HQ: Swansea, Wales
Founders: 2 - Daniaal Awais-Dean (CEO) and Steve Talbot (CTO)
Rob: Welcome to the Wales Tech Blog Podcast, hosted by me, Robert Lo Bue. Each episode I speak with tech entrepreneurs around Wales to give an idea of what's going on in our small, yet creative country. This week I'm speaking with EverKnock, a startup based in South Wales, trying to ease some of the frustrations people experience when buying a new home.
Hi both, nice to meet you this morning. How are you doing?
Dan: Great, thanks.
Steve: Yeah, really good, thank you.
Dan: I'm Dan, I'm the co-founder and CEO of EverKnock, we're building a digital concierge to help people through the home moving process. In my past career I was a derivatives trader. I sort of left that five years ago to pursue entrepreneurial activities and look at the things that were impacting my life and home movings. I'm sure a lot of people can familiarize with one of those stressful events that seemingly never seems to improve over the years. I thought I wanted to have a good crack at it, so that's what we're doing.
Rob: Yeah, don't they say that the two most stressful things in life are divorce and buying a house?
Dan: I haven't divorced anyone yet, but I say moving house isn't a pain. You see a lot of these lists and it has the most stressful events in your lives. And it's things like death of a loved one or divorce or really horrible events. And then there is moving home, which usually should be a really positive thing. And it always sort of struck me as quite strange that that should make the list.
Rob: How about you Steve?
Steve: I'm Dan's co-founder and chief technology officer at EverKnock. My background is as a chartered engineer and I've been working in the entrepreneurial space for about a decade now as a startup CTO, either as a co-founder or as a consultant to other companies. And like Dan, I've experienced the property industry in a number of different ways as well, and the stresses and really just wanna make that a bit easier for everyone.
Rob: So Dan, you said you were a derivatives trader, was that in London?
Dan: Yes, it was, which is where I'm from originally.
Rob: And so I think Steve as well, you're also not from Wales, so what has brought you both to Wales to start this company?
Steve: Personally, I relocated to Wales for a corporate job probably around 15 years ago now. And when I started, I broke out of corporates and started doing more entrepreneurial things. It just didn't make sense to move away. Wales really has everything that I've needed, and here I am still here.
Dan: Yeah, from my point of view, I'm a much more recent addition to Wales. So just, I think, past the end of my first year having lived here. And in honesty, I was brought here because my wife is a native of this fine country and I think she drove that move. So yeah, London was my home, that's where I initially started the company, but I've been really pleasantly surprised by the support and the entrepreneurial ecosystem down here. Especially coming from London, there's always that concern that there wouldn't be as much there, but actually they're very different. But I would venture to say that Wales is actually more of a supportive environment for entrepreneurs. You know, there are great networks, I mean, just walking down the street in Cardiff with Steve and everyone will stop him to say hello because he knows so many people. So there’s that kind of environment that you don't always get perhaps in London where there's obviously many startups competing for space, rather than here it's more of a collaborative effort. Feels like that anyway.
Rob: Yeah, I think that's often said about Wales. London obviously has the investors, the many more startups, the community initiatives, but you can feel like a small fish in a very big pond. Whereas here it's quite a small pond, but that's actually quite useful, like you say, it can be. Should we move on to EverKnock? So let's start with the name, why EverKnock?
Dan: You’re not the first person to have brought that up recently, and this is probably going off topic a bit, but I had a bit of a dream last night about a new name. It must be sort of occupying my subconscious. Why EverKnock? So in the most basic terms I was given some good advice by someone I was working with in the very early stages to find something that you could purchase the dotcom of very cheaply. And I spent a few days, probably longer than I should have done with a little notepad, writing a bunch of different names that had passing connections to property or moving. And that was what came out of it for better or worse. And for me, I've never felt like this is it and this will never change or anything like that.
Rob: I mean that's a pretty legitimate reason. I think people spend a lot of time on naming, but actually some of the biggest companies have the most random names. I think it's more about how you embody that name rather than choosing it in the first place. I would say that buying a house is a bit like forever knocking on people's doors so it actually happens because it can take months and months like we said earlier.
So tell me exactly what are you offering, what are the products you're offering? Is it more of a SaaS business or an agency business or a bit of both? And is it B2B or B2C or B2B2C? Yeah, a little bit more about the service that you're offering.
