Ohhh – sexy parquet flooring. Ahhh – delicious Farrow & Ball paint. Yessss – alluring Victorian fireplaces. Swipe right! Swipe right!
The PR who described PerchPeek as “the Tinder of rental property” was correct. Users swipe right to save properties they like and swipe left to reject ones they don’t. Through machine learning, the website ‘gets to know’ its users, meaning more and more properties relevant to their tastes pop up. It’s like a dating app but with fewer disappointing hook-ups in wine bars.
Paul Bennett launched PerchPeek in September 2018 and it already looks set to become the next big thing in property marketing. He and co-founders Oliver Markham and Aasis Vinayak have attracted seed funding of £200,000 from PiLabs, and a second big raise is now on the cards. Creating an entirely new concept – “AI-powered property renting” – is an achievement in itself, but even more exciting are the ideas underpinning the business. Before launching PerchPeek, Paul spent several years at Amazon as a Business Development Manager for its Treasure Truck project. In that role,he learned four fundamental lessons that he’s now applying to his start-up. More on those gems later.
Paul explains the concept of PerchPeek: “As it stands, a growing number of millennials – around 30-50% – will have to rent for the rest of their lives. Yet finding properties is a stressful and lengthy process. Customer service is poor. There’s no attempt to understand you as a person or what type of property might be suitable for your needs. The onus is on you to search manually. As a result, typically just 1 in 35 enquiries converts to a let, a shockingly inefficient conversion. We want to make the process easier, more pleasant and more efficient. That’s good for agents, too, because they’ll spend less time on wasted viewings.”
PerchPeek’s USP is that it tries to understand you. Using AI, it learns from your choices and comes up with bespoke options that will appeal to you. Tech titans such as Netflix, Tinder and Amazon have proved how effective personalisation can be. By highlighting relevant TV shows, potential romantic matches and things you might want to buy, based on previous choices, they improve your customer journey and ultimately bag more sales. PerchPeek does the same with properties.
“We landed on the ‘Tinder of property’ concept for a few reasons,” continues Paul. “First, it’s an engaging platform. Second, millennials are familiar with the process of swiping through different options. Third, it lets us constantly harvest rich, nuanced data while also helping users by showing the best properties for them.”
Inspiration from the matchmaking world doesn’t end there. Dating apps were once considered weird – especially by people who found their partners in smoky bars and sweaty nightclubs. But such opinions are now old hat. Tinder and its ilk have won out, becoming part of the furniture and changing behaviour. Paul believes PerchPeek can do a similar thing. “Tinder has done an amazing job of flipping the mindset of a market,” he says. “We’re trying to do the same but flip the mindset of tenants. Renting doesn’t have to be painful; it can be an enjoyable journey.”
Paul’s ambitions for PerchPeek are less four-bedroom semi; more City skyscraper – and this is where his four Amazon lessons come in. “At Amazon, the focus is on machine learning – how to ‘surface’ products for customers more efficiently,” he says. “While working there, I started to think we could apply the same focus to property. Amazon was an amazing place to learn, and for such a big company it has a very singular culture. They’ve done an incredible job of maintaining that culture as they’ve grown.”
Here are the four key lessons Paul learned while at Amazon:
Lesson 1: Forget your competitors. Focus entirely on your customers.
“It’s pointless thinking about your competitors,” he says. “What you need to do is think about your customers. That translates exactly to what we’re doing at PerchPeek. Every week we ask: ‘What have we done to make tenants’ lives better and more enjoyable?’ We have big competitors, small competitors, lots of freaking competitors. We know that the average customer experience of renting is weak right now. If we drill down and focus on improving that experience rather than worrying about what our competitors are doing, then we will have a successful business in the long run.”
Lesson 2: Build scalability into your business model – plan for $1bn in five years.
“Every business that Amazon launches must be scalable to $1bn within five years,” says Paul. “What that taught me is you need a plan to grow rapidly – that’s so important when you’re starting out. I helped to launch Amazon’s Treasure Truck business in the UK and it was super interesting to see how they build a start-up.”
Lesson 3: Harvest data and use it to fuel growth.
“It’s incredible just how data-driven Amazon is. The focus is on hoovering up data that it can use to improve the lives of customers and suppliers. Therefore, when building our plan for PerchPeek, the question we asked is: ‘How can we launch in a way that allows us to get customer feedback, and then use that feedback to evolve?’ What we came up with is a website that, over time, will harvest enough data to not only help our customers find the right properties,butalso help our suppliers become more efficient.”
Lesson 4: Be willing to fail.
“Amazon’s culture accepts failure as an inevitable outcome of shooting for success. The thinking is: if you’re not failing enough then you’re probably not trying. You’re never going to change the world if you’re not taking risks. There’s no safe bet.”
With these four Amazonian lessons underpinning PerchPeek’s embryonic culture, and the idea for the business being so compelling, it’s little wonder Paul and the team have attracted funding and built such impressive impetus. It’s early days, but it’s not hard to visualise a website with the potential to redefine the rental property market.
“We’ve still got a long way to go with the product,” says Paul, “but if we get it right, and then create an effective marketing campaign while continuing to improve and evolve, we know that there’s a massive, very successful business in there further down the line.”
We’ll swipe right to that. Watch this space.