A room with a HomeView

Olly McGinn, Co-founder of HomeViews, an independent platform showcasing London's best residential developments, allowing prospective buyers and tenants to read, and users to post, verified reviews, to ensure trust and transparency.

This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

Earning his business stripes in the catering industry was an invaluable career decision that set the entrepreneur in good stead for his next exciting, but unexpected, expedition into the property market.

“I joined a very early-stage catering business, which I loved. I was in charge of finding teams, winning events, creating logistics, plans, setting up various different outlets, and events all over the country, as well as making strategic decisions on how to grow a business.

“I was the fourth person into the business, and we scaled it dramatically. We were in The Sunday Times fastest growing businesses two years running and we ended up selling it to a FTSE 250 business. Having sold it, it was not an obvious transition into a proptech business, but the experience I got was in growing – growing businesses, growing teams, learning from a young age how to make tough decisions, and just getting stuff done, which has been invaluable.”

A prosperous coffee break

It was after the catering business sold that McGinn met a good friend for coffee and the idea for HomeViews was introduced.

Edward Barroll-Brown saw “entrepreneurial bandwidth” in McGinn and explained the concept for HomeViews, but as he was about to launch a separate business, he wanted to pass the idea to someone who could run with it.

“I said, ‘let's give it a go.’ Rory [Cramer], my business partner and CEO, was an early investor in the business, and he was the property guy. He helped guide our strategy to get it off the ground, and he joined us about a year later.”

The benefits of HomeViews

The simple concept and layout belie an agile tech team that plans and conducts regular development cycles, after which they review the progress they’ve made, and plan for the forthcoming cycle. Or, ‘Sprints, planning and retros’. This rigorous planning is all geared towards HomeViews’ USP.

“Every person submits to the review application process, similar to a KYC [Know Your Customer] check. We can then confirm on the front of our website that they live where they say they do. Those reviews offer the highest level of trust in anyone using our site – so, buyers, tenants, house builders, developers, housing associations, architects, suppliers, etc.

“Our property reviews are specific and give extremely deep information on individual buildings. Within the industry, our review data is as unique as it can get. We can segment it 100 different ways – it's really transforming the property industry.”

An un-lockdown

Launching in 2019, McGinn recalls the moment the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown.

“I remember sitting at home on day one of lockdown thinking, ‘well, that was fun. What should we do now?’

“But it forced us to rethink the way we work. There was no way we were going to give up on a great idea. And, actually, it's been hugely beneficial.

“I don't know what it would look like If COVID hadn't struck. We set ourselves up with fully remote working from day one. We didn't furlough anybody. In fact, we employed people during it. Once restrictions were relaxed, we were able to address the shortcomings of working from home and created a hybrid working environment in a co-working space.

“It's created a much better work/life balance.”

Building a business

Starting with just McGinn and Barroll-Brown, HomeViews raised money through their own network before going on to funding rounds via SEIS and EIS to raise capital.

HomeViews now employs 21 full-time people and three contractors and is working on bringing its tech resources in-house and building the team up to full strength.

The business itself has always intended to be two-sided, where verified residential property reviews are collected and then made available to consumers via the website, and to the industry via its dashboard.

Consumers use the site completely free of charge and no details are collected from them.

“They can come to our website and research [things like] UK’s best new homes or locations,” while property companies, “partner with HomeViews to get access to our data for strategic insights. They can also then use all that content in their own marketing.”

Working with the industry from the outset was a conscious and strategic decision for the company leaders who understood the costs and requirements of building a consumer brand from scratch. By working with property developers and operators, who proactively ask their residents to leave a review, the awareness of HomeViews has grown quickly and organically.

“All the user-generated content, which we are generating all the time, ranks really well with Google. Our development and company pages pretty much always rank at the top of SERPs [search engine results page].

“All of that user generated content is [assessed] and put into blogs and rankings, and we push that out through our social [media] channels. The result is this year we’ll have north of two million unique visitors to the website.”

As well as this, HomeViews is also on track to launch its marketing research product, which gives the entire real estate industry access to its data. This is something that fills McGinn with excitement.

“We launched an MVP (minimum viable product) at the end of last year, and it’s been incredibly well-received. So, the tech guys are building that product now.”

From London to Europe

“We're going to launch into a couple of European cities this year. We’re figuring out where they are, but we'll do it in conjunction with some of our Build to Rent partners who are really keen for us to support their journey and their expansion in Europe. That’s no small feat.”