Adam Landau, founder of DeVono will be hoping to go one step closer to his goal of having 10% market share of the London property market and then a global roll out for DeVono this year.
During my interview with Adam, he also shares some of his story growing up and his journey so far as an entrepreneur.
Hi Adam, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP. Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I am a born and bred Londoner and my business career started as a purchaser of consumer software for United Overseas Group Plc who were the Europe’s largest wholesale distributors of close out consumer goods. I was tasked with heading up the new software division for the group. Following the success of this I founded Software Horizon offering a similar service with the aim of offering a turnkey solution for multiple retailers worldwide such as Toys r’ us, BHS, Wal-Mart and Carrefour.
Once I had successfully built up the business over a 3 year period and opened 3 prime central London retail stores selling the products I sold the business to my largest competitor. I thereafter decided I wanted to become involved in the commercial property industry and felt dissatisfied with the conflict of interest in the market where agencies predominantly only represent the interests of landlords and from time to time tenants.
I joined DeVono founder Robert Leigh in 2004 who had just started a commercial property firm who only represent occupiers with the aim to grow the company into a market leader in tenant representation. Since this time DeVono hold the record for having acquired the highest number of offices for companies in central London for the past five years www.devono.com
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
As my Father and Grandfather had always started and owned their own companies within the restaurant and leisure industries in central London I had always been exposed to business talk at all meals and family occasions which always gave me the drive to succeed in business.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
My business inspiration while growing up changed depending on the stage of business I found myself in. For instance when I worked for my first employer I was learning from the group MD who was one of the most successful people in the industry. This then went on to include Philip Green when our first transaction took place to place Software into his stores for the first time.
What was the inspiration behind DeVono? How did the idea come about?
DeVono’s proposition to the market and wider business community was to prove that the interests of tenants looking for office and retail space could be represented. Occupiers were always considered the least important part of the commercial property community therefore property agents would always base their business practice on Landlords. DeVono’s premise was to act solely for occupiers with the opposite aim that property agents provide to landlords.
So Adam, what is DeVono? What are you guys are trying to solve?
Occupiers are needed by the landlords to fill their buildings and drive up the values of their portfolios. If a tenant is not represented or represented badly the terms of their lease will work in the landlords favor. They will pay more and have minimal rights which in turn could cost their business hundreds of thousands of pounds over the life of their lease. An office is often a company’s second highest liability after personnel costs so receiving the right advice is imperative. An example of this is when we find and agree terms for companies where they don’t pay rent for many years of the lease and even in some cases a zero rent level is achieved for central London offices.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Convincing the market and our clients that our way was possible, we could change the age-old practice that existed in the property industry. We needed the recognition and respect of the wider industry which, over time, we earned. We needed to be in a position that we knew of every available office space in London and that came as we quickly built up a roster of clients that made us the most active tenant focused agency e.g we had the people to fill the empty buildings’ !
Raising money is always such a hot topic, How have you been able to fund the business?
DeVono was started with a small business bank loan of £40,000 which was paid back within 6 months of trading. We have remained profitable every year since so we have not had to borrow since this which is of course a relief in these troubled economic times.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Rather than an overly strategic or lucky marketing push, it is sheer persistence and hard work which has brought us our year-on-year growth. We’ve also always invested in a robust online presence which has proven a valuable marketing move, both in terms of website, social media and PR. We are always looking for the right type of people to complement our team as we are a people business so when others have been firing we have taken the opportunity to recruit.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
The premise has stayed the same – of representing tenants only. In fact we now handle retail acquisitions along the lines of our ‘no conflict’ model. We also offer additional services which are going very well such as Project management for office occupiers for their move and fit out for the new office they are moving into.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
There have been many but until we reach our London goal of 10% market share and then a global roll out I will not feel I have succeeded.
What can we be expecting from DeVono in 2012?
2012 will be the 6th year where DeVono will act for more companies in central London than any other property company with an increase in the total amount of space we will advise on. Our project management team will also have worked on large relocation projects for internationally renowned brands and companies with our retail team advising on the next big things for the UK high streets.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Be brave, show persistence and deliver to the absolute best of your ability. If you think you have a good idea then don’t be afraid to ask people what they think and most importantly find a business mentor as they would have been through the issues you will face before and will be able to offer practical relevant advice.