As I stated above, I did not know anyone in the real estate market in London. However, I felt that we needed someone who could help us find answers to our outstanding questions and help organise meetings in London with landlords, brokers and perhaps some leasing agents as well.
To this end, I first updated my LinkedIn profile with information that we had a plan to open an office in London. Next, I upgraded my profile to the PRO version and started contacting anyone who had any links with the real estate market in London. I said that we were looking for a partner there and asked candidates for a Skype conversation. I had conversations with several people from LinkedIn, during which we discussed our Biz-cen project and their attitude towards participating in it. In the end, however, we did not move from talks to concrete actions.
Secondly, I posted a vacancy at two head-hunter (recruitment) sites; one in Moscow, one in London After holding several Skype interviews with potential candidates, it became clear that our plan to open a London office came across as being a highly speculative start-up plan. People looking for jobs online rarely look for positions at start-ups. As a result, I did not find anyone who could help us achieve our goals.
Thirdly, as we were well-established in Russia, I already knew several senior managers in London-based real estate companies. Communicating with one such manager, I was assured that he would talk with his colleague in their London office. However, he did not provide any valuable information after our meeting.
In the end, I made some progress through blind luck/by pure coincidence/purely by coincidence. While I was trying different ways of finding someone in London with valuable expertise, my friend Sasha Grigoriev was teaching at Zelman Schools in London. There, he met Jacob, obtained his business card and passed it on to me. I made a pitch to Jacob, and he agreed to help us to organise the necessary meetings in London.
To choose the right country and city to open an office of Biz-cen I conducted a small analysis. We checked our potential audiences in each country, in accordance with our target keywords. We also made a list of potential competitors in each country. What is more, I researched different real estate reports to gather data about the real estate market in each country, such as prices per square meter. At the beginning I decided that we would try to enter Berlin, even though there was a very strong competitor there — immobilienscout24.de. They had a site visibility of around 72% on Google. I discovered later that most people had been using immobilienscout to find an office from the very beginning, and that they did not even use Google for their needs.
As such, I reached out to several contacts who had connections to the Berlin real estate market. They told me that finding an office in Berlin was not a big deal, mainly because there were a lot of free spaces there. In addition, I discovered that prices per square meter were either lower than or the same as in Moscow. Last but not least, co-workings are really popular there amongst small and middle-sized companies. Therefore, Berlin lost first place in my list of desired markets.
During the process of collecting statistics about Berlin I discovered that the London market was one of most active market in the world, with really high prices for leasers. Moreover, I realized that finding an office in London could be a problem, due to the fact that only 4,7 % of all office spaces were vacant there in 2015. In the end, I made the decision to take London as our target city. But there was a problem, I did not know anyone who had any connection to the real estate market there.
The amount of work that you need to accomplish to close a big deal is the same as for a small one. Therefore, to earn on small and medium sized deals you must cut off most of the spending that classical real estate agencies have.
In a classical real estate agency when potential leaser contacts with a real estate agent, he starts to collect all information of desired office. Usually he does it by calling each of the business centres directly. After he gathers all information, he manually creates a presentation or even writes a text email to potential leaser where he describes all variants. After that he schedules a meeting between leaser and landlord. What is more, he accompanies meetings at business centres personally. Most of leasers before taking a final decision want to view several office spaces to compare different variants. Every leaser knows that it is a huge headache to move from one big office to another. So they carefully evaluate all variants and are always very attentive about all aspects of a new office.
In our company potential leasers look through our site and compare different variants of desired offices. As soon as we gather on our web-site as much business centres as possible, every leaser can take deliberate decision from a birds-eye view on the office market. What is more, a potential leaser can schedule a meeting with a landlord even without a call, just through a form on the site. After he books a meeting we send him an SMS confirming his arrangement. Moreover, we close particularly) all deals remotely. We write our own CMS that improves all aspects of our business-model. In the CMS we can easily see at a glance what is going on with each leaser who contacted us. In addition, we use a voice over IP technology, which helps us hire remote workers. Remote workers cost less and as we have our CRM we can be sure that they follow quality standards of the company. In some cases a potential leaser might want to receive a presentation with office options in it; we can generate a professional presentations in several seconds.
Nowadays we operate in two Russian cities — Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Once we had opened offices in those two cities we faced a growth problem. All other big cities in Russia are too small for our business model. So I decided to look at European office markets and started to collect information about them.
In September of 2015 we started working on a new company called — LavishShoestring.com. In LS we help people from over the world buy vintage and antique homewares without a hassle. We have a warehouse in a small village close to Oxford, and we develop IT infrastructure and work on marketing from Saint Petersburg. I want to tell a whole story about how we started working on LS and what milestones we have already passed. But at the beginning I would like to tell you a little bit more about who I am.
I co-founded Biz-cen.ru in 2011, service that helps potential leasers find an office space without spending to much time on this task. On our web-site potential leasers can set-up parameters of desired office and immediately get a list of free spaces. All information is presented in a very consistent way: for each business-centre we create a mini-web site, take professional photos of interior and exterior, gather information about infrastructure objects and draw floor plans where we mark free offices. What is more, we consistently update information about free offices.
There were several huge real estate international companies that operated on the office market in Saint Petersburg. Today they act the same way as they did in 2011: they work only with clients who are looking for huge office spaces, mostly because if they close a huge deal they earn a bigger commission. But there is a limited amount of clients who are seeking for big offices. There are much more clients who want smaller offices. If you use old fashioned methods, like holding a lot of meetings between leaser and landlords, you will spend quite the same time on closing deal on a small office as or a big one. You need to have far different business processes in your company than international companies have. So we built them mostly by using automation in different part of our business.