Homegrown: Creating a culture of innovation
Interview with Ben Ridgway & Jamie Cooke, Founders of iamproperty
iamproperty is one of the UK’s fastest growing PropTech businesses, with over 700 team members across the UK and Ireland. They might be a technology business, but it’s not code or tech functionality that drives their innovation or adds value to their Partner Agents, it’s the people in their team who are making big changes in the industry. We caught up with iamproperty Founders, Ben and Jamie, and some of their innovation team, to find out what innovation means to them and how it has evolved over time.
“We’ve come a long way since Ben and I were the original innovation team when we started the business” says Jamie. “Long gone are the days where we were the only ‘ideas guys’, or where innovation came from us challenging each other’s wild ideas in the pub (which we still do!), but today there is a whole team of product and service specialists behind everything the business delivers.
“One of the biggest contributors to how we’ve innovated over the years has come from having each other to bounce ideas off and balance each other out. Finding the right people to innovate with is a big part of being able to keep innovating at pace and comes from selecting people to work with who have the same goals as the business. That doesn’t mean they have the same idea of how to get there, but they ultimately want the same thing for the industry and are unafraid to challenge ideas.
“We want to make big changes in the property sector and so we love it when our team are passionate about that too. We never wanted a business filled with ‘yes people’, we wanted a business filled with people willing to challenge the norm.”
Ben adds, “As a business we have a fairly flat structure – this is deliberate as it means decisions can be made quickly and we all dig in. Layers of decision-making can cancel ideas quickly. Great ideas can come from anyone who works with us or in our supply chain and Partner Agent Network and it’s exciting to see how that is developing every day.
“To achieve this, we’ve had to really focus on creating a place where ideas are encouraged, from not being afraid to challenge one another and enjoying some healthy conflict, in the diversity of our team recruitment and in having an investment strategy that enables innovation so people know their ideas can actually be tested and taken forward.
“When we started the business, we could sometimes do things on a hunch, go with our gut for a big idea. But now we have so many stakeholders and lots of different teams, so we take views from lots of different people. We let data and collective decision making drive our innovations now and it works well to get to the right solution.
“The one thing we’d definitely keep hold of as the business continues to grow is getting face-to-face with our teams. We operate really flexible working, but you can’t beat a session with everyone in the room for finding the big ideas or challenging what’s on the table to get to something better.”
And what does innovation mean to other key people in the business?
Deborah Watson, Product Manager for iamsold, says: “Innovation isn’t just about one team working in silo, it’s about collaborating internally with our stakeholders, working with our Estate Agent network and the wider external property community.
We never wanted a business filled with ‘yes people’, we wanted a business filled with people willing to challenge the norm.
“There is no point in collaborating or innovating unless you really mean it. We have advisory boards with our Partner Agents which is all about listening to their challenges and working together to find the right solution for that challenge and that might not always be iamproperty. With testing and BETA testing we create as many opportunities as possible to make sure we are getting the right feedback before we take ideas to the next stage.
“Ben and Jamie are a great example of this because they’re different, they challenge each other and certainly don’t always agree with one another! They show us all that it is fine to be open to new ideas and to listen to others’ views.
“A big thing for us as we’ve grown has been to make sure we take everyone on the journey with us and appreciate every team has their own growth and innovations to deal with alongside what we’re doing with the auction services. We have to make sure the development team have the same insights and passion as the product team and then take that to every team in the business.”
Tania Bonesi, Product Manager for movebutler, says: “The most important part of innovation for me is our ability to be agile and that comes from being able to collaborate and by making it an expectation to have a ‘Let’s do it again but better’ culture, where nothing is ever completely finished – we should always be striving for more.
“Although we have dedicated product and service teams, we want problem-solving to work across the entire business. In the 10 years I’ve been with iamproperty we’ve become really good at finding the right people to drive our innovations forward. Recruiting people based on our core values plays a big part in the business strategy, because everyone is striving for the same goal.
“With movebutler we’ve had the opportunity to create something brand new for the market, which comes with loads of challenges as you test that all the big ideas work in practice for our agents. But there isn’t a better feeling than watching the platform being adopted and seeing it solving the problems you set out to solve when you were sitting round a table with a blank sheet of paper a year before.
“There aren’t many jobs that give you that buzz of seeing something you created making a change in your sector. And we celebrate that together as a team – before we move on to the next evolution!”