Getting to know you: Martin Skinner

What do you currently do?

I am the CEO and founder of Inspired Asset Management, a property development and asset management company that I set up in 2010. We create affordable luxury homes for first-time buyers and young professionals who are renting. We use innovative approaches to design – made possible by new policies on office to residential conversions – to create high-spec, high-tech homes at prices that young professionals can actually afford.

Our pipeline of more than 1,300 homes is spread across developments in Croydon, Epsom, Sutton, Crawley and Chertsey. Last year, of the London developers, we were responsible for the 16th highest number of consented homes under construction, more than housebuilding giants Crest Nicholson. Not bad for a small company.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

My desire to spend money on enjoying life as opposed to renting an apartment inspired me to create aspirational low cost homes for myself and others. Believe it or not cars were my passion, not property. In trying to find a more efficient way of satisfying my own need for housing, I ended up with a business that helped other people in my position.

Who do you admire?

I admire Tony Pidgley, founder of Berkeley Group and a godfather of residential property. Berkeley currently build more homes in London than any other developer. I also admire Reza Merchant, a young entrepreneur, only in his twenties, who founded The Collective. They are a property company providing rental accommodation for young professionals, which I chaired for three years and continue to hold shares in. Reza is doing a brilliant job creating quirky live/ work communities for young people in London.

Outside of property, I admire the guys from Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. I like their open-sourced approach to development where they get everyone in the business to think like an entrepreneur. Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on outside interests and they often invest in ventures cultivated by their staff. We try to do the same at Inspired, except they’re developing software and we’re developing property. Then there’s Steve Jobs, who was admired by everyone in business. It was his design and usability intelligence that I admired the most; his ability to simplify things and make them look beautiful – something we look to do at our developments. 

Looking back are there things you would have done differently?

Yes – I wouldn’t have gone bust in 2008. I had a previous property business called Nice Group which fell victim of the Credit Crunch. At our peak, we had a property portfolio worth more than £250m. Obviously, I learnt the hard way along with a lot of people working in property at the time.

These days, I like to build a greater margin of safety into my projects. I also try to create a product that has a deeper market both in terms of investment and sales so it’s less prone to shocks.

What defines your way of doing business?  

My businesses are all about maximising marginal gains. I tend to focus on all the little things that you can incrementally do better – providing a better social environment through resident facilities, incorporating the latest technology and providing the highest spec finish. We want people to enjoy living in an Inspired home and we want everyone who interacts with us to enjoy the Inspired experience – whether that’s customers, investors, lenders, journalists, agents or employees.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

My advice is to get out there and take some risks. You have to build confidence in yourself through practice. Take risks early. When I had my implosion during the Credit Crunch I was young enough to start again. Had it been even 10 years later and I didn’t have just the one child – but maybe two or three – it might have been more difficult. I probably would have gone for a salary. Also, start the preparations around your current job. I started establishing a property portfolio whilst heading web and software development at an IT services company. It was income from the property portfolio that supported me and allowed me to leave and set up my business. Most successful entrepreneurs start up part-time.