Getting to know you: Russell Quirk

What do you currently do?
I’m the founder of the UK’s largest fixed-cost online estate agency, which has recently been backed by former TV dragon James Caan and his protégé Faisal Butt through their venture capital firm Hamilton Bradshaw Real Estate. My estate agency business has sold over £250 million worth of property since its inception in 2009 – and has saved vendors over £6 million in fees – when compared to the average fee that would have been charged by a conventional estate agent.

What is your inspiration in business?
I want to disrupt an industry where for decades estate agents have been able to charge people an unjustifiable amount of money unchallenged. Estate agency is one of the last industries not to be revolutionised by technology. My inspiration is to bring huge cost savings to the public. Just as it has with the recruitment and travel sectors, the internet can save estate agents significant amounts of money, which could and should be passed on to the consumer.

Who do you admire?
It may sound a little corny but the person I admire the most is my grandfather. He was an estate agent and ‘industry pioneer’ in the 1950’s. Small independent estate agencies didn’t really exist back then, and he successfully disrupted a sector that had been dominated by big institutional agencies. He had been working at the Co-op as a surveyor – and took the bold step to set up his office and challenge the big players. He took his business from nothing to one of the largest and best recognised estate agencies in the South East. I suppose I’m following in his footsteps, building an estate agency from scratch – and just as he did – trying to challenge the status quo.

Generally speaking, I admire people who fail but pick themselves up, dust themselves off, learn from their mistakes, and later succeed.

Looking back, would you have done things differently?
To be honest, there’s not much I would have done differently. I think you learn important lessons from adversity – so if things had gone perfectly – I don’t think I would be as successful today. I’ve had a lot of ‘ups and downs’ and that has made me stronger as an individual. You can’t be the best unless you’ve tested the limits, and you can’t test the limits without falling over a few times. Had I not experienced the difficulties I did – when the market turned in 2008 – and I was forced to cut overheads by closing offices, eMoov probably wouldn’t exist today.

What defines your way of doing business?
It’s very hard to keep customers happy all the time but you have to try one way or the other. Even with the most difficult customers, you have to listen and be humble. You have to base your business around customer service. Many estate agents can’t put the words ‘customer’ and ‘service’ together in the same sentence; you can see that from the review sites, which mention some of our high street competitors.

As an online business it is also defined by technology. Our approach is to use new technology to drive down the cost of our service whilst improving the customer experience. We want to prove, that with the right technology, you can provide a superior service at a lower cost.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t try to create a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Test your idea; never assume that it will work. You need to trial your idea with people you don’t know, not close friends that might be afraid to upset you.

Also, when you do your business plan and cash flow, don’t just make it fit your budget. Forget the amount of money you’ve got; it’s easy to forget about contingencies and the money you’re going to need to take out of the business to live on.

Try to research your expenses. I looked at Countrywide Plc’s accounts to get benchmarks on things like costs as a ratio of turnover and penetration of individual services per customer.

And as a final note; persevere, persevere, persevere and turn problems into opportunities.