Welcome back to the second edition of Meet the CEO. This time we’re joined by Tom Buttress, CEO at proptech startup Propio. The business is an accessible property investment platform aimed to encourage millennial savers to become first-time investors, similar to robo-advisers Wealthify and Nutmeg.
Can you tell me about how you got started?
My working life started as a teacher on the TeachFirst scheme. After a couple of years teaching Geography to teenagers at a school in East London, I felt ready for something a bit more corporate. I always knew that learning was a huge part of what drives me and has shaped most of my career.
Choosing to move into management consultancy offered another great opportunity to learn. I specialised in working with financial services brands, getting to know what made them great and what needed to change. During this time, I worked with The Bank of England, Barclays and the Financial Conduct Authority, but little did I know that these skills would one day come in pretty handy when I ran a financial services brand of my own.
How did you become CEO of Propio?
Working in finance, I spent a lot of time in board rooms talking to people about money and investments. But I have to admit – I found investing pretty intimidating. I didn’t know where to start and it wasn’t something I was particularly confident in.
Property is something my family had always told me was a good investment, but for me, getting a home of my own was hard enough, let alone being able to afford a buy-to-let. I felt that there had to be a more accessible way for people like me to be able to invest in this asset class.
An old work colleague and I got talking and with the help of some of his property professional mates we came up with the idea of Propio. The next thing I knew, I was spearheading the development of this new product and learning as I went.
What’s Propio’s USP and greater mission?
Propio was created to allow more people access to investing and the benefits of investing in property over stocks and shares.
As a company, we’ve done a lot of consumer research and realised that a lot of people are put off by the ups and downs of the stock market. Property is much more familiar. We all live in a house; we all see property every day and historically property is a much more stable asset class than stocks and shares. So why should property investing be only something the rich can do?
Our mission is to allow more people to gain the benefits of property investing without the huge start-up costs. This has been a driving force behind our business and has led us to build a product that allows people to invest in property on their phone, from just £100, all through an ISA. No expertise required.
Where do you see the technology industry heading, and how do you think it will influence your business?
First, we had fintech, then we had proptech and now it’s all about edutech. As a business, I’m proud to say we’ve fully embraced all of these trends. One of the biggest challenges that faces our generation is lack of financial literacy and its contribution to widening the poverty gap. With so many young people not knowing how to save for the future, financial education is going to be crucial for any financial services brand that wants to survive.
What’s the biggest challenge about being a CEO?
I struggle to switch off. When Propio first began as a little seed of an idea, it was just me in the office everyday working hard to get things off the ground. It all became all consuming – constantly thinking of ideas, developing new innovations and ways of working became my life.
Fast-forward a year and I’ve got a fantastic team of people to help me do all of those things every day. But I still find it hard to let go and my head is constantly buzzing with what to do next. I’m sure I’ve annoyed my team a few times with a 3am email or two!
What advice would you give to another tech start-up CEO?
The best lesson I’ve learnt is to hire people that are different from you. It can be really easy to fall into the trap of building a team of people that you’d like to go for a pint with at the end of a tough week, but that shouldn’t be your motivation.
Choosing people that think differently, come from different backgrounds and have had different life experiences to you really helps bring diversity of thought to a business, however big or small. When everyone in the team is prepared to express their thoughts, you’ll know that you’ve picked the right people and they’ll be just as passionate about the success of the business as you are.
How do you see the company changing in the next year, and how do you see yourself driving that change?
We only officially launched the Propio product this February, after a lot of testing and learning and optimising to make achieve the best market fit. The next year for us is about growth, and we’ve got some bold targets that we want to achieve.
To do this we’re going to be constantly speaking to our customers and tweaking our product in line with our feedback. We know that if we continue to service them well, they will become our champions and help us grow our business from the inside out.
What’s an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
Completing Teachfirst was an incredible achievement for me. Teaching wasn’t something that I ever thought I’d get into, but it was the best experience of my life. Educating others is an incredibly difficult but ultimately rewarding discipline that has given me an invaluable set of skills that I use every day when running a team.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Understand your customer. It’s such a simple concept, but so many companies fail to do it. I’ve learnt that you can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t know who your customer is you’re likely to fail.
And quickly…What does a day in your life look like?
Get up, cycle to work, listen to a podcast en route, get to work and kick off every day with a team meeting. Then I’m usually off out around London meeting people.
Favourite app on your phone?
Spotify, hands down. I am a self-confessed music nerd, so I don’t know where I’d be without it.
Name a book that’s influenced you / your career
As my mind is constantly racing with ideas, I actually don’t read that much and prefer bitesize info. But ‘The 100-Year Life’ is the last book I read that really influenced me.
Name a company that you wish you founded & why.
Headspace – it’s an amazing app that has brought mindfulness to the masses.