thePropertyBid.com: Jonathan Ambrose
The property pundit on continuing the 9 to 5 and ditching the distractions
Company name: thePropertyBid.com Website: thePropertyBid.com Founders: Jonathan Ambrose Age: 36 Based: North London Staff Numbers: 1 Date started: Oct 2010
Tell us what your business does: thePropertyBid.com is a property auction site with a difference. Instead of sales, landlords and lettings agents upload their vacant properties and potential tenants can place a bid on how much rent they are prepared to pay. At the end of the auction a commission is paid by the landlords / agents and tenants. Where did the idea for your business come from? In my day job I am a surveyor and so on my travels I naturally observe the range of properties that are vacant and available. With the economy in its current state and mortgages becoming more difficult to obtain due to stricter lending criteria, property sales are declining, but people still need a place to call home. I thought, with the popularity of auctions, would people be prepared to make a bid to rent a property? The research said ‘yes’. How did you know there was a market for it? What’s your USP (unique selling point)? How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?With rent escalating and availability declining, the property rental market is very strong, particularly in London. thePropertyBid.com is unique because it’s a place where landlords can receive a true market rate revenue and potential tenants can secure a new rental home at a price that they can truly afford. As thePropertyBid.com is the first of its kind in the UK, there is no competition. It can be readily used by the ‘reluctant landlord’ who may have a spare bedroom, all the way up to letting agencies with multiple offices. What were you doing before starting up? I’ve been a surveyor for the past five years and have gained significant knowledge of the property industry…and I’m still learning! Was it hard to leave your job? I’m still working 9 to 5 as a surveyor so I haven’t left my job as of yet. Have you always wanted to run your own business? What appealed most about being your own boss? Yes, I’ve been involved with a few businesses over the past years and have gained a grasp of what is needed to make it. Having more control and freedom over my life is what appeals the most. What planning did you do before you started up? What advice did you seek? I undertook a mixture of research, which consisted of talking to landlords about how they contacted potential tenants and I also looked at the general state of the London lettings’ market. I kept abreast of the latest property news by reading various sources, particularly about the increase in rental demand which has led to tenants being gazumped. With these and other data I was convinced that I should go for it! How did you raise the money?The business has been funded entirely out of my own pocket. How did you find suppliers? In terms of finding clients / partners I just write to them about the benefits and tell them what the service can do for them. What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? Being a brand new innovative property service takes a lot of effort to promote. Although it’s harder than I first anticipated, it’s still something I find interesting and challenging. Where is your business based? thePropertyBid.com is based at home and, with my iPhone4, on the go as well. It’s very easy to get consumed by the business, however I take time out by working out, socialising and also working in my day job. How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won’t you do again? I recently entered my site into a national business award held by Landlord & Letting magazine (Landlordawards.co.uk) and was nominated for two categories. I was shortlisted and attended the finals in November 2010 at a black tie event at the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham. I ended up winning the innovation award which was absolutely fantastic. I’ve received lots of coverage in the Landlord & Buy-To-Let Magazine. How much do you charge? How did you decide this?It’s free for both landlords and potential tenants to register. At the end of the auction, the highest winning bidder pays 5% commission on the first month’s rent and the landlord pays 10%. I decided that the tenant pays as well just to ensure that they’re serious about continuing the tenancy, if they are the highest winning bidder. It’s a one-off payment. What has your growth been like? Are you where your business plan said you’d be?It’s been a struggle but the brand is slowly getting out there. I expect the business to break even around June / July 2011 and be profitable from then onwards. What’s the impact on your home life been like? Well, my home life has changed to some degree but I try to keep it balanced with working out and having an active social life. Although having a smartphone nowadays allows me to work on-the-go, I do try to limit the time I spend using it, particularly when I’m out socialising.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?Probably finding a reasonably priced developer who could do exactly what I needed. What was your first big breakthrough?I received a registration from the managing director of the UK’s biggest online letting agent UK, Upad.co.uk, and we are now in partnership. What would you do differently? ie what have you learnt?When I’m doing my next website the designers will be within 30 minutes’ drive from where I live. I made the almost fatal mistake of outsourcing to a firm based in India and it almost drove me crazy. Frustration wasn’t a strong enough word for what I experienced. Perseverance and faith got me through it all. What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?The entire process of setting up a business is going to be difficult, so get rid of all negative influences around you, whether it be so-called family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, pets or car – if it’s giving you stress, it has to go. Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?In five years I’d like thePropertyBid.com to be the number one site of its kind and for it to be in corporate hands who can exploit the branding much further.