give it a go.

PropertyTechnology.co.uk is now raising £500k, on which investors can benefit from the EIS tax scheme. Find out more about that by heading to this page and filling in the details.

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