Meet the ex-Googler taking on estate agents

Gemma Young's Settled is one of a growing crop of upstarts that want to make it easier (and not to mention cheaper) to sell your home.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 11 Dec 2017

35 Women Under 35: Where are they now?

There’s no shortage of tech entrepreneurs trying to shake up the property market. From Purplebricks, which has now found its way onto the stock market, to Sarah Beeny’s Tepilo, selling your home without the help of a traditional agent is now a pretty common thing to do – if not yet the norm.

Another pair of founders throwing their hat in the ring are siblings Gemma and Paul Young, whose property start-up Settled (don’t call it an online estate agent...), guides sellers through the sale process without getting directly involved in the viewings and negotiations. Founded in 2014 the company has raised more than £2m from investors including Connect Ventures and Piton Capital.

CEO Gemma started her career as an estate agent, ‘which was, as I expected, eye-opening. I guess I saw a business model that was really not focused on people and consumers, it didn't really connect with my heart and soul and I thought a lot needed to change.’ She later moved to a digital agency before becoming one of the first 100 UK employees of Google, where she worked for seven years. ‘Going from a small estate agency in Wiltshire, and then a marketing agency to getting a job at Google, my mind exploded.’

MT grabbed a chat with Young (previously one of our 35 Women Under 35) to find out why she gave up a job at one of the world’s most desirable employers, and how her new venture is coming along.

What made you want to leave Google and strike out on your own?

I've always had an entrepreneurial spark - I was selling friendship bracelets at the age of 11. During the time at Google, I really did find my place. It was so entrepreneurial and you really were changing things and it was dynamic and fast-moving.

But I guess this particular industry, having seen the estate agency model from the inside, has always really stayed with me. Over the years everybody knows somebody who's had a bad experience buying and selling homes.

I got quite excited because I saw some of the new business models that came up, like Emoov. I thought brilliant, people are using the internet to modernise the process. But the reality is that the hybrid online agents have done an awesome job of making the cost more palatable for consumers, but I really felt there's so much more disruption needed.

So how did you get the business off the ground?

It was a huge learning curve. I hadn't fundraised before, for example. So it was a lot of speaking to people, a lot of looking at how we build technology and assembling an amazing team and getting advisors around us. In the early stages we were really lucky to get investment from people who guided us through the process of creating a business. Some of our early investors were Sir John Hegarty, of BBH, and one of the managing directors of Google. Then we were able to start exploring, building technology and hiring people who had the right experience.

Is it difficult working alongside your brother every day?

It certainly changes the dynamic. One of the great things is Paul and I have a very strong rule of having Settled time and then just brother and sister or family time. We're very good at not merging the two and that took quite a while.

It's almost like we have two completely separate personas - we have our business persona and then we revert to brother and sister. That makes it bearable, because it is high pressure and it's very challenging to co-found a business with anyone. Lots of co-founders struggle and it puts relationships under enormous amounts of pressure.

Your service is cheaper than a normal estate agent, but isn't there something to be said for a having commission-incentivised salesperson fighting your corner?

I think the reality is, people can do that themselves and do it amazingly well with product support. This is one of the interesting dynamics we discovered early on. From my perspective of being an estate agent, with an intermediary involved I was getting a lot of cheeky offers because people weren't dealing face-to-face. So putting a really low offer in was commonplace.

One of the lovely things we've experienced is that when people meet face-to-face, it's quite an emotional thing buying someone's house, and we find those conversations happen very openly, properties are priced realistically. The whole point of Settled is being super transparent, connecting people and being really authentic. The results speak for themselves - Settled homes sell for 98% of their asking price.

Are there any other companies you take a lot of inspiration from?

Google. I still very much am a lover of the Big G. One of the things that they do amazingly well is innovation, but really one of the reasons I really take so much inspiration from them is their culture. That's something I'm really passionate about here at Settled, that we have that culture.

They did things like the 20% projects, where people would have a certain amount of time for reflection. Not many people ended up taking that, but just the culture of knowing that you can. And the fact is some amazing products came out of that innovation culture. Their cultural approach has really impacted me.

Also companies that really have a meaning and focus on making a difference to people, they really connect with my heart. Airbnb being anther really obvious example. What they've done for travel and connecting real people really is quite an emotional thing. I love travel and I think being able to go and really experience cities from different perspectives inside somebody's home, has been an incredible access point for this generation.

Do you think high street estate agents have a future?

I think that there will always be a certain type of consumer that will go for hand-holding, but that's just not Settled. What's really excited us is this growing demographic of very savvy, technically capable consumers who strive for quite different things than generations before. We expect things now to happen more quickly and we challenge, as consumers, processes that are slow and we strive for the best and for things that are really efficient. That's the demographic we focus on.

And in the long-term do you have an exit strategy?

We've had some interesting conversations on that front but right now we've very much focused on what we can achieve as a team. We've got a lot to do so I think it's head down at least for the next couple of years. We want to really make a difference in the real estate industry and think about international growth before we think about exit.

Read about this year's 35 Women Under 35 here.

We'll be launching next year's 35 Women Under 35, in association with Accenture, in February 2018. Watch this space.

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