Sohail Rashid, CEO and Founder of Property Network stopped by the YHP HQ this week, sharing some valuable insights into his journey as an entrepreneur, key lessons learnt along the way and advices for young entrepreneurs.
Hi Sohail, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I’m excellent thank you. I’ve just had my first child, a baby-boy called Raif, so I’m not getting much sleep at the moment!
That's great news, congratulations Sohail!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m a 28 year old from Bradford. After achieving a degree in Law from the University of Central Lancashire I set up and lead a property department for a Leeds based law firm. I spotted a gap in the market so I quit and set up Property Network.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
It runs in the family really. Growing up and watching my father, he inspired me to start my own company. I have had a lot of ideas down the years and I guess it was just waiting for the right one.
How did the idea for PropertyNetwork come about?
My time at the law firm (2007-2010) coincided with the explosion of social media, and on a day-to-day basis I was experiencing how removed estate agents and the property professionals were from the consumer. I thought, if I could amalgamate property services with social media, I could create a more transparent, open and easier way for people to find a house.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Finding people on a similar wavelength to share the journey with was difficult. Every penny I raised had to be spent wisely, and that couldn’t be wasted on someone that didn’t believe in the project.
How did you initially get traction?
The press picked up on what I was doing fairly quickly and I had articles about me and Property Network in a number of major newspapers. Property is a subject close to the heart in the UK and social media is something that almost defines this generation, so a company that was combining the two was, and is, a hot topic.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
I started by raising initial seed funding from my professional contacts. It was important to develop the concept into a business plan and prove the concept could work. After the research and development phase and early monetisation, we attracted a network of institutional investors.
What is Property Network? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Acting as a property portal with social media capabilities, users can search for a property hand-in-hand with friends and family on their own networks. Property Network then captures the social data of its users and combines it with their property searches enabling it to create area-demographics. These demographics are then used by users to search for an area with similar characteristics as them such as age-range, education level, music taste, job sector and family size, and by agents to predict future trends.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
I recognised early on that experience is key and so I employed a blend of new talent and veterans from the sector. I can be a touch excitable, buzzing around with a thousand ideas at a time. Having some old heads about helped me focus my energy and ideas, making me and the business more productive.
They are so many challenges that entrepreneurs go through trying to build a company or making it successful, can you share a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?
I think the biggest obstacle an entrepreneur encounters is themselves. Certainly I had to jump the hurdle of self-doubt before following through with the idea. Leaving a steady, well-paid, secure job in law was difficult, especially when you have the responsibility of providing for your family. Self-belief is key and that’s something that you need to learn quickly.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I recently won an award for Coutts Bank Young Entrepreneur of the Year and my family came along to see me receive the award. It was a really proud moment for me and great recognition for the business.
How do you define success?
The goal is to improve the property market by producing the next-generation property searching tool. But, Albert Einstein said, “Try not to be a man of success, try to be a man of value,” and this rings true with me. As long as I maintain my values and respect among my family, friends and colleagues I consider myself to be successful.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Property Network team in the coming months?
We have a couple of huge announcements about how the company is structured and funded which will be incredibly good news for estate and letting agents. It should also start a chain reaction meaning that by the end of 2014 Property Network will be able to compete directly with Rightmove and Zoopla.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. An in depth business plan is vital to start off with. As any good scientist does, create a hypothesis and then try and prove it wrong. If in the end the hypothesis still stands, you have yourself a winner.
2. Use your family and friends for support. You need to let off steam on occasion because things do get stressful so the people closest to you should be there for the good times and the bad.
3. Practise your pitching. Go to classes, practise on your friends or close colleagues, anything. If you’re going to make your business successful you have to convince investors, suppliers and consumers. They not only have to believe in the business model but also the person behind it.