The emergence of firms disrupting the real-estate value chain, otherwise known as ‘PropTechs’ is hot on the heels of incumbent brick-and-mortar agents, brokers and property development firms. We were privileged to speak with Gemma Young, Co-Founder and CEO of online property platform Settled and quizzed her on the realities of starting a business with a sibling, why tech is at the core of their business and on the “right side” of the economy.
FTC: The current landscape for venture-led investment in UK proptech is certainly bright with Yopa and Habito having raised a combined £45m in funding earlier in September. Is it fair to conclude that technology will be at the epicentre of future-proofing the estate-agency market?
GY: “The UK proptech scene is flourishing and we think it’s wonderful so much support has come from investment into this sector. The latest technological developments are transforming the way the estate agency market is interacting and a new breed of empowered customers are driving the demand.
Innovations such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain and drone technology will continue to change the way property transactions are conducted, putting more power in the hands of customers. Proptech will contribute to more freedom and ultimately more property transactions as things will become easier. We see a time in the not too distant future where people will be able to transact in moments rather than months.”
FTC: Where does the technology race come into what Settled do? Would you categorise yourselves as a ‘tech-first’ organisation?
GY: “Technology is at the very core of what we do and we’re at a point in history where access to technology liberates people. Hundreds of industries have seen dramatic changes to the way they operate thanks to advanced technologies. Airbnb has had a huge impact in terms of connecting people across the world, AI is being used to remove subjectivity and mistrust in the mortgage market, Trustpilot is democratising consumer opinions so that people are more connected and informed. Customers are striving for the removal of subjectivity and for control over the money they spend and the services they use. In this new world, increasingly we strive for access to services we can control and ones we trust.
For Settled, technology is absolutely at our core and, subsequently, customers experience a service that feels quite different to conventional methods in real estate. Our technology connects buyers and sellers in a complete experience; every step is connected and transparent, saving them time, money and allaying the typical fears home buyers and sellers often have. It’s with that focus that we’ve been able to build something which removes many of the typical bumps in the road and it’s been particularly rewarding to see how empowering customers has had a direct impact on how successful a home transaction is.”
FTC: Nowhere is the bite of the affordable housing crisis felt more keenly than in London. As an online estate agency, can you expand on the role firms like Settled are playing in reducing the costs associated with property transaction?
GY: Our tech is focused on creating the best possible experience for buyers and sellers, and that includes being mindful of the stress that the cost implications of moving home have.
With Settled, we’re lucky enough to be able to offer homeowners the opportunity to pay £499 for the complete Settled home selling experience. Everything they need, both in our tech and expert-to-customer enablement. This literally saves them thousands in fees.
FTC: Is there any worry for a firm like Settled that property transactions in the UK will slow following our official exit from the European Union?
GY: While uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations have impacted the volume of transactions in the UK, the fundamentals of the UK residential property market remain strong and Settled is on the right side of the economy, saving people time and money when it comes to home selling and buying.
FTC: You co-founded Settled alongside your brother Paul who also acts as Chief Marketing Officer back in 2014. Can you tell us what sparked your decision to co-create an online estate agency and the realities of building a business from the ground-up with a sibling?
GY: The interest in real estate came from our father, who has been involved in the property industry for as long as we can remember and this certainly influenced both myself and brother (and Co-Founder). We both spent time working in estate agents in our early careers, where we got to see ‘under the hood’ of the model, and saw some of the limitations of a business (rather than customer) focused model.
Our careers took a different path when Paul joined one of the biggest advertising agencies and later spent time working for a tech startup. I joined Google, where I stayed for many years working across three continents. During this time we were both overwhelmingly inspired by technology’s transformative power and saw pretty much every industry profoundly impacted by the invention of new digital solutions. Yet, the real estate model remained relatively stationary and the issues that had impacted customers when were were involved years before, remained. Moving home was on the list of the most stressful things to do.
Our property and technology worlds came together and we were driven by the passion to make a change and to create an alternative experience in real estate transactions.
The main and unwavering strength we have as siblings is that we share the same passion - Settled exists to bring more happiness to people. Having both worked in the property and technology sectors and having witnessed the rise of savvy, tech-enabled consumers, we’re on quite a journey.
FTC: As a panellist at PropTech Live, how important is it for you as a Founder to reach back to the proptech and fintech communities and offer words of wisdom to budding entrepreneurs in the industry?
GY: I have a great mutual respect for entrepreneurs and I take great energy from others who want to make a difference, irrespective of their sector. My advice to budding early founders is - quite simple. Starting a business is harder than you think. 9 in 10 startups fail, but you will succeed if you exercise resilience and you will be resilient if you are solving a real problem that’s important to you.
FTC: FinTech is set to outpace traditional financial institutions in a variety of ways, though worryingly, innovators are falling short of addressing the gender imbalance as it pertains to female executives. DHR International published research earlier this year showcasing that only 8% of fintech directors globally were women, compared with 22% of board members at the world’s 30 biggest banks. Is FinTech in danger of becoming a ‘new boy’s club’ and what can be done to help rectify this?
GY: The tech (and fintech) sector is in the spotlight, but the fact is that gender imbalances exist across the board. Recent reports have shone a light on imbalances and have encouraged conversations. There’s more chance for progression than ever before. I hope all leaders of businesses, and all people hiring can look underneath some of the trends and understand our subconscious biases alongside the systemic reasons behind diversity gaps. In time, we can all make a difference.
For more information about Settled, visit their website www.settled.co.uk