Andrew Gardiner, CEO and Founder of Property Moose, an exciting and growing property crowdfunding platform, talks about the challenges facing property investment start-ups, and gives his advice to lawyers looking to enter the thriving Fin Tech space.
Q. You studied Marine Biology at university, then undertook a law conversion course and after your training contract, practised as a corporate lawyer. Now you're the CEO and Founder of a Fintech company. It's a fascinating route, can you talk me through your journey so far?
A. I trained to be a marine biologist, as it’s something I always wanted to do as a child. You have dreams and I believe that you should follow them and it was the right thing for me to do at that time. I also had an interest in law and got a training contract in my third year at university. I went to law school and then did my training contract in Manchester. I moved to a US firm who had an office in Leeds, and then moved down to London and joined Travers Smith where I specialised in Private Equity. It was there that I came up with the idea of Property Crowd Funding. Nobody had really done it at the time, crowdfunding was on the way up and I had a passion for alternative finance and thought it was the future. I managed to get seed funding whilst I was still a lawyer and we were one of the fastest pitch funded on Crowdcube at that time with 280% of our target. At that point, I thought it was time to make the jump away from law and try and make Property Moose a reality.
Q. Do you ever miss law?
A. You do different things in your life depending on what road or journey you’re on. I would never say that I wouldn’t go back to law, as I really like it. I actually miss it sometimes, I miss the deals and the transactions but I don’t miss the hours. I also miss the camaraderie of a big firm and having lots of people around you. It can sometimes be quite lonely being an entrepreneur, so I’d never say I’ve turned my back on law, but, for now, this is definitely the right journey for me as it’s fast moving and exciting!
Q. The Fintech world is changing the way consumers bank and invest. Property Moose seems to be at the forefront of ‘Democratising Property Investments’. Your premise to do away with the idea that only people with access to finance or that know people already in the property market can invest, is an admirable one. How close are you to achieving this aim as a business, and how do you see the property investment market in the future?
A. In all honesty, we’re not very close to democratising the property investment market. We’ve got 26,000 members in 110 countries and get between 800 – 2,000 people a month signing up on the website, so it is growing in popularity and we are doing well, but there are a lot of people out there who have never heard of us or don’t invest with us, and our aim is to change that.
Property market wise; I think that there are still opportunities in the market where you can find value. Clearly, certain areas like prime central London is still overheated and will be greatly affected by Brexit and currency fluctuations, but focusing on standard family homes where people want to live, I believe, will continue to be a good long-term investment.
Q. So how has the uncertainty around leaving the EU affected the business and your plans for the immediate and long-term future?
A. There’s been a wobble in some areas, in terms of property prices, but I don’t think it’s affected the market as people thought it would. I actually think it’s internal domestic politics that are affecting the market more. But as I say, there are definite opportunities out there, you just need to have the resources, time and the cash available to be able to execute them, which normal everyday people don’t have. That’s what we offer as a service.
Q. Most successful businesses eventually get to a size where it makes sense to hire an in-house lawyer. In your experience, at what stage should that initial legal hire take place?
A. Currently we outsource all our legal work, but we do it in an efficient way. If there are big jobs, I’ll front load a lot of the work and effectively do it and then hand it over. In businesses like ours, who are fast moving and at the forefront of things, we need that external advice for the protection that it gives the board. I think that businesses do need to be a lot bigger than ours before we would consider hiring an in-house lawyer, purely on the risk point, less so on the cost. Given our rate of growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had one in the next couple of years.
Q. Having practised as a lawyer, you have an advantage over most CEO's when it comes to hiring one. Knowing what you know, how would you approach hiring your first In-House lawyer?
A. I don’t think it’s different to any other role. Breadth of experience will be important, so if they’ve come from a practice or a firm that has a very narrow workload it can be seen as a negative. As a lawyer, it’s very easy to get trapped in your world, doing the deals, doing the transactions, advising the client and sometimes you don’t really do much outside that work, purely because you don’t have time. I’d definitely look for people that have more experience and show an interest in business or entrepreneurialism, as well as anything social outside of work and not just sat in an office all the time. A small start-up business is all about the people and if you have somebody that joins you that doesn’t get on with the team or causes issues internally, the effect that has on the business is significantly greater than if it was in a big firm. I also don’t think it would matter to me whether someone was from Private Practice, or had In-House experience.
Q. Fintech is a huge growth area at present and a lot of lawyers are interested in exploring opportunities within it. Do you have any advice for lawyers looking to get into the Fintech sector?
A. I would be extremely careful and make sure to do due diligence. There are a lot of firms and companies that pop up and some will be here in ten years, some won’t. Leaving a law firm and a job is a big choice. We are trained as lawyers and it’s not going to be for everybody as there are things to deal with like the real risk that you might not get paid one month. Less so if you go into a job at a larger firm, but if you go into the start-up world at the beginning, people need to be prepared for that.
Q. There may be other lawyers reading this, having their own thoughts about setting up a Fintech business. What advice would you give them?
A. I think people just need to do it. If you’ve got an itch, you’ve got a good idea and you believe it’s going to work then you just need to crack on. Too many people sit back and don’t do it early enough and then you’ll get to a point in your career where it’s too late or it’s too difficult to leave. The best advice I can give to people is to do it as early as possible, then if it works – fantastic, and if it doesn’t you still have the option to go back into law. The wealth of experience you gain from doing something like this is vast and it will stand you in good stead for going back to Private Practice.