The Entrepreneur: Richard Douglas and Alex Bourne, Hanover West End
The high-class property magnates talk record-breaking sales, quitting secure jobs, and how they plan to take the business global...
Founders: Richard Douglas and Alex Bourne
Company: Hanover West End
Description in one line: Luxury estate agency, specialising in London’s West End
Previous companies: Hanover West End is the founders’ first
This year target: £1.5m
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- Hanover West End is a luxury estate agent.
- It helps clients find the perfect apartments and houses in the heart of London’s West End, particularly ‘Golden Postcode’ areas Marylebone, Mayfair and Knightsbridge.
- Counts Saudi royalty, Russian billionaires and celebrities as clients.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Our first deal – selling Montpellier Square at £15,950,000 – was a great achievement, because we broke the price per square foot record. It was originally £2,500 – and we achieved £3,300 per square foot. It was on with all the other big estate agents and we found the buyer, which just felt amazing. It was as if we’d arrived!
After that, we got an instruction on an apartment in Knightsbridge at the same asking price of £15,950,000; ultimately achieving £4,700 per sq. foot, another record – closing in 48 hours. For us, it was much-needed validation that we weren’t lucky the first time round and, thinking about it, it really helped to position us in the market.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
The square footage costs keep us competitive, but it’s more about our relationship with clients, so perhaps we should say phone numbers!
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We don’t trade internationally just yet, but we’re in a unique position, because more than 90% of our buyers are international, so we’re always learning about overseas property from them. Our long term plan is to continue with our boutique emphasis but with a wider international reach, with a plan to trade in the likes of the Middle East and Russia.
Describe your growth funding path:
We went into a partnership with the directors of Hanover, an already established estate agent in St John’s Wood, and effectively all put our money where our mouths were to make Hanover West End happen! We haven’t needed external funding
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
It’s very much a people business, so without our phones and availability around the clock, we’d struggle. We’re also about to move to using a cloud server which will make our internal work smoother.
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Where would you like your business to be in three years?
Within three years, we’re targeting international expansion. We’d like to be doing property shows in the Middle East, and have a network of three to four offices covering prime central London.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
Leaving the security of our previous jobs, rolling the dice and taking that leap!
What was your biggest business mistake?
We’ve been really fortunate in that what we worried would be mistakes eventually proved themselves to be anything but. We tried to run before we could walk a few times, and that could have proved disastrous!
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
It’s not quite red tape, but a lot of people want their properties to be off the market, which limits the potential for exposure to buyers. 70% or so of our business is off market as there are many that don’t want properties to be publicly viewable.
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Removing themselves from the business too quickly. Too many people try to be hands-off as quickly as possible, and forget that they are the business, especially in the first few years.
How will your market look in three years?
We can’t foresee much of a change, as so much of property is government-dependent and of course, we’ll have the same leadership in three years’ time. After that – who knows!
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Flavouring your business with your personality. A lot of people try to emulate other businesses and business owners they like, but you need to be strong in your own convictions
The freedom of running your own business and being able to do things your own way is a luxury any business owner will understand. If we’re talking expenses, in terms of the business the first thing we did was buy a BMW i3 each.
Executive education or learn it on the job?
A bit of both, definitely. If you don’t have the background, education and/or training, you can do all the wrong things but we’d say build a foundation of knowledge and then go from there.
What would make you a better leader?
Being a better listener (Bourne). Better time management and leading by example (Douglas)
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
Business app: iRemote tells us when our cars are charged, and we wouldn’t be anywhere near as mobile without it!
Personal app: Sky Sports News (Douglas supports Arsenal, Bourne supports Spurs!)
Bourne: Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson – inspiring
Douglas: The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson – a great reminder to make your own mistakes and let others in your business make their own, too.