Dan: So as we touched on before, I guess the problem is that the home movement experience being generally very negative and you have this sort of 30% consistent fall through rate and home buyers losing an average 3000 pounds per move. And as we touched on before, it being one of the most stressful events of their lives. And what both Steve and I found separately, and we've put that together, is that there are a lot of companies out there that talk about wanting to improve this process. But many of them seem to have focused on software or solutions for incumbents, so for solicitors, for state agents and almost think of the consumer as a bit of an afterthought. And what has happened as a result of that is that even with some good solutions out there and some good bits of tech out there, the home mover experience is still as bad as it ever was. It still takes as long as it ever has. And we really wanted to build something that was consumer-centric in that way, so it's very much a consumer-centric product.
And as we touched on before, we sort of turned the home moving concierge and a nice way to think about it is like a wedding planner for your home move. So someone there to help guide you, navigate all the complexities of it and help you organize the many different services that you will invariably have to employ during the move. And it starts with a mortgage broker, it includes solicitor, surveyor, removal companies, and a bit later on things like insurance, broadbands and automated address changing all sorts. And they spend on average 42,000 pounds in the 12 months surrounding their home. So it's a really big market and all this money spent and people are still having a really terrible time of it. So yeah, the products were effectively an assistance to help people through that process. In terms of we’re building for the consumer but it's free to use for home movers. And our business model focuses on referral fees from our home moving partners, so the companies we connect with solicitors and surveyors, et cetera.
Steve: Yeah, maybe as a marketplace model as well sometimes you hear that kind of description of these businesses where there's a consumer side and a partner side.
Rob: So is this a company where I pick up the phone and talk to a dedicated account manager and then they sort out the rest? Or is there some kind of platform or how do I interact with you if I'm buying a house?
Steve: In the early stages where we are now, it is admittedly very manual. So you would pick up a phone or perhaps text, instant message with one of our customer success team and we would sort out everything else. But for that to scale, we need to automate. We're aware that for the next couple of years it is to streamline through digital offerings, self-service platforms and maybe some kind of automation of supporting the right points. But without losing that human touch that's essential to reduce the stress and make this a successful offering.
Rob: Yeah, that's a really interesting point because I suppose most tech startups or tech companies, they want, or the dream is a hundred percent automation, but as we've said a few times, this is quite a stressful process, this whole buying a house or selling a house or moving. That human element, I suppose that you just mentioned, Steve, is perhaps for me at least, it is nice when you can pick up the phone and shout at someone when it's not working or just plead with them to make it go faster. Do you foresee at this point that there will always be a route to speak to a human when you absolutely need it?
Steve: Yeah I do. And I completely see there being a time when that human is just there to listen to someone vent as well, that they're having a stressful time. There's something going on around the move that's making it frustrating. And that might be something that's completely outside of the process of moving and the offering, but part of being a concierge is being there to support that and to get the successful outcome at the end.
Rob: So who are your competitors I suppose? I know that recently when I bought my last house, the estate agent tried to upsell me, mortgage advisor, a few life insurance or house insurance, and that was being done by the estate agent. Do you see them as your partners or your competitors, a bit of both? Or is there someone else in the market that's out there that I'm not aware of?
Dan: Yeah, we very much see estate agents as partners in this. Certain agents have partnerships or affiliations with legal services, companies or financial services companies and try and sell that. We're there very much to help manage that service. So I often talk about how when you move, it can feel like your project managing and that's really what we are trying to replace. So when you say competition, for me, I've always thought the biggest competition was actually just the status quo, right? Which is that most people will go through this process, which has remained the same for many years. We've spoken to a number of solicitors and estimated that upwards of 60% of their working time has dealt with just servicing customer queries and certainly doesn't help improve the service that they deliver. But yeah, estate agents we're certainly looking to work with them because as I said, we can take that customer service burden away from them. We can also offer them access to a number of these partners, which they might not have access to. Certainly some of the more independent agents.
Rob: You mentioned earlier that for the consumer, for me moving house, it wouldn't come at a cost. So what I gather from the estate agents that I've spoken to before when buying a house, they're getting a cut from selling their solicitor or selling their life insurance or whatever it may be. If you are doing that for them and they are paying you, don't they actually lose revenue?
Dan: So I suppose there are two scenarios. One is that the estate agent doesn't have these partnerships in place, in which case we're offering them and we'll offer them a revenue share. So we'll give them access or their clients access to these services, and then we'll share some of that revenue. And two, is sometimes they will have some of those services in place and we are happy to bring the companies that they work with onto our panel which just helps them manage it better because we'll be sort of the one point of contact for a number of services. And invariably even if they have, as we said, a convincing partner and a mortgage partner, it's unlikely they will… We're talking about up to a dozen different services. We've touched a few of them such as surveyors, removal companies, life insurance, home insurance, broadband in a different market, utility switching, address automation. So all of these different things, I'm yet to meet an agent that has that entire range of suite of services, but in 99.9% of cases, we're able to offer them at least one revenue stream, which they certainly don't already have. So we can boost their revenue that way.
