Category: Start Up

13 Sep 2016

Why Join the Pi Labs Programme?

As we gear up for our fourth accelerator programme I thought it would be useful to write about what happens during the programme and what start-ups can expect to get out of it.

THE PI LABS PROGRAMME

First Week – Understanding Their Vision

In the first week we go through why the founders have chosen to start their particular business and what they want their companies to look like in the short and long term. We want to be sure that not only do the entrepreneurs have a clear understanding of what gets them out of bed every morning, and what will pull them through the tough times that they will inevitably face, but also who they are selling to, why their products are needed and why they don’t exist already. This prepares the companies for the sessions in the weeks to come.

Second Week – Mentor Sessions

The second week gives the companies a chance to describe their businesses and business challenges to seasoned entrepreneurs, investors, and potential customers from the property industry. This initial feedback is invaluable as the companies build and refine their business model and product. The Pi Labs accelerator is supported by an  incredible, and ever growing, group of mentors that are interested in proptech and love working with our companies.

“Pi Labs has been truly fantastic. The program gave us breathing space to build our product and develop our business in the perfect environment. The openness and support of the partner companies has been incredible. We’ve been introduced to a huge range of relevant companies that otherwise would have taken us months to forge relationships with. The mentors brought in are top level CEOs that we’ve remained in constant contact with and have offered the kind of knowledge you only get through years/ often decades of experience. The combination of these things truly has accelerated our business.”

Jonny Britton, Land Insight

Weeks Three to Twelve – Workshops, Speakers and Goal Setting

After the second week we jump into our standard programme schedule. Each week we bring in experts to host workshops on topics like marketing, building a sales team, pricing, user testing, development, and current property market conditions to name a few. We also bring in seasoned entrepreneurs once a week, and over food and drinks, they talk about their challenges and successes as an entrepreneur.

Every Friday the Pi Labs team catches up with each accelerator company individually and helps them set weekly goals, checks back on the last week’s goals, and discusses current challenges faced and introductions required. Following these meetings we schedule in additional mentor sessions or make ad-hoc introductions to relevant property professionals.

Week 13 – Demo Day

The last few weeks of the programme are dedicated to ensuring the companies’ investment materials are in order and practicing for demo day; which, is held on the second last day of the programme. On demo day we bring together mentors, investors (both VCs and Angels ) and give them a chance to listen to the teams pitch and chat with the teams casually after the formal presentations.

“Starting a new business is an intense challenge which takes more than good team, hard work and reading the Lean startup book. You also need the right partners and a bit of luck. At Office R&D, we had the chance to find the right investor and partner. Pi Labs gave us everything that a starting business might need – from the initial steps of relocating to the U.K. to incredible amount of introductions and thoughtful mentorship. For 3 months we had the opportunity to meet with huge range of experienced executives, mentors, partners, potential customers and like-minded entrepreneurs. This not just helped us but truly shaped our product, solution and us as entrepreneurs.”

Miroslav Miroslavov, OfficeR&D

THE BENEFITS

What should a company expect out of the Pi Labs programme?

Product Feedback and User Testing

The mentor sessions and introductions we make throughout the programme give the start-ups a chance to speak with their potential customers to get feedback and ensure that they are both targeting the right segment and building the right features. Some of these sessions and ad-hoc introductions also lead to user testing.

Relevant Advise

We take the time to get to know the entrepreneurs and their companies in great detail so that we can bring in the right mentors at the right time. We have created a general programme to ensure the companies hear from mentors specialising in all areas of business but we also tailor some of the sessions to the companies in the cohort. Whatever your challenge, we have a mentor for that. In addition, the Pi Labs team has extensive experience across the property, technology and investment industries and draws on both its expertise and network to provide daily support to the start-ups.

Investor Ready

We work intensively with the companies to ensure that their financials, pitch decks, and executive summaries are complete, concise and make sense. We also help them understand the current investment conditions and are a sounding board as the companies go through their investment rounds.

