YHP Interviews Robert Soltanie, Founder of BestPropertyCompany
Robert also founded the Kingston entrepreneurship club at Kingston University.
Thanks for your time, Robert. Welcome to YHP, Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your background?
No worries Joseph, I was born in Hampstead London and lived in various areas in north and north-west London. Born to very loving yet tough parents who originate from Iran, I was an only child. This was lonely at times but made me think a lot and forced me to become sociable and make lots of friends.
I learnt a lot from seeing my dad in business; he had a lot of ups and downs which really opened my eyes. He was a self-employed architect and contractor who had some large clients so from a very young age I would go on-site and inspect buildings with him. I’d also really get along with his clients.
He had projects from one particular client in Mayfair and this client used to drive Ferraris and “live the life” – which was very cool for a kid like me. This client took a liking to me, and used to talk about property with me. I was a 10 years old kid talking to a Sunday times rich list Ferrari owner and I was aware of terms like mortgages, gearing, freeholds etc.
As a kid I was always a wheeler dealer, I used to sell and rent things all the time. I remember my mum telling me off for borrowing my class mate’s toys and renting it out to another mate.
In school I was smart but I messed around a lot. I was more concerned about trying different projects and trying out new ways to do things to make money rather than studying, However 2 subjects I took very seriously were Maths and History (which I love).
Growing up wasn’t easy, I went to 4 different secondary schools; however the majority of my school years were at a secondary school in NW London which has been in and out of special measures for a very long time. This is where I was forced to use more common sense because of the environment I was in. In school I was popular with people from all walks of life and everyone knew me as “the businessman”. I used to set up parties/raves, football tournaments, playstation game competitions, sell music albums, clothes, cars etc.
Property has and always will be my baby, when I was 16 years old I brokered my first property deal. I knew someone who wanted to sell a flat in Kensington and I knew a buyer, married the two and made myself a nice £3grand.
I got through A levels but I didn’t make it to the uni I wanted to go however I did end up going to Kingston and got a degree in Business Management and Finance.
My passion has always been in business especially property and finance.
One big contributing factor to my successes in business has been that since the age of 9 I trained in Shaolin Kung Fu in Golders Green NW London and this has played a huge part helping me gain discipline and confidence.
I know you were the entrepreneur president at Kingston University? How was that experience?
Kingston has a great business school with great teachers, resources and staff, but something was lacking for me. I wanted to have a playground where I can talk to and have fun with fellow entrepreneurs. So I thought to myself, why not create the playground myself?
Not many other students my age were really up for talking about the things I wanted to talk about e.g. trying out new marketing tricks, discussing LIBOR and SWAP rates, chasing debtors for money, the good times and bad times of running a business etc. Because of this, I set up the successful entrepreneurs club in my second year and quickly created a team around it. Within the first year we had about 400 members and every year since membership grows by an extra 100 people.
The best part of the experience was the circle of friends that was created. We went on to win national and international competitions. The best part was winning the competitions against the top universities in England which I couldn’t get in to.
I do recommend students to get involved in societies especially one which you have an interest in. I use the word “involved” because some people join to boost their CVs but it’s a different experience altogether when you are a participator rather than a spectator.
Another great part of running the club while I was at uni was that I could contact big entrepreneurs and have two hats - one as Robert Soltanie, business owner, “let’s do business together”, and two as Robert Soltanie, president of the entrepreneurs society, “do you want do something social and give your time to help students by speaking at our events?”.
How did you get into business?
I ‘m not afraid to try new things, I am realistic about my strengths and weakness and want to succeed but I have tasted failure many times - it tastes like medicine, bad but with lots of benefits.
I have tried many businesses in my time both online and offline. I still have various stakes in web based businesses but property and finance is a language which I understand very well.
Since I had lots of energy and my body doesn’t need much sleep I enjoyed doing 20 hour days for a few weeks if I had to. So I don’t think working a 9 to 5job was for me.
I like to try and experiment with different things which I knew I could if I worked for myself.
Also business is something I loved as a kid, I remember I had a huge curiosity in understanding how business worked, financial models etc. When most kids were practising maths I was trying to do yield equations and combining algebra to business scenarios.
Why a property company?
I grew up looking at floor plans, and doing investment appraisals on my scientific calculator. I loved buildings. When I was a kid and we used to go out with a group of mates we would sit upstairs on the bus and I would point at buildings and say “I want that”. We would go through tower block council estates and I would say comments like: “how many tenants do you think live here?”, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could own this building and have a contract with the council to pay you rent?” – I was a very misunderstood teenager.
Property, like most industries but property in particular, is an industry which is mostly about who you know. I was lucky to know a few people through family, but even to this day I network heavily in property related circles.
As I said property isn’t alien to me, it is very natural to me. The 3 basic skills you need in this industry to get you by are:
1) Good people skills
2) Good understanding of numbers/finance
3) Good understanding of building
As you get more advanced then you need to understand legal structures, law, tax, contracts, leases, building regulation, economic trends, equity and debt finance, derivatives etc.
I am sorry if I have to give a cliché answer but the simple answer is: My passion is in property.
How would you convince someone sceptical of buying property to give it a try?
I won’t, it’s not for everyone. The most important questions to ask are ‘why are you buying property?’ and ‘what you wish you gain/achieve from it?’.
Robert, Tell us a little bit more about what your company does?
I have set up various cash backed funds which have different purposes and intentions. We look for property opportunities in London where we can increase capital gains. This is done through refurbishments, planning gains, lease extensions, effective management, conversions etc. Also because it is cash funds it means we are not restricted by mortgage conditions which are set out by the CML (Council of Mortgage lenders).
