One-on-one interview: Michael Bruce of Purplebricks
Newly-launched Purplebricks is on the hunt for the cream of the agency market as it prepares to create a national online business model based on a fixed fee service proposition. Clare Bettelley speaks to co-founder Michael Bruce about the launch.
How long have you been planning Purplebricks?
We've spent the last two and a half years preparing for the launch.
Why has it taken so long?
We sat down with a blank sheet of paper to decide what we wanted to achieve, what we wanted the business to look like, what experience we wanted our customers to have and how to go about achieving it. We started by saying if we're going to do this we have to do it correctly, which meant having the necessary advertising and exposure that it needs to try and win the hearts and minds of customers where the other online agents haven't yet fully succeeded.
How have you identified customer needs?
We went on a roadshow talking to hundreds of customers about what they thought of estate agency - what they liked and didn't like and what they thought was missing from it.
What was the most surprising finding?
What was surprising was how little customers want. They want convenience, honesty, transparency and support, so they want some form of human interaction. We don't think customers are yet ready to entirely go online, certainly not the ones that we spoke to. And they want a cost-effective solution because they're in an environment where every penny counts.
Talk me through your service proposition.
We'll offer everything the high street has to offer and more. Customers will still have the comfort of a local expert, who will still come round to their house, who is qualified and has been in the industry for a reasonable period of time. They're people who will be concentrating entirely on assisting customers with every aspect of their transaction. They'll do all the administration, get stock on the portals and provide customers with contact throughout. Customers will also get access to our platform, which enables anything to happen instantly - viewings can be arranged, offers and sales can be made and paperwork can be with the conveyancer at the click of a button.
How did you first get involved in the estate agency market?
I started life as a lawyer and fell into property. I worked for a corporate estate agency, Countrywide, while at university, assisting with a legal issue it was having. This got me a little bit interested in the estate agency market. I had my own law firm, but I wasn't really interested in having lunch with estate agents all day every day and being their flavour of the month, so I ended up buying Burchell Edwards with my brother, Kenny, in 2006 which we sold to Connells Group in November 2011.
Why did you sell the business?
We felt we'd got to the end of the road with what we wanted to do with a high street model and wanted to move on to do what we're doing now.
What is the secret of your success to date?
Belief and persistence. Estate agency is a very odd environment in which people are always very eager to criticise what you do, particularly if you try to be entrepreneurial or different.
What advice would you give to other business owners?
Get a thick skin, believe in what you're doing and in yourself and the people you have around you. At the same time, be prepared for people to jump to conclusions about what you're doing.