On the 10 October, we’re hosting our eighth Geovation Showcase. The founders presenting at the showcase have been part of the Geovation Accelerator Programme for the past six months, and all consider location or property data critical to their commercial propositions. This event gives the founders the opportunity to share their vision with potential investors, partners and future customers.
In anticipation of the upcoming event, and to give us an insight into the lives of the entrepreneurs behind the businesses, we asked founders Gonzalo Marquesini from RenKap, Ravi Tulsiani from Property Markets and Gareth Whatmore from DronePrep some questions…
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
- The housing crisis. I saw a problem that was affecting so many yet was not being solved. In all honesty, it really annoyed me and drove me to create a solution to deliver affordable homes at scale.
- I came from a family of entrepreneurs, so I have always wanted to work for myself. Thriving off your own efforts is the most rewarding feeling in the world and I like the freedom that comes from being your own boss.
- I’ve always seen work as an opportunity to make a difference, facilitate change and solve problems. Being an entrepreneur allows you to follow the things you feel most passionate about and serve the people and causes you have the most passion for. When you work on something, like DronePrep, that creates a fire inside and that helps unlock exciting opportunities for others, it is difficult not to be driven and fulfilled.
How did you get the idea for your business?
- I initially had a silly idea where I wanted to use people’s excess garden space to store a small home. This would provide revenue for the homeowner and an affordable home for the community. I was interviewing large public sector clients who owned lots of homes and one of them said to me “Gardens? Why are you looking at our gardens? We have loads of empty garage sites that we don’t have the resources to deliver”. This led me to a much more scalable business model. However, someone in the US has now done that “silly” idea and got backed by Y Combinator – I guess there’s no such thing as a bad idea!
- I was looking for a property to develop and the amount of analysis I needed to do was ridiculous. I knew the data was out there, but it was cumbersome to get hold of. I wanted to change this experience for people in the same position and that’s when the ‘lightbulb moment’ happened.
- I was working on a cycle mapping project for Scottish Canals 5 years ago with my previous business. This was around the time that commercial consumer drones first hit the shelves and we purchased one speculatively to help map cycle routes. We soon found out that we needed a Permission to Fly from the Civil Aviation Authority and were bound to a raft of conditions and laws regarding flight. At this time, using our knowledge of geospatial data, we put together a basic map that would help us identify landowners and agree flight paths to help deliver projects. From talking to the market, we soon realised that this map had value for other drone pilots as well as landowners and could also be used to unlock new use cases for drone use.
What did you do before you became an entrepreneur?
- I sailed the seven Boroughs. My girlfriend and I lived on a narrow boat in London for 3 and a half years. This was our house owning plan – it somehow worked. At the same time, I was a chartered property consultant working for a large built asset consultancy. There, I managed +£150m residential developments across London from start to finish. The problem was that because large projects take such a long time, I didn’t feel like I was building enough and contributing to solving the housing crisis.
- I worked for companies which I believed could teach me the skills and mindset I needed to thrive on my own. I keep myself up to date with the financial markets which gives me a bird’s eye view on what is happening in the world.
- Transport Planner – I helped to integrate sustainable transport interventions at London 2012 Olympic Games and also assisted in the planning applications for the Emirates Air Line (a cable car link across the River Thames in London).
Briefly, can you tell us about what your company does?
- At RenKap we feel small publicly owned development sites are being ignored. The large public sector landowners who own them do not have the resources and capacity to deliver them and the private sector is dominated by large house builders who are not interested in the small stuff. Also, there isn’t enough SMEs in the market to deliver the small sites. So, what do we do? We make small sites as efficient and lucrative as large sites. Clients upload their sites onto our online platform and, together with our supply chain partners, we review, assess and procure packages of sites to modular manufacturers. At the end we return the land and homes to the landowner. This means no land transaction which means no land cost and 100% affordable homes at scale.
