Purplebricks.com: Michael Bruce

The co-founder of the "UK's first" 24/7 estate agency shares his start-up experience...

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Name:  Michael Bruce
Age: 40
Company name: Purplebricks.com
Number of Employees: 70+
Location: West Midlands
Date launched:  13/4/14
Website: www.purplebricks.com

Tell us what your business does:

Purplebricks.com is a fully interactive, round the clock property platform – it’s the UK’s first 24/7 estate agent. Using our local property experts on the ground and a unique online platform, Purplebricks allows people to oversee every aspect of their property transaction as it happens, at the touch of a button, rather than waiting for an estate agents office to open.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

It came from a genuine desire to offer better value to people selling and letting their home. I know that sounds a little soap box but my brother (Kenny Bruce) and I genuinely believed that we could offer something more transparent, convenient and cost effective to so many people who are unhappy with what is currently their only option.

We wanted to make use of excellent people and technology in a way that nobody has embraced in the industry so as to make the sometimes stressful process a much more memorable experience.

We live in a world where we can get access to information and make things happen 24 hours a day. The estate agency model is odd because at the time most people are looking at houses, estate agents are closed.

You can’t book for someone to come out to your house, you can’t arrange a viewing, you can’t make an offer, agree a sale, change your price, and the list goes on. Everything must be done when an office is open or when you can get hold of someone.

Our idea came from a deep understanding of the sector and a firm belief that there is a better way for customers.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Customers!  We have not rushed to launch. Over the last two and a half years we have spoken to hundreds of customers in six areas of the UK about their experience of estate agents and what they like about it and what they dislike. We have included them in everything from branding to messaging to marketing to service and price.

The traditional estate agency model has been left untouched for too long and is now completely outdated. Customers want convenience, the ability to make things happen on the move from wherever they are, using any device and they want to get information when they want it 24 hours a day.

Customers are calling for change. The process of selling buying and letting should be simpler and has been made much more simple and effective with the Purplebricks proposition.

What were you doing before starting up?

We owned a large independent estate agency group which included a sales, lettings, conveyancing, mortgage and insurance business. We sold the business in 2011 and have been working on Purplebricks ever since.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Always. As a young boy I would walk for miles and think about the kind of business I wanted to run went I came of age. I would think of the people I would want to work with, the service we would want to provide and (as a young boy) the amount of money I was going to make.

As you get older, gain more experience, make some mistakes and enjoy a little success, your outlook and priorities change but the desire, motivation and drive remain fired up and active all the time.

My outlook and priorities for our business revolve so much more around the customer than perhaps anything I have had the pleasure to be involved with in the past, and it feels good. Customers are the ultimate judge of our business and indeed how I conduct myself as the owner of the organisation.

How did you raise the money?

We used a lot of the money we received from the sale of our previous business to bring Purplebricks to life. We believed wholeheartedly in what we wanted to achieve and that initial investment, passion to succeed and dedicated execution has seemed to impress investors.

We are very privileged to have so many great people investing in our business and a shared vision for what we are looking to achieve. I am sure investors see many different ideas on a day by day basis and therefore look for that glimmer of passion and excitement from people they believe can deliver.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

It costs £599 including VAT to sell your property with Purplebricks.com, a fraction of the fee charged by a traditional estate agent, which is on average £5,600 per property (average 1.8% of property price).

For £599 sellers receive a comprehensive and transparent service which includes expert advice, support and knowledge on selling your property from our local property experts coupled with an online platform that allows everything to happen instantly. This lets customers access everything they need, at a time that is convenient to them, 24 hours a day

We also offer a lettings service which will benefit landlords and costs £199 including VAT. Our lettings service offers the same transparency, support and online platform. This enables our landlords to manage their whole portfolio with the click of a button for a fraction of the price.

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

Looking back over my career, I can say that the most challenging time for me was in 2008 when the whole financial world seemingly stopped. Sellers were no longer selling, buyers were no longer buying, and mortgage companies were pulling mortgages or imposing onerous conditions.

Our sales pipelines were, like everyone’s in the sector, dropping, and fast. Whilst we were able to reach agreement with our bankers, save 95% of the workforce and turn the business around without any disruption for our customers, it was a hugely challenging time. This period made me realise how much of a privilege it is for any business to be of service to the customer and how much responsibility I have as a leader to protect and preserve the interests of our staff.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Whilst studying for my law degree I was keen to ensure that my career would get off to the best start possible. I have always had an entrepreneurial side, and that, coupled with the impending arrival of my first daughter encouraged me to secure a promising job opportunity.

So, I sat down with the Yellow Pages and decided to ring every single law firm listed until I secured an opportunity. I also rang every single estate agency business in the Yellow Pages looking for an opportunity, having undertaken some legal work for a large corporate estate agent. On reaching the letter B in the directory, I secured a law firm and a consultancy role at a large regional estate agency.

In the following years I ended up building my own law firms and later bought that same estate agency group, so the letter B was definitely my big breakthrough!

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Never chase money. Money is just a by-product of who you are, what you do and what you believe. Be passionate about your customer and the people you work with because your success and your customers’ perception of you and your business will be determined by the culture and ethos of your business.

A business is like a bowl of stew; those involved are the ingredients and it all depends on how good they are as to how good the stew will be for the customer. Don’t do it if everyone can’t have fun.

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

Watching people who supported us from day one achieve all of their goals and aspirations and be rewarded for all the hard work, commitment and determination that it has taken to bring Purplebricks to launch. If we achieve this objective it will be in the knowledge that we have won the hearts and minds of our customers.

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