APPLYING TO PI LABS

When a company joins the Pi Labs accelerator programme they become part of the Pi Labs family. We celebrate successes and go through their challenges with them. We have seen how this support helps speed up the start-ups’ growth and we look forward to expanding our portfolio and working with more great companies. We are still accepting applications for our fourth accelerator programme so apply now if you are a proptech start-up looking to accelerator your business. We look forward to hearing about the innovative ideas that are set to change the property industry.

By Mary Criebardis Singh

05 Jul 2016

The Proptech BOOM: UK Startup Plentific Raises £2 Million

One of the UK’s fastest growing ‘proptech’ startups, Plentific, raises £2m in funding, bringing total investment in the company to just over £2.9m. The latest round of investment includes major backing from a number of high profile angel and tech investors and Property Innovation Labs (Pi Labs), Europe’s first venture capital platform to invest exclusively in early stage ventures in the property tech vertical.

Plentific, founded by Cem Savas and Emre Kazan, is a home services marketplace designed to help homeowners, landlords and professionals with technology-enabled services. The platform has over 75,000 professionals listed across the UK and helps homeowners collect and compare quotes across over 350 services. The company has ambitions to develop a platform that is able to streamline the highly fragmented £235* billion European home improvement sector. The investment will be used to accelerate the development of additional features as well as to increase brand awareness.

Commenting on the investment, Cem Savas, co-founder of Plentific said: “We’re delighted with this investment which allows us to continue evolving our product and to start stretching our marketing legs. We are driven by making home improvements better value by removing the hassle of back-and-forth phone calls, protecting consumers identity, scheduling, sourcing quotes and payments, so people can focus on getting the work done.”

Plentific has earned the trust of Zoopla, Primelocation and the Planning Portal to power their ‘Find a Pro’ pages and will announce further partnerships throughout the year. In March, Plentific was selected to be a part of the Everline Future 50 for Real Business, and have been placed at #35 in the top 100 startups by startups.co.uk.

Commenting on the investment, Dominic Wilson, Managing Partner at Pi Labs, said; “We’re extremely pleased to be backing Cem and Emre in what is a huge market opportunity. The home services market is a key investment theme for Pi Labs given the strong European consumer fundamentals and Plentific’s speed of product development and calibre of partnerships were decisive factors in our involvement. It is an excellent first seed investment for our new fund and represents exactly the type of innovative, tech-enabled product, led by a great management team, we are looking to invest in.”

For Pi Labs, one of the principal investors in the Plentific fundraise, the investment further supports the booming activity in the proptech space with Plentific one of a number of startups looking to shake up this category. Pi Labs recently held a first close on its £10m fund, which continues to attract fresh capital, to invest in other startups in the sector, with Plentific its first seed deal of approximately 20 investments it expects to make over the next three years. Pi Labs is also planning an additional 20 pre-seed investments through its accelerator programme and recently announced the first five for this fund earlier this year.

Concluding on the announcement Emre Kazan, co-founder of Plentific, “Pi Labs was a key VC we wanted to have in the round. They have been operating in the European property market for some time so their domain expertise and experience will be invaluable as we look to realise our ambitions of making Plentific Europe’s biggest home improvement marketplace.”

25 Jan 2016

RoomFlick Matches People With Spare Rooms And Properties

Over the coming weeks we’ll be interviewing our teams to better understand who they are and what they’re building. This week we would like to introduce you to RoomFlick.

Ross Nichols  – Co-Founder

Ross has been working in digital marketing for 10 years across media and technology brands. He loves gigs, most sports and is always in search of the next best burger (currently Bleeker St, if you were wondering).

Amit Shah – Co-Founder

Amit has been in mobile for the majority of his professional life. Other than start-ups he follows the majority of sports and continues to believe each year that Arsenal will win the league.  Each year he is disappointed…

Martin Bowley – Chairman

Martin is a media veteran complete with grey hair and has held senior and board positions across TV, radio, cinema, magazines and mobile. In his spare time he loves rugby and a good glass of red.

roomflick-team-photo-2a

Welcome RoomFlick! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

Thanks for having us! RoomFlick uses social connections to match people with spare rooms and properties. It’s like Spareroom meets Tinder for the rental market.

