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The quest to make the property industry data-driven – Q&A with SearchLand co-founder Hugh Gibbs 

uktn-interview

At the start of this year, the new proptech startup SearchLand launched its site sourcing platform. Built over a ten-month period during the pandemic, SearchLand is a software-as-a-service solution aiming to disrupt the way in which people and businesses source plots of land for property development and investment. 

UKTN spoke to Hugh Gibbs, one of SearchLand’s co-founders, to find out more about the background to the company, the challenges and opportunities of launching a startup during the pandemic, and how the team intends to grow the business.  

UKTN: Where did the idea for SearchLand come from, and how did you go about launching the business?

Hugh Gibbs: SearchLand was created in response to the lack of off-market site sourcing platforms. Developers and investors needed a better solution to find potential off-market sites; it has traditionally been a time-consuming process that involved accessing disparate data to establish the viability of particularly development plot.  

Whatever platforms have been available in the past to tackle this problem have been either too expensive or lacked the necessary functionality to significantly improve the due diligence process of site finding.  

We launched SearchLand in early 2021 after ten months in development. This short development phase has enabled us to keep our costs down and provide a more fairly priced product.  

UKTN: Who stands to benefit the most from using SearchLand? 

Hugh Gibbs: SearchLand will benefit any property business that has ever worried: ‘how can I keep our pipeline full?’ 

Our search tool allows users to identify plots of land that have strong development potential in terms of the planning process. We do this by linking land ownership information, planning history records, policy constraints, price comparables, OS data and other useful resources. In this way, due diligence is simplified to just a one-click process.   

That’s the first part of our solution – the second is landowner engagement. SearchLand is the only site sourcing tool that allows you to send letters to landowners directly from the platform. This is the most important step in the site-finding workflow, as this is the one that converts leads.  

In this way, we encourage our user base to stop counting the number of sites they have saved, but instead count the number of landowner meetings they arrange as this is what determines their pipeline.   

UKTN: How competitive is your marketplace and what makes SearchLand unique from its competitors? 

Hugh Gibbs: The marketplace has become increasingly competitive over the last few years. That said, there are only a handful of businesses that are well-known in this space.  

On other platforms you can view the important information, such as ownership and planning applications, as if they were layers that operate independently of one another. SearchLand recognises that these things have a bearing on each other. That is why we link all our datasets, which helps facilitate the wider ‘site finding workflow’.  

Linking data also enables another function – searchability. We allow our users to identify plots of land that meet their own specific criteria, even when it encompasses a range of requirements. For example, a user could enter a search for all plots within a specific search area that do not overlap with constrained land and are less than 10% developed, and only find results that match all the terms of the search.  

Simply put, SearchLand allows its customers to search for the right piece of land with greater speed, ease and accuracy than anything else on the market.  

UKTN: What are the main challenges you have had to overcome since founding the business? 

Hugh Gibbs: The main challenge is convincing property companies to look differently at data. At present they use old fashioned processes for sourcing and appraising land.  

We are tackling this by placing the user experience at the heart of our design process. This makes it easy for customers to pick up and get going without having to feel they are learning something new.  

Another challenge has been setting up the business during a pandemic. We started in Spring 2020, just as England was entering its first lockdown. For the first nine months we operated entirely remotely, reaching MVP stage.  

By the time we launched in January 2021 our system had been designed around remote working and this actually meant we could work harder and faster. By March 2021, we were accepted onto the PropTech accelerator Geovation, which has boosted our productivity even further.  

UKTN: How has the business been funded to date, and what, if any, are your investment plans for the future? 

Hugh Gibbs: The SearchLand founders took the platform from ideation to MVP in just nine months and with zero investment. As of March 2021, we have received £20,000 from the Geovation and have received further investment from its founding members.  

SearchLand is currently revenue generating and turning a profit, which gives us a lot of freedom when it comes to raising finance. As we move towards the end of 2021, we will likely look for funding to grow the business and build out the platform even faster.  

UKTN: Are you looking to hire in the near future? If so, in what roles? 

Hugh Gibbs: We will be bringing someone in to help with sales and marketing soon, with some roles in our product and development teams to come in the new year. 

UKTN: What is the roadmap for SearchLand, both in terms of projected growth and the evolution of the product? 

Hugh Gibbs: The future of SearchLand is about continuing to build on our existing platform. Specifically, we will be focusing on two areas: increased levels of automation in the site finding service, and delivery of a bespoke platform for some of the nation’s leading property developers. 

Automation is an exciting concept in site finding, as SearchLand will be helping businesses not only identify but also convert new leads directly from the platform. Our goal is to free up our customers’ time so they can focus on building their business.  

On our ‘bespoke’ service ambition, we’re working with some of England’s leading homebuilders to find solutions to their specific needs. This includes delivering software packages with IP rights and securing proprietary datasets for these large organisations to ensure they can remain competitive for the next ten years.