- Property Markets compares all the properties for sale and display ones of value instantly. We offer our data for free and monetise this traffic in various ways, like lead generation and advertising.
- DronePrep allows drone users to search any location in the UK so that they can enquire directly with a landowner about the conditions of flight. In addition, we allow landowners to share their policy on drone access. This can range from all are welcome to a complete ban; the middle ground is a graduated permission for drone access depending on factors such as location, time, insurance and professional experience. Our mission is to inform the Drone Industry and recreational pilots (a group of 180,000+ flyers) where they can and can’t fly and to allow engagement between Landowners and the drone community to open up new opportunities for both groups.
What’s your plan for growing the business in the next year?
- Delight our initial clients.
- Our business expands via marketing. We plan on getting certain functionality built and then spending money on advertising on Facebook and Google ads to get people to our website to register their interest.
- We have key clients in the South West, Yorkshire and the South Coast. When launching our national product, we want to build our teams in the South West and Yorkshire so we can service, and remain relevant to, regional economies and our national market. On our travels we’ve found some super talented individuals and thriving tech scenes outside London and it will be exciting to expand our footprint beyond the M25.
What advice would you give to somebody considering starting their own business?
- Make sure it’s a real problem and that it’s your mission to solve it. If it’s not, you won’t stick it out.
- Do it, do it, do it! Time waits for no man or woman!
- Do something you really care about. Talk and shout about want you do and get in there with clients at the earliest opportunity to listen to their feedback about how your idea can add value. You will be surprised what you learn and how this helps shape your roadmap – in our experience it has also allowed us to generate revenue as we go to sustain the growth of our business pre-launch.
Why did you decide to apply to Geovation’s Accelerator Programme?
- The economics are 100% in a start-ups favour. No cost, no equity and office space for 12 months – try finding that elsewhere! On top of that, Geovation is backed by Ordnance Survey and HM Land Registry and have connections to central government (my clients). The cherry for me was that they have a very experienced web development team whose time you can buy in return for equity. I honestly don’t think I knew how good it was until I joined.
- It’s a great fit for us as HM Land Registry is a partner and we use some of their data. Additionally, the people at Geovation are great which is key. They have so much knowledge and experience to learn from.
- Even before joining, it was clear from the Alumni and our early engagement with Geovation that the Accelerator could help us further validate our market, offer opportunity to grow and crucially offer the developer support needed for us to engineer a safe and secure version of our platform.
You’ve been working with Geovation for nearly 6 months now, what’s been the biggest benefit to joining the Geovation Accelerator Programme?
- Access to their incredible development team to build the MVP of my first product. That support leads to clients, which leads to investors, which then leads to my own development team. They helped me unlock the “product-revenue-investment” puzzle.
- We have developed a process to work with which has been invaluable. Each week we build something new for the website and we measure the results of any changes. We let the stats make the hard decisions. This process of build, learn and measure is a core concept of the Accelerator.
- Geovation is a little community of supportive staff and founders, a bit like family. Every day the people here push you on, help you develop your ideas and open doors of opportunity. We’ve also found that being supported by Geovation, HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, and being mentioned in the same breath as successful businesses from other cohorts, opens doors that would have previously been shut.
Finally, if you could have dinner with anybody, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
- Nikola Tesla. He is fascinating and hopefully, he would tell me how to store and transfer a great amount of electricity wirelessly.
- Elon Musk. He is trying to tackle big problems like the planet not being habitable in a few hundred years and global warming whilst making a profit while he does it. I think he is a true revolutionary in his thinking in a capitalist kind of way.
- Andrew Carnegie – the Victorian Steel Magnate. I would want to know what he learnt on route to becoming one of richest men in the world, talk about the legacy of the construction work his steel company facilitated (railroads and skyscrapers) and perhaps most pertinently quiz him about Philanthropy and giving back. Carnegie donated and gave away his fortune ($65 billion by 2019 standards) in philanthropic gestures during a period of 20 years post retirement.