What Happened Next To The Online Property Pioneers?

The online estate agency revolution may be less than 15 years old but it has swept all before it, eating up over £200m in investment and creating dozens of small, medium and large digital companies.

But the sector has also been brutal. Less than half of the 20+ companies created since the first big ones launched during the late noughties have survived or gone on to achieve great things, scattering the founders of the rest to the online winds.

So who remains and who has gone off to ‘disrupt’ elsewhere? Dealmakerz decided to track them down.

The departed

Mark Readings/Graham Lock – House Network

Readings set up House Network in 2003 with Graham Lock, making it the first of the new breed to launch. After a promising start and profitability, the company got into difficulties as competition from other online and hybrid agents forced up the cost of customer acquisitions and earlier this year it ceased trading.

It was then bought out of administration by a construction tycoon and a new management team brought in, which is currently restructuring the business ahead of a re-launch.

Readings recently announced that both he and Russell and Anthony Quirk had acquired the rights to operate the Keller Williams franchise for Essex, with Readings running the business day-to-day. Lock has set up the Federation of Independent Agents.

Russell Quirk – eMoov

Quirk is arguably the most high-profile of the former online pioneers largely because he has always been keen to court publicity. The former high-street agent launched eMoov from his back bedroom in 2010 and after initial expansion, gained funding from James Caan’s PiLabs proptech fund and later other investors including Simon Murdoch, an early backer of Zoopla.

The business was increasingly cash hungry and had to turn to new investors to keep going including Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell and then in 2018, several crowd funding efforts.

The business went into administration in December 2018, but its assets including the website, brand and technology were bought by Mashroom Ltd and the business revived with a new management team. Quirk recently set up a PR firm, Properganda.

Robert Ellice – easyProperty

Ellice’s love of fast cars made him a controversial figure among agents sceptical about the easyProperty model and the amount of money being poured into the business. Founded in 2014 it gained huge amounts of publicity for its launch at the Natural History Museum attended by easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ionnou during which Ellice referred to the established estate agency market as ‘bloated’.

But easyProperty didn’t live up to its early promise and in June 2017 merged with The Guild of Property Professionals in a £60m deal. Ellice departed from the agency in October that year. EasyProperty was subsequently sold by the Guild to entrepreneur David Brierley’s company Evolve.

Adam Day – hatched

Day has had the most varied career of his online peers since starting up Hatched in 2006. Hatched was bought by estate agency giant Connells in November 2015 but in September 2018 it closed the business, predicting that the hybrid/online agency model was ‘fatally flawed’. Day joined easyProperty in July 2017 but after a year jumped ship to eMoov before quitting in November that year. He has recently announced that he’s heading up the new UK operation of US-style franchised estate agency eXp Realty.

Alistair Barclay, Andrew Barclay, Daniel Attia, David Jacobs – Yopa

Standing for ‘Your Online Property Agency’ and launched in 2014 it has subsequently raised over £90 million during several fund raisers including cash inputs from LSL, Savills and the Daily Mail’s parent company, DMGT.

The Barclay brothers remain on its board but Daniel Attia recently stepped down as its Chairman while Jacobs is still connected to the business but isn’t a director. The company is now run by a non-founder, Ben Poynter, who has a background in the entertainment and banking sector

Michael and Kenny Bruce – Purplebricks

The Bruce brothers started up Purplebricks in 2012 and initially the industry was sceptical about its potential. But after City investment fund manager Neil Woodford and three other angel investors including Paul Pindar spotted the potential for a well-funded hybrid disruptor, the brothers were then given £10 million to fund its growth.

Purplebricks expanded quickly to become the UK’s largest estate agency but made a somewhat foolhardy decision to try and repeat its UK success in Australia and the US.

This led to huge losses for the group despite a profitable and growing UK operation. Both brothers exited the business this year which is now headed up by former MoneySuperMarket boss Vic Darvey, although the Bruces have promised to reveal a new venture ‘soon’.

Sarah Beeny – Tepilo

Beeny made the relatively logical step to turn her TV fame into digital gold and launched Tepilo in 2009 as a ‘free for sale by owner’ website but the model struggled to gain significant traction in the market.

She eventually withdrew from the running and promotion of the business, which was sold to Northern and Shell and then merged with eMoov in a deal that, at the time, was claimed to have created a business valued at £100m. When eMoov went into administration Tepilo went with it and was bought by lettings platform Mashroom which is planning to relaunch the business.

The Remainers

Alexander Gosling – HouseSimple

Gosling co-founded HouseSimple in 2007 with Sophie Cronin but only he remains, currently as President. Day-to-day operations are lead by CEO Sam Mitchell, who recently initiated its ‘free to sell’ model which is due to go national soon following a regional launch in the NW of England.

Will Clarke – SellMyHome.co.uk

Clarke founded his online estate agency in 2013 and has since launched two other businesses for property management and lettings. The business recently turned to crowdfunding site Seedrs to raise £750,000 and currently lists approximately 1,200 homes for sale.

Gemma & Paul Young – Settled

Former bright young digital siblings Gemma and Paul Young launched Settled in 2015 after careers in tech and advertising which helped the business secure seed funding from investors. This included an investment by Sir John Hegarty although the business later secured £1 million from other investors. It rebranded in 2017 and since has soldiered on and currently lists approximately 100 properties for sale on Rightmove.

Darius Bradbury and Adam Hyslop – OpenRent

OpenRent claims to be the largest letting agency in the UK by listings and is certainly the largest online with approximately 5,300 properties to rent online. Founders Bradbury and Hyslop remain at the helm and recently inked a deal with the National Landlords Association to be its preferred ‘tenant find’ supplier.

Chris and Mark Brogan and Sam Ballard – Express Estate Agency

The Manchester-based trio launched Express ten years ago and have been quietly getting on with growing the business largely without fanfare, but apparently profitably. The Brogan brothers still run the company although Ballard left in 2014 to set up his own property development firm. Express has approximately 3,700 properties for sale on Rightmove.

Vijay Vashistha and Sachin Gupta – 99 Homes

99 Homes is another slow but steady online grower that’s based its appeal on a fixed, super-low fees structure starting at £49 and despite calling itself a hybrid estate agency advertises via OnTheMarket, unlike Purplebricks. It was founded in 2017 by Vashistha and Gupta, both of whom worked in the industry before launching the site.

Akshay Ruparelia – Doorsteps

Ruparelia set up Doorsteps while studying his A levels and subsequently incorporated it in late December 2016 before hard launching it in early 2017. The company gained widespread publicity last year after a funding round valued it at £12 million and he is regularly featured in articles and video interviews as an example of youthful entrepreneurialism.

The now 21-year-old recently claimed to have taken 1% of the total UK market and said his business had increased in value to £18 million. It lists approximately 1,800 properties for sale on Rightmove.

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