Here at Work In Startups, we’re on a mission to champion the best and most exciting startups in the UK. To support this, we’re starting a new blog series highlighting some of the most innovative and fast-growing startups around. Follow us as we interview startup founders and employees across the country and find out more about their goals and ambitions, what the future holds and (for all you startup jobseekers out there looking for the inside scoop) what they look for in a prospective employee.
This week, we’re interviewing Avinav Nigam, Co-Founder of IMMO Investment Technologies: a startup that’s radically disrupting real estate. It digitally sources, appraises and acquires centrally located properties at scale on behalf of institutional investors. The acquired properties are then fully refurbished and rented out to homeseekers on a long-term basis. IMMO Investment Technologies are growing fast, having raised €72 million in a recent funding round, and look set to make serious waves in the real estate market in Germany (and potentially the UK). To support this growth, they’re hiring equally as fast – so make sure to check out their jobs on Work in Startups.
Hi Avinav! What would you say IMMO Investment Technologies mission is?
Great question. There are two aspects to the business. The first aspect is that we want to be your housing partner for life. From when you start university and are looking to rent a student house, to when you’re retired and looking to downsize – we want to be your housing partner throughout that whole lifecycle. Typically, when people first look to rent the whole process is pretty opaque. You have no idea what your prospective landlord is like or the condition (beyond the superficial) that your rental property is in. It’s a gamble, and we firmly believe that renting shouldn’t be like that. It’s the most money anyone spends out of their income every month, but there’s no reliability of the experience. We want to standardise the whole process and be the housing partner that people are looking for: providing you with high-quality properties and a responsive, professional landlord. We also want to help people that are selling their homes by breaking the chain! We’re a tech-enabled direct home buyer, which allows individuals to sell their property without worrying about the middlemen or uncertain buyers. We can take care of legal fees, provide a binding offer and work with sellers to agree upon a completion date that works for them – allowing them to focus on their next move!
The second aspect of the mission is that we’re opening up the world’s largest asset class: residential real estate. It’s worth over €30 trillion in Europe alone, with less than 1% of institutional exposure. A lot of commercial real estate is tradable and investable, but residential property isn’t and we want to change this. Most residential property is controlled by individual landlords and mom & pop businesses, and we want to make it more accessible to investors of all sizes, starting with institutional investors. Everyone should have the ability to invest and trade in residential property as easily as they can invest and trade in stocks! We want to make residential a truly liquid asset class.
What are your values as a startup employer?
A couple of things. We are fortunate to be attracting incredibly motivated and intelligent people that bring their unique experiences to IMMO, and looking to challenge the status quo in real estate. We’ve recently hired people from Uber, Amazon, WeWork, McKinsey and Google and they’ve added a lot of value to the startup team.
Beyond this, there are a few things that are important to us – the primary being “behave like a founder”. If you hire some of the smartest people around, you can’t be micromanaging them. You’ve got to give them enough of a canvas to paint on so that they make masterpieces! So we expect our employees to behave like startup founders, take ownership of big problems and go ahead and solve it themselves.
The second thing we have found to be important is integrity. We deliver on what we promise and we expect our employees to deliver on what they promise too: it works both ways and is key to keeping IMMO thriving.
This also flows very closely into a culture of being kind and caring. We care about our people’s personal health, as well as their professional health. We champion a flexible and open work environment and don’t place limits on how people want to operate. We trust them to take ownership of their job, hence the freedom we give them to work flexibly. The kind and caring attitude we adopt makes IMMO Investment Technologies feel like a family, which is exactly the kind of startup environment we are trying to build.
We also value people that are data and tech hungry. We’re passionate about data and going in depth into what is going on from a numbers perspective. Even if a decision seems subjective from the outset, we try and see if we can take a data-driven, objective approach. This is a culture you see across the organisation.
Lastly, we really value humility. It’s one of the most effective ways of leadership, especially within a high growth startup. You have to be humble and open to being wrong, as well as open to being challenged more! We’re building something that has never been built before – a new asset class of residential real estate – and know that innovation and the best ideas can come from any level of the organisation. As startup founders, we know we’re not perfect and we’re always open to new ideas.
Can you tell us a bit about your growth over the past few years? What’s next for IMMO Investment Technologies?
We have been around for two years and have really gone from strength to strength. Two years doesn’t seem like a long time, but in ‘tech startup life’ that’s close to 20 – that’s just how fast things are moving. Every month is very important in the lifespan of our company. It’s still Day One.
When we started out, it was 3-4 of us in a WeWork in Paddington – a standard startup office in amongst a sea of other ambitious tech startup founders. Now, we’re a team of 40+ and have just moved into a two floor office space in the BBC Studios in White City. At the beginning, it was just a few of us including Christian and Samantha – my co-founders – and we were aligned by one mission: transforming the residential property market. We’ve had investors on board since day one and our growth has been pretty crazy since!
