Brickowner: Fred Bristol

The founder of the proptech crowdfunding platform looking to democratise property investment explains how he chanced upon the business idea...

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Name: Fred Bristol
Company name: Brickowner
Location: London
Twitter handle: @Brickowner

Tell us what your business does:

Brickowner is a property crowdfunding platform that lets people invest as little as £100 into institutional property investments that usually require a minimum investment of around £50,000 or more.

Our platform acts as an aggregator, so that the investors that come through us combine to make a large enough sum to invest in these investments. We are making a whole area of property investment available to those that wouldn’t normally be able to access these investments

Brickowner sources property asset managers with strong track records within their property subsector. These managers tend to already manage property portfolios worth £50m-500m, but they mainly deal only with very large investors.

The aim of our business is to act as an aggregator, so our users get access to new investment opportunities, whilst the asset managers we work with get access to new investors. We think this is the future of investing.

Using the efficiency of a digital platform means smaller investors can cluster together like this to invest in institutional property deals, which were previously out of their reach.

Because of our model we can offer Brickowner users the ability to invest in a far broader range of property investments.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

My background is in property investment and asset management, both abroad and in the UK. As an asset manager, I learned first-hand why funds don’t accept small investments – the admin involved is too much of a burden.

The paperwork for someone investing £1,000 is much the same as for someone investing £1m, so most big investment managers will not accept small investments, and this locks out most people.

Brickowner is taking this burden away from the asset manager and dealing with the investors for them, so the asset manager is happy, and also now able to receive a whole pool of new investors’ money that previously wasn’t viable for them.

We are able to do this because technology has made it possible to automate all the admin and legal work of on-boarding and dealing with investors.

My friends and I have also experienced two other problems. Firstly, if you want to save money for a home you are better off saving in property, but there are very few ways to do this in a flexible manner.

Secondly, the best property investment opportunities require significant sums in order to be able to invest in, and that’s assuming you are able to find the opportunities and managers in the first place – which can itself be very hard.

So, we built Brickowner to solve our own problems.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Research suggests that 1.3 million people are locked out of the housing market in the UK.

We also feel that many of the issues facing society today are caused by the wealthiest always having access to investment opportunities which are simply out of reach for everyone else.

Our business changes this, and means everyone can access the same investment opportunities, irrespective of where they stand in the wealth pecking order. We like the idea of democratising property investment.

What were you doing before starting up?

For the last 15 years, I’ve been working in the property investment and management sector, both in the UK and abroad, with a range of experience covering different property sub-sectors from residential, to land, planning, industrial, retail, and commercial.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

In one form or another, I’ve always worked for myself or a business I started with a partner. All my work experience is in property, and my team between them have a really strong range of expertise in property and tech.

I enjoy creating a new business, and this sector is particularly exciting because we’re all trailblazing new ways to invest into real estate.

Brickowner was a natural progression for me. Most things in life are about timing, and identifying the right opportunity at the right time. Brickowner ticked all these boxes.

I never set out to create Brickowner, rather it evolved as a natural progression from what I was doing already. I believe you should never sit down and try to do a start-up, but instead it should grow from solving a problem that is bothering you every day.

How did you raise the money?

We are backed by a number of different angel investors from the tech and property sectors. Two of our investors were early seed investors in Ratesetter, and a number of others are large property fund managers. We also used Seedrs for our first two rounds as we want to have a large base of people involved in this business, as it is a crowd business itself.

Just as we want to democratize investment into real estate, we enjoy doing the same with our own company and having a large number of smaller investors alongside our angel investors. This has helped the company grow, as many of the investors in the company also invested into our first property.

We’ve learned a lot about crowdfunding from raising money on Seedrs, and this has helped shape the business.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

We source property asset managers, and subsequently vet the investment opportunities they offer us. Once a deal goes onto our site, we charge a small upfront fee to cover the transaction cost, and then we charge an annual management fee for dealing with the relationship between the investors and the investment manager.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Investing via platforms is still quite a new concept to many people. The way we have managed to overcome this is by clearly outlining the strong team we have and working with established property managers also helps.

It is still very early days for crowdfunding like this so there have been some teething problems. We decided to build a really strong technical platform from day one, so it is scalable and can grow with the business. Many companies are using off the shelf software, but we wanted to launch with something exceptional.

What was your first big breakthrough?

We recently funded our first property investment, Abbeygate, in a much shorter time than expected, with 45 new investors.

This was a very important milestone for us, particularly as this validated the platform and the business. Apart from proving the technology we also proved customers want the product, and trust our platform.

That is a very big deal, and I’m very proud of it. We are now looking forward to growing the platform and user base.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Execution and implementation will have a greater impact on the success of the business than the actual idea. Strategic thinking and subsequent implementation of the strategy are key.

Timing also has an enormous impact on a business. It’s important to set up the right business at the right time. I have only been able to get this far by using the best people I could find. Generally, everything will take longer and be harder than you ever imagine, but you should persevere.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I want Brickowner to grow substantially, and be a leading player in the property investment market.

I want our company to offer people opportunities to invest their money, however small an amount, to get the best possible returns so that they can save for a home, or just lay down money for their future. This simple opportunity is currently hard to achieve for most people, so this clearly has to change.

I have enjoyed building the company so far, and working with some seriously talented people, so I look forward to more of that as the company grows.

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