How did RoomFlick come into being?

Every week on Facebook we were seeing our friends share updates like ‘Does anyone know anyone looking for a room?’ so we set about creating a solution to that problem. More often than not, people would rather live with somebody they know, a friend of a friend or with somebody that shares the same interests as them.

My background is in marketing and I met Amit and Martin through mutual friends. They have a huge amount of experience in building mobile apps so it was always going to be a good fit. We began working on RoomFlick in December last year and launched our beta version in June. It’s been a great journey so far and now we’re part of Pi Labs; we’re really looking forward to the years ahead.

What’s your business model? 

Initially we’ll be looking at premium advertising once we’ve established a solid user base. Longer term, we want to create a platform for landlords and tenants and bring some transparency to the rental market. We have lots of ideas for monetising this audience and we’ll be experimenting to see which ones resonate best with our customers.

How do you aim to change the market? 

With spiralling rental costs, more people are sharing properties than ever before. Finding the right place – and the right people to live with – isn’t easy. The process of renting a spare room hasn’t really changed since listings sites like Craiglist first came on the scene 20 years ago. 55% of Londoners are renting and a staggering 90% of those people are living in shared accommodation. We think it’s really important to find somebody you love living with rather than just have to put up with. Our ambition is to make RoomFlick the best way to find your perfect flatmate. With 17m people renting in the UK and over 215m renting in Europe, we think this is a great place to start building our brand. Who knows what the future holds but maybe in 1-2 years we’ll be working alongside a larger online property platform, focusing on the flatsharing market.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

We heard the programme had a great reputation in the proptech space, and were delighted to find out we’d been selected ahead of over 100 other proptech businesses. For us, the biggest benefit of being involved with Pi Labs is the relationships we’re building with the best experts in the industry. It’s been incredible so far.  By the end of the 13 weeks we’ll hopefully be close to securing our next round of funding and gearing up for a busy 2016.

What does success mean to you?

Success to us is building a product that people love and consider the default place for finding a spare room.

To close, which entrepreneur do you admire?

It’s probably a cliche now, but Richard Branson is right up there. He’s had major successes and a few failures along the way, which I think makes him more humble than most. He’s taken on so many established markets with his products and services, and I’d like to think that we can do the same within the rental market.

How to get in touch?

@rossnichols – ross@roomflick.com

@Martin_Bowley – martin@roomflick.com

@AmitJayShah – amit@roomflick.com

25 Jan 2016

Switchee: A Smart Thermostat For Managed Accommodation

BUILDING A HIGH-GROWTH PROPTECH START-UP FEATURING SWITCHEE

Welcome Switchee! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

Switchee is a smart thermostat for managed accommodation such as social and student housing. It learns a household’s weekly routine and automatically turns the heating off when no one is home. Switchee combats rising energy costs, increases building efficiency and reduces property management expenditure by collecting actionable home usage data.

How did Switchee come into being?

Our Technical lead Russ, who builds nuclear submarines for the MOD, created the first Switchee in his kitchen.  He met our Non Exec Ed who has a decade’s experience in housing and Adam, a proven hardware entrepreneur.  Together they tested and built the first commercial prototype for social landlords and were joined by Ian on the finance and marketing side.  Switchee is a cost effective way to combat fuel poverty whilst enhancing management services.

What’s your business model?

We are the only smart thermostat designed as an enterprise solution for landlords.

How do you aim to change the market?

We are already refining our data offering to landlords.  In 2 years time, alongside our core value proposition of reducing resource wastage, we will be providing market leading data enhancements to landlord management services.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

We are passionate about using technology to improve lives. Pi Labs was the obvious choice for us given our housing focus.  By the end of the programme we want to have identified the right investors and mentors to partner with for the next phase of growth.

To close, what does success mean to you?

