Akshay Ruparelia managed to build the UK’s fourth-largest estate agency, bag a 9.7 rating on Trustpilot and win a start-up of the year award in Doorsteps’ first year of operation.
It’s the type of success even the most seasoned of estate agents can only dream of. And what’s even more impressive is Ruparelia has only just celebrated his 20th birthday.
The property mogul, who is the youngest person on the Sunday Times Rich List 2018 with a net worth of £16 million, last year had his business valued at £12 million – pretty impressive considering the company’s official launch was in 2016.
Ruparelia began his first business venture when he was doing his GCSEs. He launched an app called House Smart which enabled people to buy and sell property directly through the app.
“I wanted to change the industry for the better,” he told DMZ. “I looked at Autotrader, which enables people to sell and buy cars directly through a platform, and thought, why not have the same for property?”
Ruparelia soon realised that with property being people’s biggest asset, they needed something more personal. “The app was too revolutionary. I think there will come a time for something like that, but not just yet. People need that human touch and familiar face. That’s when I shifted my focus to people – I felt that people needed to drive this because the whole industry was missing good customer service,” he said.
House Smart transitioned into Doorsteps, a hybrid estate agency, which Ruparelia started while he was doing his A Levels. The company was officially launched after Ruparelia made the decision not to go to university.
What is it about property that intrigued the entrepreneur?
“For me the main thing was the opportunity,” Ruparelia said. “Whenever I speak to people they always agree that property and estate agency is probably one of the least disrupted markets out there.
“People will always need to buy and sell homes, but it’s just so undisrupted and the question for me was, why? And there was no reason. There was no reason why the service couldn’t be made more efficient, more transparent, and with much lower fees.”
Doorsteps claims to offer an honest, transparent and hassle-free process with all-in fees from just £99 – that compares with the average high street agent fee of £5,718 (1.2% of £484,716 – the average price of a London home in 2016).
So far the model seems to be working. There are currently more than 2,500 properties listed on the site, the average sale is agreed within 20 days and the average customer gets 99% of their asking price.
The company isn’t profitable yet, but is expected to produce a turnover this year of between £1.5 and £2 million.
Ruparelia puts his success down to his youth and his position as an industry outsider.
“I was able look at the industry from the perspective of someone outside the status quo; someone without any baggage. To disrupt an industry it’s better to come from the outside. I’d spoken to people in property and learned as much as I could, but I had no direct experience. Being that far removed actually presents better opportunities and can shed a new light on a sector.”
Online estate agents like Doorsteps, and its bigger rivals Purplebricks, Emoov and Yopa, are quickly gaining market share in a sector historically dominated by high street agents. Perhaps the best example of this is the demise of Countrywide, whose share price has plummeted following a string of profit warnings.
“I think that’s indicative of where we are and I think it’s a bit of a wake-up call,” Ruparelia said. “The profit warnings were partly driven by a lack of confidence and liquidity in the market, but there’s a reason it’s happening a lot quicker and a lot worse than before. A lack of resilience against the current market conditions is down to the online space.
“Where you’ve got companies like House of Fraser and Toys R Us shutting down, it is down to the online market. If giants like that can tumble to online competitors, it proves that people are far more receptive to the online space than they used to be.”
The 20 year-old reckons there could still be a place for traditional agents in the ultra-high net worth and specialist commercial property markets, but this isn’t where Doorsteps wants to operate.
“We want the other 97% of property – the day-to-day sellers who are concerned about the cost of moving, who work 9-to-5 and want more flexibility. They can speak to us 24/7, have a photographer come round on Sunday and the property listed on the Monday, and save themselves thousands of pounds in the process.
“There is a long way to go for the online space, but I think it is 100% going to get there.”
Despite his young age, Ruparelia clearly has strong business acumen. The property mogul’s inspiration doesn’t come from seasoned property industry experts, but from innovative brands like Apple and successful businessmen such as Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary and Duncan Ballantyne, whose interests include hotels, health clubs and TV.
Some of the quotes he lives by include “The customer is always right” – something that is repeated throughout the day by Amazon Alexa at the Doorsteps HQ.
“For Doorsteps a key manta is, ‘Start with the customer, focus on the customer and work your way backwards to the technology’. That explains our journey. We didn’t start off with a lot of money to spend on branding, marketing or technology – we started off with customer service goals, got to the highest rating, and then worked backwards by implementing technology that makes things easier.”
With new online estate agents popping up all the time, and breathtakingly fast changes in technology, Ruparelia will have his work cut out if he wants to ensure Doorsteps stands out from the crowd.
But his passion for the customer and youthful vigour certainly stand him in good stead.