Adam Goff stopped over by YHP’s HQ as we talked about his startup, Capital Living. In our conversation, he talks about his entrepreneurial background, challenges getting the business up and running, scaling and advices for young entrepreneurs.
Hi Adam, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Great thank you, I am especially chipper today as I just found out have been shortlisted for our first award of 2014- Best London Landlord.
That's amazing Adam, congrats and good luck.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Sure. I was always the kid in school who was deemed too disruptive and too energetic, put it this way my reports weren’t always great! I was an all rounder who did everything from the school plays to cadets to get myself challenged. Therefore I never really specialised in anything and did a short stint as an Army officer before studying a very general degree (History) at Birmingham University.
After Uni I didn’t know what I wanted to do, just that I want to be successful at it, so I tried an internship at Lehman Brothers in Canary Wharf (about one year before it closed). It wasn’t for me and whilst I could have followed it as a career I wasn’t passionate about it. So I hunted around in enough personal development books to realise having a business was probably the most appealing option and could give me the challenge and freedom I was looking for in the longer term.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
Despite my father and grandfather both founding successful businesses nothing really came from the family in that regard (Dad wanted me to do banking). But after really hating my time in the rat race I looked for another way of generating income that wasn’t via a PAYE slip.
Originally I saw an opportunity to disrupt the student events ticket market back at university where all tickets were still printed/distributed and sold in the traditional style. I created an online version of this were students could buy from their bed and arrive at the club via a guestlist system and studentnighttickets.com was born. The uptake was amazing and within 6 months we were selling half of the tickets in Brum! From there I got into an events business, student social media and a telecoms service before funding Capital Living in 2009.
How did the idea for Capital Living come about?
The idea of Capital Living was and still is an evolution that is really driven by our customers’ living needs. Initially I started by wanting to improve the living standards of house sharing professionals in London from student style living to something that they were proud of and motivated them. It started with a really nice pad in Fulham and we just added the extras as we realised it’s what people want. Now we supply everything down to the loo roll and changing the light bulbs!
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
The huge challenge was acquiring the properties. We had to get pretty creative and build relationships with people in the industry and thankfully those people took a chance on us without a bit of faith from their side we may never have got going.
What is Capital Living? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Capital Living is member only house share community for London's professionals. Our mission is to give our members a better experience of living in London. We believe a good standard of living is key to success in London and therefore the house you live in and who you live with is fundamental to enjoying your life in and out of work.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
I started the company with all the money I had at the time. I did originally approach a few people for funding but I didn’t have any real security and they were reluctant (you really find out a lot about someone when you ask them for money). So we just went slow to start with and have funded pretty much from organic profits and a small unsecured loan (which we have now repaid) ever since.
What advices would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their startups?
I know entrepreneurs who have had success in all the different funding routes, including crowd funding. I think you have to choose which one is best suited to you and cast a wide net and expect rejections. Rejections are part and parcel of setting up a business so get used to it, after all it’s your job to convince the world that you are right and your idea has legs!
I would also question if you have no track record and have not started trading yet if funding a huge start up is for you? My path was very much starting small; I started my first business with £1000, and learnt all the lessons from there. If you are in a similar position perhaps start small for now and take it from there.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
I imagine every entrepreneur can tell you about your first sale and the incredible buzz it gives you when you realise that you were not crazy all along! I remember the first person we rented a room to, we’d had a few viewings and no luck yet but this guy walked in, loved the place, asked me a few questions and we did the deal there and then. He is still a member of our community today!
Aside from that after our first property we had a lot of work to do to scale the business and change and adapt it to make it more profitable. Being honest our first house was so much guess work that before we grew any more we just took our time applied all the lessons we had learned and made sure our next one was everything we needed to prove the business could also be profitable and scalable.
How did you initially get traction?
Good question. We ran some small target adverts and didn’t even have a business card/website/name at that point! I think our product was just so different to what was out there we got noticed. It was also very clear the demand was there, I’m not sure many people could launch a product with no name/brand or website but I suppose property is slightly different that way people don’t buy based on brand and that’s something we want to change.
It sounds crazy just thinking about it actually, starting without a name but I guess the vision is the most important thing. I’m sure they are countless number of businesses who had the name, website and still failed. So after the initial traction, how did you scale the business?
Absolutely Joseph! Having a vision is very important. I think the most important thing for growth has been always living on the edge of our comfort zone and continually pushing the boundaries. Sure we have made some mistakes but having a relentless passion for this business has ensured that we kept improving and allowing the growth to happen.
We have listened intently to feedback from our customers and have continually adapted and been flexible to refine the product. Delegation and hiring people who share the same vision for the business was also key. Without our small crack team we wouldn’t be anywhere and it took me some time to realise this. My first employee worked with me on my property hunt and he approached me for a job, even though it was early days and I was convinced I didn’t need a hire yet his belief and passion in what we were building pushed me towards bringing him in and that ultimately pushed our growth.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Last year was by far and away the best year we have had so far. We had some great national and industry press, were listed in 23 in the start up 100’s list and were shortlisted for two awards at the national landlord and lettings awards. We also grew by 30% and consolidated financially. It sounds crazy but for the first time it really felt for the first time that we had made it and were here to stay.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Capital Living team for 2014?
With the success of last year we are just doing more of the same, growth and improving the product. Our brand and reputation is everything in this market and we want to protect what we have built and make sure that growth does not damage our brand or the experience we offer our members.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Start small. If you have a job consider starting your business part time until you are sure the concept works and can be profitable. Learn the lessons when you haven’t got £50,000 of friends and family money on the line!
2. Never give up. Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Outliers declared that it takes 10,000 hours and/or 10 years to gain success in any field. Entrepreneurship is a field and just because you don’t have overnight success (few do) doesn’t mean you won’t make it.
3. Ask for help. It took me too long to seek people who were more experienced than me to help me with the business. Put yourself out there and you will be surprised how much you will get back.