Success for us Switchee will be becoming the go to landlord platform for the connected home.

Switchee product

How to get in touch?

adam@switchee.co

ian@switchee.co

25 Jan 2016

Energywiser Makes Saving On Energy Bills As Easy As Turning Off The Lights When You Leave The Room

BUILDING A HIGH-GROWTH PROPTECH START-UP FEATURING ENERGYWISER

Welcome Energywiser! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

Energywiser wants to make saving on energy bills as easy as turning the lights off when you leave the room. UK households collectively overspend by £8 bn on their energy bills and we want to bring that number down to zero. To do this we’re creating a web & mobile based toolset the first of which is a Switching engine on autopilot: sign up once and it’ll help you stay on the cheapest tariff for life.

How did Energywiser come into being?

Listening to a radio program two years ago, our founder was miffed at the fact that people would happily spend 30 minutes moaning about why their bills were high and how the energy companies and the switching companies and everyone else was to blame, but them – despite the fact it only takes only takes 5 minutes to switch and save money.

On researching we found that 60% of UK homes have never switched suppliers & of course are being ripped off. So we’ve created a tool which uses people’s inertia to their favour. In short, a switching engine “does it for you” over and over.

What’s your business model?

EnergyWiser is free for users. We’re making money off a lead generation fee from the energy suppliers, meaning users are always getting the most transparent rate.

Energywiser Presentation - Latest (dragged) copyEnergywiser Presentation

How do you aim to change the market?

They say Alexander G Bell, the inventor of telephone would not be able to recognize his invention in 2015; however Thomas A Edison, the inventor of power utilities will see that people in 2015 are using power in fundamentally the same manner as he envisaged.

That long overdue revolution in energy is unfolding now. In the next 5 years all the 26 million homes in the UK will have smart meters fitted in them. This means the way we think of and use energy will be different going forward and that’s where EnergyWiser sees itself making a difference.

We aim to become the only source people come to for anything to do with saving on their energy bills.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

Because of our focus on providing a holistic digital toolset for households we were looking for a partner who would enable us to give us the right foundation to launch the business. Pi Labs fit the bill perfectly due to its focus on prop-tech. By the end of this programme, we hope to have our product-market fit nailed, and show traction so we’re well on our way to raising the seed round of investment.

To close, which entrepreneur do you admire and what does success mean to you?

Elon Musk – but then that’s a cliché. So we’ll go with Transferwise and their founding team – they were an outsider who have disrupted their industry on the back of an amazing value proposition and  a very slick product. That’s exactly what we intend to emulate in the energy industry.

ENRGYW logo

How to get in touch?

Founder – Rishabh@energywiser.co.uk

Rishabh – has led a very dangerous life at the junction of technology consulting & sales within the energy industry. In another life, when he had spare time, he used to climb mountains, scuba dive and strum.

Design Lead – Ben@energywiser.co.uk

Ben – is a creative at heart and is responsible for re-designing our website. Before getting into design he used to be an architect & a musician!

Marketing Lead – Rosana@energywiser.co.uk

Rosana – finalist in UK’s 100 funniest women, Rosana is a stand-up comedian, a film-maker and a creative at heart. Oh, and she also handles the marketing function for EnergyWiser.

25 Jan 2016

Propoly: An Online Rental Community

Building a High Growth Proptech Start-Up Featuring Propoly

Welcome Propoly! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

Propoly is an online platform for the rental community. We provide an eco-system for landlords and tenants to interact at all stages of the rental process starting with finding a tenant and ending with fixing your boiler. Propoly seeks to allow our landlords, tenants and service providers to communicate throughout all parts of the rental  process incorporating a feedback system available for the growing private rental sector.

How did Propoly come into being?

One of our co-founders Ben, was attempting to rent out  his flat for the first time. He was taken aback by the commission charged by agents. Even more, if was difficult to ascertain quality of the tenant, or vice versa the quality of the landlord. There was no platform with which to communicate with the tenant and log problems that arose during the tenancy. Agents wanted to charge an extra 10% for this service.