Rob: Cool, so where are we at with all this? Like how long have you been around? When did you start? Are you pre-revenue, post revenue? Where on this journey are we right now?
Dan: I suppose technically the company was incorporated around two and a half years ago in the midst of the first lockdown May, 2020. We've done a number of things since then, a number of experiments, tested a lot of assumptions. And at the minute, we are live, so we're offering a live service. We've had some users, some very early revenue, and we are now looking to better execute our route to market and push on from there really.
Rob: So are you invested or bootstrapped or you looking for investment or not?
Dan: So we've bootstrapped the entire way up until very recently. We opened our first round of investments and have actually taken in checks from three angels through ASAs [advanced subscription agreements], and that's giving us a little bit of runway to meet some really exciting targets over the next few months. But the round is still open and we're still accepting investment for that first round of funding.
Rob: That's great, congrats on your first three angels, that's wonderful.
Dan: Thank you.
Rob: Did you want to take it? Is there a right type of investment to ask this question just because I imagine there are people out there who are starting a business who they hear all these words, they hear about these rounds like precedes, series A, what does it all mean? Why did you take investment and do you foresee that being part of your future growth plan? And if so, why?
Steve: It's different for every business, right? There's some businesses where it's completely inappropriate to have investment. I'd say there are other others where you're just not going to get anywhere without it. And I think it's a universal truth of a product-based business where you are developing something that's a little bit new, that there are upfront costs that you don't recoup until you've made the product and you've had a chance to sell that product to customers. So I think we are in that middle ground where we need some investment to get going. And then as you say there's a separate decision to be made at some point if we see that growth is going really well but we could accelerate that with another round then sure. That's something to look at, but that's probably a different conversation for a couple of years time.
Dan: The other part of investment, I think beyond the capital is what value you can get beyond pure capital. Especially at the early stage you know, if you can get angels on board that can add some sort of value beyond that capital that can help accelerate your growth, I think there is a definite benefit to that. And hopefully that's what we've done and we're doing.
Rob: So let's talk about Steve, earlier Dan alluded to you having another similar startup prior to this one, prior to EverKnock, what was that? What happened? What did it look like? Just a little bit about that.
Steve: So that company was called Properr Software, it was proper with a double R because we spent probably a little bit less time than Dan looking at the top domains that were available. And it set out to solve the same problem, a very similar problem, maybe that moving home is a kind of stressful and very opaque process.
Rob: So in what way does that differ here, do you think? What are the main differences between EverKnock and what you did previously?
Steve: I think a huge difference with EverKnock is that we are not just serving one of the partners, if you like, in the transaction. So Properr: TrackMyMove, it was very much a product for estate agents and then by proxy we served the customers of the estate agents, but they were always the estate agents' customers. And I think with EverKnock, we've taken the view that the customer is front and center. The home mover is the center of our world. Your average home move involves, I think it's about five or six different companies you'll have to deal with during the course of it. Some of them are as many as a dozen, and that's difficult. It's complicated.
Rob: So you've run a business before, is this your second or have you run several?
Steve: I've been involved in several either as a co-founder or a consultant. I suppose if accounting, I'd say this is about the fourth.
Rob: So in the last one, I'm guessing Properr wasn't successful?
Steve: Well, I think that depends on your perspective, right? In the course of running Properr, we did run for a number of years. We transacted over 400 million pounds worth of property through the platform. The transactions that we dealt with were 40% faster on average than the national average for moving home; 40% less likely to fail. We haven't really touched on this, but there's a huge proportion of property transactions in the UK fall through in that period between agreeing the sale and actually getting the keys handed over. We did 40% better on those, so by a number of metrics we succeeded. And then by other metrics you could say that because we didn't have a huge exit to a big household name, then that’s a failure. But ultimately the truth is always somewhere in between, right?
Rob: Yeah, that's a really good point. We often associate success with one of those big exits in this industry. But actually, if you put food on the table and you've learned something along the way that also is a success, so yeah, that's great. What about you Dan, have you been involved in a business before?
Dan: This is my first real crack at it. There were a couple of side projects, but this is my first real crack at it.
