It's often the case that the best startups spot a problem or niche, and aim to address it. The CEO of new real estate platform AuctionShelter, Upile Chasowa, realised that online home-selling technology was woefully out of date and making things more difficult than necessary for buyers and sellers alike. So he decided to fix it. We chatted to Elsa Givan, Director of Business Development at AuctionShelter, about how they went from a great idea to an active business.

Buying and selling a house is an exciting process, but also a stressful one - and current real estate technology doesn't really recognise this. AuctionShelter’s aim is to provide an online property bidding platform that enables anyone, irrelevant of budget, to find the right property for them. The opportunity to use our platform affords both buyers and sellers to find the best possible prices with the lowest transaction costs, and ease of access.  AuctionShelter is looking to improve the customer experience by using technologically attractive methods to enhance the entire property-buying process - the innovative methods allow customers to have a better experience when it comes to buying or selling a home.

The seed of an idea

Our aim has always been to build a marketplace, an ecosystem, that will enable buyers to buy from their comfort of their own home on a selection of exclusively available real estate.

In our CEO’s original iteration of our business idea, he ran a startup called PropertyGroup that registered and managed over 200 private properties, working with a number of private homeowners looking for residents across the UK. PropertyGroup partnered with Zoopla, which allowed us to have access to a pool of residents across the UK looking for rental properties. PropertyGroup’s success enabled our team to gain support from Virgin Startup, which opened further opportunities to enhancing our initial business model. Along the way, we also worked with a well established charity helping the homeless and were featured on ITV to help raise the awareness. Following this success, we have been able to identify an enormous opportunity with AuctionShelter and were able to raise some funds to help us build our initial product.

The importance of market research

Market research was crucial for us. It helped us understand how much property is being sold online, analyse our competitors, attend the right seminars and engage in well-established groups. Face-to-face meet-ups with property experts and attending a lot of property exhibitions gave us even fuller insight into the industry and what customers wanted.

The key market research methods we used were:

  • Questionnaires on buyers’ and sellers’ behaviour, as well as creating landing pages to capture the details and answers of users.
  • To understand our competitors more we got in touch and looked at how their processes work.
  • We engaged with influential investors, as they can give unbiased views on ideas and approaches.
  • To understand stats and trends we got involved with focus groups, live seminars, and ensured we were on top of all industry news.

Next steps

Another crucial thing we did early on was to create a product development cycle. This involved building a list of assumptions on how the service/platform will work, and then discuss these assumptions with a selection of focus groups made up of buyers and property experts. Through this feedback we could refine our assumptions, and then create divisions of responsibility for each area, such as users, features, and engagement.

Thanks to our research and assumptions, we raised pre-seed to help build the platform from an Angel Investor. We followed 4 agile phases: user requirements, wireframes, website templates and finally website build. At each step, we took the time to discuss our development with our target market and ensure we received more feedback, which in turn helped refine our assumptions further.

Based on the above, our key takeaways when starting out are:

  • Test your assumptions, always!
  • Understand your market by engaging with experts and clients.
  • Network, network, network; build bridges with enthusiasts within your target market sphere.

Certification and experience

Entrepreneurship is not about being right or wrong, as there is no right or wrong. Neither is it about having the best certifications or experience. There’s no magic bullet. Everything starts off with assumptions, which are then further refined. Be patient, be persistent, and be ready to fail - but never give up and always be ready to learn from your mistakes. That’s how you build your experience and those are the tools you need. 

However, our CEO did have extensive experience in the property tech world, which absolutely helped the process along. Having at least one founder who is experienced in your industry of choice can be extremely important. 

Unexpected obstacles

As with any process of starting up, there will always be things that surprise you during the process. One thing for us was the amount of planning and communication required. For example, convincing individual estate agents and online platforms to agree to list properties on AuctionShelter required a lot of direct communication and personalised outreach.

Building assumptions is one thing, but convincing early adopters with a live product is another thing, and dealing with some of their concerns – for example, we had to make sure users understood they were liable for bids.

Outlining the strategy for each social media in order of priority was also something that needed to be considered in detail, as each platform is so different.

Looking to the future

Our business has had a substantial amount of growth in the past few months, and we’ve also learned a lot. Some of our initial assumptions were refined as we received user feedback in our beta phase and began to understand how the platform would really work. We have also realised that there are certain niches in the market that are currently unfulfilled, so we’ve been willing to adapt and fill different niches than we originally expected. For example, we realised that a real area of need for sellers in the online property space was showing their properties well online - attractive photos, clear descriptions, and sufficient details. Understanding this as a gap in the market has given us the opportunity to attempt to fill it and adapt our services. 

The next steps for us will be continuing to get feedback from our beta phase, tweak and refine our product and make decisions about our final offering, and apply for more funding so we can demonstrate that the amazing results we’ve had in beta phase can be replicated and scaled up with more resources. We’re optimistic!

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