We also look for properties which are being sold for below their current market value. These properties are usually sold for less due to repossession, divorce, probates, relocations etc. Vendors who are in this category are not price motivated and to them selling their building cheaper and having a quick guaranteed sale (exchange of contracts can be done in 24 hours) has more value than waiting to find a buyer and not having any guarantees because the buyer fate is in the hands of the banks giving him a mortgage.
I also have an investment agency set up which we use to off load our units, and other units which we didn’t acquire. This business came about because I was frustrated that I would let go of deals which didn’t fit our criteria (e.g. location) for whatever reason and it happened to be a good deal for someone else. So the investment agency sells the deal to investors and charges them a fee.
I also have done consultancy work for investors on property and finance related topics.
Where did you get the start-up money?
When I was growing up my parents were tough on me, especially when it came to financial stuff. I am so thankful for it, because it taught me to save money and earn money. I was successful in earning and saving money when I was growing up.
I also sold a lot of deals to investors and got fees from them before I became a principal and started buying myself.
I know one of my strengths is raising finance (both debt and equity finance), so this has not been an issue for me. If you have a good deal and time on your hands then there is plenty of cash rich investors who know what a good deal is, have money and no time on their hands, this is how I created a good partnership with various investors.
It helped being financially astute because you can also raise finance effectively from institutional lenders.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Anyone who is a competitor in your eyes is also a potential partner in my eyes. Let me explain, there is enough business to go round that you can help your competitors out and vice versa. We work with other companies which will pass us business when they are busy so they still have a smaller % in the rewards rather than turn the business down.
Has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I had no idea what to expect. I work hard, but I have done so all my life so I don’t know anything else. I’ve got a very strong work ethic which I took from both my parents.
Can you tell us about a bad business experience you have encountered and how you’ve dealt with it?
Well I’ve had plenty of these. I recently sat down with some mates and worked out all the money lost due to bad decisions and it was close to £100k. You win some you lose some, as long you make more than you lose you will be fine.
The most interesting one is I used to work with a barrister and did various property and bridging finance work through her. Long story short I did one deal through her and she basically stole the money from me and created a rather bullshit story that she used my money to buy a lot of expensive diamonds from a random man, and this man gave her a bag of rocks, took the money and disappeared with it. The case went to the police and the courts but to this day I still haven’t seen the money.
Business is a lot like everyday society, you have decent people and idiots. Also some people try to bully you. I have always been tough and I don’t take crap from anyone so if I get someone or some company trying to pull a fast one and take me for a ride I tend to fight it. I am not scared of solicitors or court rooms and you get unscrupulous people/companies trying to scare you with court letters and solicitor letters. I have been in a court room plenty of times.
In my opinion, well it depends on your trade but I would say as a rule of thumb if you are scared of confrontation and back down easily, perhaps being in business is not for you. It’s harder for us also because we are young and some people try to take advantage of that thinking we are inexperienced.
If you have not lost money in business or someone hasn’t tried to pull a fast one on you, then you are probably too cautious and not active enough or have been EXTREMELY lucky. Hopefully the latter.
Who is your role model?
I have many role models, in all areas of my life, not just business. A lot of people tend to have big name role models like Donald trump, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, George Soros etc and as much as I respect, admire and learn from these names I also have role models which I come in contact with much more frequently. There is no point mentioning names because not many people will know who they are, also they would probably prefer to remain anonymous but I do show my appreciation to anyone who has helped me in my journey so far.
What do you like/dislike about being an entrepreneur?
I guess I dislike not knowing what it “feels like” to have a property job, I have never had a proper full-time job, but I have worked for other people until the age of 19, mainly part time work.
What I like is the freedom, but the funny thing is you have the option to have the freedom but you tend not to take it because you enjoy what you do more.
I don’t need to wake up early everyday and stay in the office till late but I choose to – if that makes sense.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Listening attentively, both to investor’s needs and clients.
In my line of work you are always looking for more money to do deals and you are always looking for more deals to spend your money on.
I guess I also do constantly educate myself on my market. When you have a passion for a subject you want to know everything about it, the latest news etc. I keep a close ear to the streets to know what is happening on the front lines both in the real estate market and financial districts. I do this mainly through friends and colleagues but I also research the stats and read experts opinions on the market.
You’re still young yourself and have achieved a lot; do you think being a young entrepreneur is a disadvantage?
I wouldn’t use the word disadvantage – it has been very stressful but I was blessed to learn various techniques on how to handle stress. I sometimes do wonder if I run a Monte Carlo simulation of my life what would have happened if I had made different decisions, but all in all I like to think I had learnt from my numerous mistakes.
I have had a very interesting life. In this interview I have left a lot of gaps and stories out. Let’s just say I grew up very quickly, had a lot of experiences really early and had experiences which most people are not meant to experience. I guess this helped mature me and make me more focused.
Over the years I did learn with effective time management and delegation you can achieve a lot in little time, and if like me you love what you do, then you are really smiling.
If you are young and in business some people do try to take advantage which is why you need to be bold, however others will take an extra liking to you, and offer to help out.
What advices would you give to people looking to go into the property industry? What are the key steps, or things to consider before starting a property company?
Have a good eye for opportunity, understand numbers, be good at selling and know what your goals/exits are. Make sure you have money or at least access to it otherwise you will get in a lot of trouble. And be prepared to work hard.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Still involved in property. Keep doing what I do just with more zeros at the end of my sums.
Looking to set up other property related businesses which fill the gaps within my overall grander plans.
Building a lot more buildings.
Working with good partners.
Thanks for your time and the best of luck in your business.