What’s your business model?

We charge for services along the way that our users will need in order to find a tenant and solve problems that arise during the tenancy. We also provide a range of innovative services targeted for landlords and tenants that we will build out as our community grows.

How do you aim to change the market?

We aim to transform the online rental community for landlords and tenants. We are excited to work with our diverse set of users to bring out this change with a proposition that will be cost saving, time efficient and a great way to revolutionise the private rental market.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

We are passionate about technology changing the property sector. We want to be at the forefront of this within the long term rental and management sector and target ways for Propoly to be the go to platform for your rental home, which we believe will enhance our business. By the end of the programme we want to have established investors, mentors and early adopters that share our vision to parent up with to take us forward.  

To close, what does success mean to you?

Success for Propoly –  building a rental community that improves the experience for those looking to long-term let or rent a property.

How to get in touch?

ed@propoly.com

matt@propoly.com

ben@propoly.com

25 Jan 2016

YourWelcome: Hotel TV Services To AirBnB Properties Via Connected Device

Welcome YourWelcome! Please introduce yourselves to the Pi Labs community.

YourWelcome is a platform for Airbnb hosts to provide ‘hotel’ guest services and personal video welcomes via a connected device. We partner with market leading local services to enable guests to book everything from takeaways to gym access direct from the device.

How did YourWelcome come into being?

Previously we both ran a joint venture mobile agency which we successfully exited in October ’14. Around the same time, we both started renting our homes through Airbnb and were surprised there was no simple, effective digital solution to communicate your home whilst also offering local services to guests during their stay. YourWelcome was born from this.

What’s your business model?

We monetize both sides of the Airbnb ecosystem. Hosts pay to customise the app (to record their welcome and instructional videos) and / or rent a device. We also make affiliate revenue from our selected partners each time a guest books a service through the app.

How do you aim to change the market?

Airbnb is the fastest growing ‘hotel’ chain in the world and YourWelcome aims to be the de-facto provider of premium guest services in this market within 2 years. The huge growth in the short term let market has meant that the competition is fiercer than ever for hosts to get the occupancy rate they want. YourWelcome enables hosts to provide a more personal and professional service, whilst streamlining guest interaction to help increase host profit vs effort.

What brought you to the Pi Labs programme and where do you want to be by the end of it?

Their focus on Prop Tech, along with the quality of mentors, made them our first choice accelerator. By the end of the programme we want to have successfully closed our seed round and be focused on rapidly growing the business.

To close, which entrepreneur do you admire and what does success (one line) mean to you?

Jeff Bezos is an obvious choice – he changed commerce for our generation and is constantly demanding innovation from his team. Success to us is creating an innovative product that is adopted at scale. This is our ambition at YourWelcome!

1 YourWelcomefinal1 YourWelcomefinalYourWelcomefinal

How to get in touch?

henry@yourwelcome.com / @islandwall

paul@yourwelcome.com / @paulloram

@yourwelcometv

25 Jan 2016

Successful Candidates For Second Cohort

We are thrilled to announce the five companies that will be joining our next programme. As announced in the Estates Gazette, the five teams include: 

·      nanoget: nanoget revolutionises the way people rent, let and manage their homes online. As the first community of its kind, nanoget provides a one-step platform for landlords and tenants to directly engage with each other without the use of an external agent. It enables users to communicate seamlessly, helping with negotiating tenancy agreements, logging issues, reporting problems and requesting home related services ranging from plumbers to private tutors. nanoget’s unique continuous feedback builds a strong ecosystem of dedicated users. See more at: nanoget.com

·      EnergyMiser: EnergyMiser is seeking to build an ongoing consumer engagement platform for households to help them save money on their energy bills. They intend to disrupt the space by building a digital toolset for consumers to put them in charge of their energy bills and to make it as easy as possible for people to take action saving money and energy. See more at: Energymiser.co

