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Reflecting on 5 years of flatfair – Franz Doerr, CEO

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The origins of flatfair

In the summer of 2016, I’d been living in London for about two years. I moved from a flat in Pimlico to Borough, and to get my deposit back, I had to go through a long and tiresome process. Plus I had to pay a new deposit for the flat in Borough before I had my previous deposit back.

When looking further into the problem, I realised that I was not alone. The average UK renting household has 30% of their disposable income tied up in deposits when moving flat.

At the time, I’d spent 5 years working for an investment bank. I was ready for a new challenge and felt it was time to do something more purposeful with my life. I admired the size of the problem and quit my job with the goal of building something to fix the cash flow problem for millions of renters.

flatfair founders

My proudest moments

It turns out that building a No Deposit solution is a little bit more complicated than my co-founders and I had initially thought, so welcoming our first customer 1.5 years after founding the business was an incredible moment.

It required a lot of courage to stay focused during those early years, without seeing immediate results. It was worth it – by 2019 we’d already saved our tenants the first £10 million in deposits.

teamAside from the commercial success of the business, I’m really proud of the team that we’ve built. When my mum celebrated her 60th birthday with me in London, she dropped into the office to share her birthday cake with the flatfair team. As a founder, I’ve always seen the flatfair team as an extended family, and seeing my personal and professional lives come together was a great moment.

Navigating a pandemic

I’m a first-time founder. I’ve never managed a business through a downturn, let alone through a global pandemic. As a business, we were in the eye of the storm. The property market went into lockdown in March 2020 and property viewings stopped. Our revenue dropped sharply and we had to undergo a serious restructuring.

The silver lining is, however, that we have spent heavily on R&D during this period, and are now signing up more tenancies than ever before, with only a third of the cost base vs pre-pandemic levels. The situation forced us to be more disciplined and we learned a lot.

Looking ahead

Over the last 5 years, we have been relentlessly focused on widening our footprint in the UK so more tenants can use our No Deposit solution when moving.

We are a team on a mission to become the safety net for every residential lettings transaction in the UK, and not even a pandemic stopped us. Agents and landlords have definitely become more receptive to technology since we launched, with Covid further accelerating that trend.

However, property is still lagging behind in technology adoption when you compare it to other industries like finance. Property is the biggest asset class in the world, so those tech players who are patient will be designing the future relations of tenants and landlords.

What I’ve learned
If I could have given myself one piece of advice five years ago, it would be to worry less (it cost me a lot of hair as my team can tell you). Early on, accept that failure is part of every success. But if you visualise it happening and play all scenarios through in your head you realise that you can deal with any scenario, and sleep well at night. Then get to work.

My second piece of advice would be to surround yourself with great people. Our fifth birthday gives me a chance to acknowledge the people who’ve had a big impact on our success.

Our first agency partner, Spicerhaart Group, launched this product with us. They’ve shown real courage and a desire to innovate and we couldn’t be happier working with them.

Our early investors invested pre-revenue in an angel round because they believed in us. Their support has allowed us to thrive as a business.

And last but by no means least, the incredible flatfair team that has pulled through Covid, despite ups and downs.

I’m really excited for the future of flatfair as we can continue to grow our footprint in the UK and continental Europe while adding more services that ultimately make every rental experience a positive one.