How did QuantmRE get started?
I originally came across the concept of Home Equity Agreements and equity-based funding around five years ago. At the time, I had just launched a real estate crowdfunding company and was in the process of establishing a real estate debt fund.
I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities for this new asset class; it represented a completely novel approach to how homeowners could access the equity trapped in their homes. The size of the potential market was huge. As I looked into it further, it became clear that there would be challenges in raising capital as Home Equity Agreements are an illiquid and non cash-flowing investment. I continued to explore different approaches as I was still obsessed with finding a solution. I knew there was a huge opportunity, we just needed a way to make it more attractive to investors. In the meantime, the market for Home Equity Agreements began to grow and become more established, with more companies emerging and more institutional investors becoming involved.
I remember I had my ‘eureka’ moment in September 2017, a couple of years after my journey started. I was at https://www.metal.international/METal meeting (a very cool networking group in Beverly Hills) where one of the speakers was talking about blockchain and initial coin offerings (ICOs). I remember grabbing my notebook and sketching out the design for an online marketplace for Home Equity Agreements. My idea was that if we could create liquidity and tradability for these investments, it could solve many of the problems and make this new asset class attractive to a much wider potential investor base. The investment capital raised would provide the capital that we needed to be able to help homeowners access their home equity.
QuantmRE and the ‘Equity Freedom’ movement, with the clear vision to make home equity accessible, investable and tradable.In 2017, there was an enormous amount of market interest in blockchain technologies. With my background in technology and software development, I could see that blockchain could be an ideal technology solution to enable us to build this exchange and launch the platform. So, with these enabling technologies locked in I became completely dedicated to building
What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
I think there’s a saying that no business plan survives first contact with a real customer. In other words, if you’re building a business you need to be flexible and able to adapt quickly, as what actually happens is normally very different to what you had expected.
In the early days of a business launch, there are all sorts of surprises in store for the lucky entrepreneur. I think the most important skill an entrepreneur needs to succeed is pure dogged determination, which is the ability to keep going despite all of the pivots, changes and setbacks that you will inevitably face as you build your company. As Thomas Edison put it, “success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration”.
The trick is just to keep going, have faith in yourself and your ideas, and never give up.
You have founded companies around the world in a variety of sectors. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned thus far?
The most valuable lesson I have learned over the years is that the key to success is to build a great team. The mistakes I’ve made in the past are usually where I’ve tried to do everything myself. Even though I’m a real stickler for detail and feel I need to know every aspect of my business from top to bottom, the fact is that there are many people out there that are simply better at doing the specific jobs than I am. I understand technology, I have a good eye for design, and I’ve always had a flair for marketing. But, I can’t be a brilliant CEO, an exceptional CTO, a gifted CMO and an inspired head of design all at the same time.
If you try and do everything yourself, it will always end badly. Unfortunately it took me rather a long time to figure this one out, but I’m pretty convinced that the key recipe for success is understanding your limitations and recognizing that you need to get help from others along the way.
What’s your team culture like?
We’re old and ugly, but our minds are still very entrepreneurial. We run the business based on what is happening now and what needs to be done in the future. We do all of this with the absolute promise of no drama. All of our interests are aligned and we’ve worked together for a number of years. We are all passionate believers in the vision and our mission.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 25 years. As the captain of my own ship, (i.e. head chef and chief bottle-washer), I have been uniquely responsible for my successes and failures over that time. There are risks in everything we do, and there are consequences for all of our actions. There is a difference between a calculated risk, and a head-first plunge into the unknown. I think there is a place for both.
I’ve always been super-competitive. I’m always looking at what the other companies in this space are doing; they’re all doing a great job of bringing this incredibly exciting real estate sector to life. In many cases, I will see what a competitor is doing and that will inspire me to innovate on that and ultimately do it better.
Competition is the life-blood of growth. It keeps you on your toes and demands continual development and improvement.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching QuantmRE?
