In 2015, 25-year old Calum Brannan set out to find a solution for renting out his property in Coventry.
He was looking for a service that would offer him the same friendly and simple user experience as Airbnb, but for long-term rentals.
Brannan noticed there wasn’t anything like that on the market, and after a few bad experiences with local letting agents he began building No Agent.
Today, No Agent coordinates a network of 500 property partners across England who carry out on-demand work such as viewings and inspections.
In October last year, Brannan opened an operations centre in the West Midlands to handle the huge increase in demand for his service.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Calum Brannan and I am the founder of No Agent. I am a 28-year old entrepreneur using tech to bring a better lettings service to millions of renters and landlords. No Agent’s mission is to create a fairer, more equitable marketplace for both landlords and “generation rent”.
Our property management platform fuses software with the expertise of qualified property professionals to automate the entire rental process – from finding tenants to rent collection and inspections.
Landlords choose how much they control and how much they pass on to No Agent, and have complete visibility over their property status, at any time, from anywhere in the world.
We’re trying to level the playing field for generation rent, which is why while landlords pay a low monthly fee, and tenants don’t pay any fees for our service (and never have).
(2) How long have you been around for?
We started in March 2016. By November we were a two-person company operating out of a co-working space.
Then in 2017 things really heated up. By October, we had to open an operations centre in the West Midlands to keep up with the demand. Now, we have over 35 people employed full-time and we coordinate a network of around 500 representatives across England.
(3) Where did the idea for your business come from?
About two years ago, I had a couple of bad experiences with letting agents while I was renting my property in Coventry. I started looking for a service with the same friendly user experience as Airbnb, but for long-term rentals. There wasn’t anything around, so I set up to build it.
On Christmas Eve 2015, my friend Tom and I sat down at my kitchen table and put together the first business plan. Tom, a PhD in plant biochemistry-turned consultant with Deloitte, is now my co-founder and finance director.
(4) What was key in terms of getting started?
We had market validation from the very beginning. Talking to people, it quickly became obvious there was a genuine need for what I wanted to build, and a lot of people had been waiting for something like No Agent to come along.
We talked to hundreds of landlords and tenants, and their eyes would light up when we told them about our idea. Nothing beats the satisfaction of building something that genuinely makes people’s lives easier.
(5) How do you know when you have a winning product?
Ask as many people as possible, really listen to what they have to say and take on board how they interact with your product. We were lucky to get very positive feedback right from the start.
For us, another sign that our product was right was the strong support we got from our first crowdfunding round. We hit the target in just five days and then went on to exceed our goal of £350,000 to close at £584,162!
(6) When did you realise you had the makings of a successful online business?
Very early on our journey, I got an email from someone senior at a very large competitor. They wanted to talk about No Agent in more detail. Not long after we had hosted a good handful of senior leaders at our office in Shoreditch.
As soon as your competitors start to worry about you, you know you are on to something.
(7) Any major setbacks along the way?
It wasn’t a smooth ride by any means, but I doubt there’s such a thing when you’re a startup. The first issue was not being able to secure the name we wanted. It took a lot of emails and negotiation to finally buy our domain.
We continue to deal with Brexit uncertainty. There have been a lot of changes in landlord legislation, and the buy to let market has been slowing down, which has so far been a blessing in disguise for us.
Lots of landlords are looking for cheaper property management solutions to offset their costs, and they’re coming to us. But we can’t predict what will happen in 2018 and beyond
And of course, there’s the huge competition in our field. There’s other “proptech” companies, and there’s the big national estate agents who are also starting to dabble in tech and have the funds a startup could never dream of.
(8) Describe your marketing technique. What strategies have you used?
We’ve been relying on digital strategies and on encouraging word of mouth from our landlords – which works best with our type of business. Happy customers will do a lot of the legwork for you by talking to their friends. We don’t have big marketing budgets, so we’re working hard with what we have.
(9) What’s been the key to securing clients?
Our revenue model is based on a monthly fee and customers can cancel anytime, so for us customer loyalty is crucial. The only way you can keep customers is to provide excellent customer service.
We strive to provide great service consistently, but also really listen to customers and whenever possible actually incorporate their feedback in the product or service. A lot of our platform was developed that way.
(10) What one tip would you give another entrepreneur who’s just starting out?
Find great mentors. You need people who will always say it how it is and push you to do better, and people who genuinely believe in you and know how to help you extract the best from yourself.
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