Rob: I suppose the question is from those experiences, because there will be people out there who have tried something and failed or and maybe, like you said Steve, had an element of success, but not the success they were looking for. I think both career paths that you've taken, one in starting businesses, Steve, or being part of startups or starting companies. And Dan you in the city, which is obviously almost the pinnacle of British industry, there are learnings along that way. Do you have key learnings from your previous careers or companies that have helped you with EverKnock?
Dan: Yeah, I learned a huge amount working in the industry that I did during the period that I did, especially how companies operate under huge amounts of external pressures, stresses. We were going through the biggest financial crisis that any of us are likely to see in a generation. And then I was working at the coalface trading derivatives during some pretty big shock events like Brexit and like the US Presidential election 2016. In terms of my, I suppose, ability to be able to compartmentalize what we are doing but then also see where it fits into the wider equation of what's going on around the world, that was probably the biggest learning I have. I like to think I'm quite good at dealing under pressure probably because of those sorts of experiences.
Steve: I've been really lucky like Dan, to work across a number of different projects, different companies, different industries to get a perspective on all this. But also having worked in Proptech a number of years now, you start to get an appreciation for how the industry ticks. And that's really useful to bring from one company to another.
Rob: So do you have any formal business education or have you learned on the job?
Steve: I've done a couple of academic certificates in management and leadership. I think you can overdo reading from books or training courses, teaching, whatever, but it is quite useful to get that sort of potted starter, if you like. This is the considered opinion of a number of people who've given this some thought and then take it from there and compare it to their own experiences in the field.
Rob: Are you a big reader of those business books then?
Steve: I'm generally a big reader, yeah. I like reading and reflecting, but I think they are what they are, you know, they're someone's opinion. They're perhaps the collected opinion of a group of people, but it doesn't apply directly to every situation. And it's only by trying to apply it to your own situation and learning from experience that you really get the whole balanced overview of how to do these things.
Rob: So would you say experience is king, really? So you can read all this stuff, you can do formal academic qualifications, but actually in the end, doing it and failing or being successful teaches you the most.
Steve: Doing it is critical but also I do listen to the experience of others. You know, there's no sense jumping in completely cold and reinventing the wheel and discovering things that you could have learned from say the community in your city where there's other startup owners. Balance it, is what I would say.
Rob: Yeah. Dan, as CEO of EverKnock, do you have a mentor yourself, or someone you spend one-on-one time with?
Dan: I have a number of people that I would call mentors. So I suppose the first way to answer that question is I've done a couple of formal mentorship programs whereby you have regular meetings with a mentor. I've certainly found value in that. To back up Steve's point as well, I think mentorship any advice can come in many guises. It might be someone formally that you've been matched up with who's done it before. And it often has for me certainly been one or a cohort of my peers who are perhaps going through it at the moment, which I certainly find a lot of value with that. It might be podcasts, which I'm an avid listener of a number of podcasts, some of which are sort of more business-focused. And I certainly find value in those and business books as well, which again, I do tend to read quite a lot. But I think I've probably learnt as much from my current peers, from canvassing opinions through books, podcasts, et cetera, speaking, networking with people as anything. And I think for me, what I could say, one of the biggest values or things I think could contribute to success is perseverance.
Rob: Okay, let's wrap this up with one last piece of advice. We'll start with you Steve. If you were to give someone entering either Proptech or any part of tech startups, not just in Wales, anywhere, what would your piece of advice be?
Steve: I would say listen to all of the advice that you're offered and choose for yourself very carefully, which you lacked upon. There's no one piece of advice that I can give that's right for the situation of everyone listening to this.
Dan: Yeah, very much in a similar vein, I think go out and speak to people. I'm very much of the opinion that most things can be learned. You know, intelligent people can learn most topic areas and you learn by speaking to people who have a better knowledge than you. So go out, speak to people, understand where the opportunities are. I think I was probably guilty for a number of years of thinking about ideas more than acting on them. But ultimately if you don't try you won't succeed. It's a cliche, but it's one that holds true.
Rob: Oh, so there you have it. Speak to as many people as possible and then choose your own path. Well thank you very much Steve and Dan. Thank you for taking part in the first podcast here on the Wales Tech blog. I wish you all the success, and hopefully we can hear from you again in a few months' time when you've got more news to share.
Steve: That'd great.
Rob: That's it, thank you very much. You've been listening to the Wales Tech Blog podcast. You can read a transcript of this podcast at www.robertlobue.com, where you'll also find lots of other podcasts from startups and tech companies around Wales. Thank you very much for listening, and I wish you a pleasant day!
Listen and subscribe: