Proptech: How the estate agent business model is shifting

Gemma Young, CEO and co-founder of Settled discusses how an alternative to traditional business models is key, and how she aims to shake up the estate agent model.

The proptech industry is building mass and momentum. With the market becoming increasingly competitive, planting the seeds for a successful business requires a unique idea, a clear and focused strategy and a dedicated team.

Identifying the market opportunity

Inspired by examples of technology’s transformative power, and with many years’ experience in tech and property, myself and my co-founder (and brother) saw an opportunity to build a platform that transcended traditional estate agent models by enabling customers, rather than intermediaries. We wanted to make people feel more ‘settled’ when they’re buying and selling homes. The online platform connects buyers and sellers throughout their property transaction journey, uniting them in an ideal flow of connected steps and saving both sides time, money and reducing stress.

I’d spent time working in an estate agent in my early career where it was amazing to see under the hood of property transactions and to learn how processes worked. I saw a fair share of stress with homeowners and buyers losing out on dream homes, gazumping, offers falling through and purchase processes taking weeks and months to complete and I couldn’t help feeling that things needed to drastically change. Back then the internet was really in its infancy and I was intrigued by this ‘thing’ which connected people all over the world and made information instantly accessible. I wanted to explore this further and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join Google back in its early days which was the start of quite a journey.

Here, I fell in love with the internet and the way it was positively transforming so many industries. Companies like, and eBay transformed the way we booked holidays and shopped and, at this point, I watched excitedly expecting the real estate sector to follow suit. It didn’t. The process of selling and buying homes continued to be a chapter of life that was plagued by stress, confusion and anxiety.

There were some positive movements some years ago when online estate agents came into the market and did a great job in reducing the costs for consumers, however, these business models continued to rely on and promote the ‘intermediated’ model where customers had to continue to rely on a service gatekeeper, and were therefore still dependant. I had greater faith in consumers and what they want today. Society has moved so far towards empowered services, we have so much access from our phones and so many of us are not only used to using technology (booking cabs in a couple of clicks with Uber, staying around the world in Airbnbs), they want the immediacy and control. I felt like it was time to take a much bigger step to give more power, access and ease to people rather than the intermediaries.

Our company is about connecting all the fragmented steps, simplifying them and giving customers more access and control over their journey.

Securing funding and scaling the business

Finding the right type of funding is one of the most daunting moments for entrepreneurs. Our first round of funding received backing from Facebook’s European head of marketing and Google’s European managing director. We then went on to raise our first institution round in July 2016 from an American venture capital firm. We followed this in 2017 gaining funding from two of Europe’s most prominent funds.

Financial backing has been key for the business, providing us with the resources to further develop our platform. The capital has enabled our model to grow; we are pleased to say that since launching in 2016, £250 million worth of homes have been sold through Settled’s platform, saving customers over £5 million in estate agency fees. We’re just getting started!

The property industry is evolving, and we’re so excited to be part of this change. Our online product and service nurtures and guides people, all the way from listing a home through to completion.

Building the company ethos to drive the business

We value the passion for what we’re building; this is the central energy which drives our team each day. The whole team are connected and focused on our customers who fuel our journey. For us, the fundamental driver is happiness. So, each day, when we’re deciding which features to build and how to grow Settled, we ask, ‘will this make a customer happy?’. This helps us to shape a product where buying and selling homes be joyful rather than stressful.

Have an idea for a business? Here are a few tips on how to realise your entrepreneurial potential

Be unique and market-savvy

Remember that a great idea requires a solid and executable business plan. Demonstrate the market potential of your offering and ensure you can present a sound and scalable business model.

Build your idea

Spend time building and putting your idea to the test. The sooner you begin testing and sharing your story with your target market and investors, the easier it will be to measure success.

Consider the right investment opportunity

Finding the right type of investment is important. Consider the most appropriate funding model and investor profile for your business. Focus on building a track record that can help you attract the right investors.

Create a team that is passionate about your values as much as the work

A connected, collaborative and passionate team will fuel your journey and make things happen. Inspire your team by being explicit about your mission and the culture you are cultivating behind the scenes.

Gemma Young is CEO and co-founder of Settled.

Further reading about disrupting a sector

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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