I think the biggest challenge is education, both for consumers and for investors. Even though Home Equity Agreements have been around for over a decade, they are still a little-known alternative solution. This means that we, and all of the other companies in this space, have an uphill journey ahead of us as we go through the process of educating consumers and investors alike. If a homeowner has not heard of a Home Equity Agreement, they can be naturally suspicious. As a result, the sales process has to be more consultative than the sale process for a widely understood product, such as a home equity loan. There is also a real need for transparency as we build the business. Consumer trust will be a critical ingredient of the overall success of this type of alternative financing product.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
As an entrepreneur I think you have to be pretty resilient as your business leads you through multiple twists and turns. You need to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. I think the danger is that you can get the balance wrong and become too cautious as you try and grow your business.
What has surprised me most about my journey with QuantmRE so far is the power of a truly good idea. With QuantmRE it became obvious pretty early on that we were onto something pretty exciting. I learned quickly that I needed to dispense with the typical British self-effacement and modesty, and use that support in the idea to get cracking and build the company. Anything is possible, really. You just have to learn to get out of your own way!
How have you adapted your leadership style to adjust to the changing environment of remote work?
Before the pandemic took hold, working out of a home office may have seemed less prestigious than working out of normal office space. Now working remotely is far more acceptable (if not the new normal). That’s really positive for us as it is going to make it a whole lot easier to build a team with some of the best talent across the U.S.
I have worked remotely for a number of years and have always been lucky enough to be able to focus on the task in hand. As such, I don’t think my management style will change much. In some respects, it almost feels like I have an unfair advantage now over all of the other managers for whom remote working is new!
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
Part of our vision is to create an Equity Freedom movement. Our alternative home equity financing solutions offer a potential lifeline to millions of homeowners who are unable or unwilling to take on more debt. Crowdfunding, or raising through Republic, enables thousands of potential investors to own a piece of our business and help us spread the word. It’s a perfect way to build a large group of motivated, enthusiastic ambassadors for our business. Many of these same people may become customers as well.
What is your superpower?
I think my biggest skill is to be able to visualize a problem and find innovative ways of building the solution. I’m probably not going to be the person who has the specific skills to do all of the tasks required. However, as an integrator I seem to be good at finding these people and building a solution that brings together all of the moving parts. In the case of QuantmRE, I can visualize the execution of the company’s vision and business plan like a giant Swiss watch, with a series of cogs all moving together.
What’s your kryptonite?
The thing that scares me the most is complacency. I’m a great believer that one is only as good as one’s last deal. I try to remain as absolutely objective as possible about the progress we’re making and let others be the ones who deliver the praise.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
It’s funny, now that you ask I can see I’m quite the creature of habit. I do like to wake up at the same time every morning. I have a routine which involves walking the dog, making coffee with exactly the same number of scoops each day, sitting at my home office desk by a certain time, using the same coffee cup which I place in the same place on my desk with the handle facing outwards. I do feel rather out of sorts if my morning routine is broken for whatever reason Although, of course, I quickly recover my composure.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
At heart I’m a real engineer and really get a kick out of building things. As long as it involves something powered by gasoline or aviation fuel and there is a high likelihood of an oil leak. Over the years I’ve built three cars and am quite at home with all of the heavy engineering work (like welding), as well as making those delicate adjustments. I’m currently going through my born-again biker phase and have a pointlessly fast Suzuki Hayabusa. I’ve had my helicopter license for over twenty years now, and my plan is to do a lot more flying.
What inspired you to start your podcast, Hooked on Startups, and what has been your favorite part of hosting?
I’m a member of a networking group in LA called METal. Before the pandemic we used to meet every Saturday at a theater in Beverly Hills. The members are all really interesting people; entrepreneurs, business seeders, artists, musicians. Every week there would be a short TED-style talk that would always inspire us. I started my podcast as I just wanted to continue the conversations I was having with the group, as everyone I met had such interesting stories to tell. I recorded about sixty episodes, and then put it on hold as I was completely immersed in building QuantmRE.
The best part of hosting a podcast is the people you meet and how generous they are with their time and their stories. Each one of my interviews would last almost an hour, and I was lucky enough to have really fun, engaging guests every time. I think one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much was that I did it purely for the pleasure of doing it. There was no agenda, no sponsorship and no commercial angle. As such, the conversations just followed their own path and it was always fun. It’s something I’d love to go back to doing and am looking forward to the day that we relaunch!