When we started out we launched our operations in the UK, but Brexit affected business to a certain extent. Investors did not have a positive outlook on the UK market and financing conditions changed rapidly, this made us shift our operations and focus on Germany as the investor appetite was high. Given the Brexit cloud has cleared somewhat with investors showing interest again, we are considering reinvigorating our UK efforts this year, but for now we want to focus on building our German business out. Most of our team is based in London, as IMMO is clearly a pan-European play, with operational teams in Germany, and some data & investments run out of India.
We became operational in our first test market, Hamburg, a year and a half ago and we’re expanding into our second and third markets over the next few months. It’s an exciting time! We’re working with large institutional investors to launch in these markets. We have been generating tens of thousands of leads – AKA people looking to sell their property to us. We inspect their properties using a standardised inspection app, and make offers based on that view as well as geo-spatial & macro trends data, using a proprietary machine learning model. Thus far, we’ve carried out more than 2,000 inspections using a standardised app, and underwritten each asset with an automated financial model. Through doing this, we’ve developed a couple of multi-million pound portfolios: one €25m portfolio, another €35m one, and soon building a €200m one! There is limitless opportunity! And we’re seeing a lot of demand for a product like this, both on the consumer and investor side. So in the future expect to see us develop more portfolios and increase the size of existing portfolios.
As for our portfolio operations in the UK: we’re very bare-boned here at the moment but plan on switching UK to full-blast as soon as we sign on more investors. Germany and the UK will definitely be our prime focus for the foreseeable future. Both are such deep markets, ripe for tech disruption! Given how deep real estate is, we could (and hope to) build a billion dollar business in each city we operate in!
What do you look for in a startup employee?
We have just hired the head of recruitment from Uber. It’s a senior hire and they’re a really strong, experienced individual – which I believe reflects our belief that people mean everything. A startup company is hollow without having a strong focus on people growth and management, which is why we have high standards in terms of who we hire and how we help them grow.
We look for people with curiosity and hunger, that question why we are doing it this way and look to do it better. These are the people that add the most value to our startup team and really contribute to our success. If you can demonstrate that you are a naturally hungry person who goes deeper and tries to understand the why, why, why of everything – you’ll do well here! Natural curiosity takes people a long way!
We also look for people with analytical, structured thinking. Given that the value chain of the business is fairly long, we look for people that demonstrate taking a structured and analytical approach to work with the ability to build for 100x scale.
Additionally, we want people that can communicate and collaborate effectively. I would say the nature of our team structures is similar to those of Amazon and Uber. We work in dispersed teams and communicate across geographies and boundaries, and want people that can forge relationships across these boundaries. Prospective employees should know how much and when to communicate – this is vital!
We hire candidates that meet the above criteria and fit our startup culture principles mentioned previously.
Do you have any advice for those thinking about founding their own startup but currently unsure?
You have to have a certain degree of ambition and a desire to challenge the status quo. If you think this describes you, then I would recommend taking an exciting startup job within an existing team for a few years before you start your own. You learn so much and definitely adopt an entrepreneurial mindset from taking a tech startup from Series A to D (for example). I would argue the kind of learning you get on those growth curves is unparalleled, and will add a lot of value to how you build your own startup out.
You might also find your Co-Founders (and investors) this way! If you’re working with a talented bunch, they will inspire and motivate you – and you might even be tempted to go into business with them further down the line. Take the Paypal Mafia, for example: the company has spawned 3 billionaires and many, many millionaires and generation defying companies. A few former employees banded together and founded YouTube, Elon Musk founded Tesla and SpaceX, and Peter Thiel founded Clarium Capital – just to name a few success stories.
Following this experience, if you are still determined to found your own startup, it will simultaneously be the most enriching and hardest experience of your life to date. Be ready to commit to it like you would commit to your own child – it really will consume most of your life. You’ve got to be prepared to make sacrifices in terms of your friendship circles and family. The startup journey is a hard one, people!
I would also say don’t be shy! Ask the best people that you encounter (whether on Linkedin or through your network etc.) for advice or to join your mission. This will prove invaluable when developing your business proposition. Additionally, I can’t stress enough how important conviction is. You need to be super convinced about your vision. If you are, you will find the same conviction in your family, friends, investors and Co-Founders – which will help you achieve your ultimate goal. You need to be able to sell your vision to them! You will also need that unwavering belief when the going gets tough.
And whatever you do, choose the right investors, particularly as an early stage startup. Money is tempting, but it’s vital that your tech investors understand your mindset and vision, and your relationship with them is one of trust, and reciprocity. They should offer you guidance and direction! We said no to strong tech investors – because we felt that they didn’t align with what we are trying to do. We are so lucky to have found incredible investors in Talis Capital, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures, Fintech Collective and Surplus capital and some of the best angels I’ve worked with, who support us every step of the way.