·      RoomFlick: With spiralling rental costs, more people are sharing properties than ever before. Finding the right place to live, and the right people to live with isn’t easy, using social connections and interests, RoomFlick matches people looking for spare rooms and properties, with landlords and existing tenants. See more at: Roomflick.com

·      YourWelcome: YourWelcome offers a hotel TV-style connected portal for AirBnB properties. Their connected screens can be rented by AirBnB hosts who can tailor the device for their guests to broadcast host-generated welcome videos and home instructional guides, alongside relevant local information. YourWelcome then serves up daily local offers to the AirBnB guests direct to the device, matching a highly engaged audience with targeted money saving offers. See more at: yourwelcome.com

·      Switchee: A smart thermostat for social housing. It learns a household’s weekly routine and automatically turns heating off when no one is home. Switchee has been designed in conjunction with affordable housing providers to combat fuel poverty and reduce property management costs by collecting actionable home usage data. See more at: switchee.co

Our programme officially starts on Monday, September 7th and will run until December 4th. 

If you are an investor and interested in hearing more about these companies or meeting the teams, email mary@pilabs.co.uk

25 Jan 2016

Didn’t Get In To Pi Labs? Now What?

The obvious question any company will have when they are not accepted into an accelerator programme is “What could I have done differently” or “What was missing?” or “What can I do to prepare for the next programme?”. Before I address what you should focus on next, I will say that accelerators receive a lot of great applications from strong teams with interesting ideas. My first piece of advice is don’t give up. We could have missed something in your application and/or we may need to see more traction in order to understand the potential market for your product.

In this post I will address what all early stage companies should focus on as they prepare for an accelerator programme or early stage investment.

Solve a Real Problem

Is your product a nice to have or a must have? Would your customer pay for your product or are the alternatives good enough to prevent a switch? How often would your customer use the product and would they easily forget that it exists?

There are a multitude of interesting ideas but what all successful technology companies have in common is they have developed products that are far better than any alternative, products that are sticky, and products that their customers eventually cannot (or believe they cannot) live without.

Know Your Customer 

The first step in building a product that solves your customer’s problem is understanding who your customer REALLY is. I know this sounds obvious but so often, companies list all the customer groups they could sell to without focusing on one specific group.  With limited resources you will need to focus on your core customer group and identify the unifying problem that group has. Knowing your customer is the first step in articulating what problem you are solving to investors as well.

Spend Time with your Customers

Get a prototype in front of your customer as soon as possible, especially if you do not have deep market knowledge and/or if you do not have direct experience with the problem you are solving.  From there, establish your customer feedback loop (customer feedback- iterate – customer feedback-iterate) and start tracking the right metrics. When I say the right metrics I mean the metrics that help you develop your product. Identify how often your customers are using the product, how long they use it, and what they use it for. Take a look atPirate metrics to start identifying what to track.

Ensure Your Market is Large Enough

If you plan on bringing external investors on board you will need to prove that your market size is large enough and your business can scale. When you calculate your market size take into consideration future product features and new markets.  All expansions should fit in to your company’s original vision.

Also consider your direct and indirect competitors. Will they take market share from you? Is the market large enough for several players? Is your product unique enough that you can protect your market share?

Balance Your Team

The strongest teams have complementary skill sets. Review your team and identify what gaps exists. No one expects you to have a full team from the start but you should understand your team’s strengths, it’s gaps and have a plan to fill those gaps. Consider adding strategic advisors to provide market knowledge and potentially fill some of the skills gaps.

Build Your Investor Network

Start meeting investors before you actually need investment. It takes time to really understand a business and to feel confident that a team is able to hit its targets. Warm introductions are always best so use LinkedIn to see how you are connected and talk to other startups that may already have investment from those investors. Keep a list of all investors you have spoken to and update them when you have hit key milestones.

Finally, if you really want to join an accelerator programme, consider applying to other accelerators that also fit your company profile. If you really feel that one specific accelerator would benefit you, keep the team updated on your progress and apply for the next programme.

– Mary Criebardis Singh, Programme Director