Meet the most intelligent person in PropTech: Peter Thum-Bonanno of @FindProperly

Everyone and their Mum would like to launch a 'better' property portal. Many are trying. Even more have failed. None, bar Zoopla, have succeeded in competing with the might of Rightmove.

Yet, FindProperly has caught the imagination of Londoners.

You'll have to excuse my cheerleading, but I'm a massive fan. Rarely does innovation actually make it to the world of property.

Started as a way to identify which area is the best for you to live in, the service has improved to become arguably the most useful property portal in London.

With an interface that is more functional and usable than Rightmove, FindProperly displays Zoopla listings with added information like floor area (size) and neighbourhood details.

What makes this all the more impressive is its Founder: Peter Thum-Bonanno.

He's not just the founder, he's the sole employee. Receiving help from friends with specific engineering tasks, Peter has built the site up largely on his own.

One person. That's all it took to build a property portal better than any other in the UK (Kangaroom is arguably more pretty, but is focused on just spare room listings).

I spoke with Peter to find out what he plans for the future, and what his story so far has been:

What is the problem you are addressing?

I originally set up the site for people who are new to London, and don't know where to live. 

And your current solution to this?

I wanted to include details like where do you work, what is local crime and travel like.

The goal was always to be the best portal out there.

Our customers are not estate agents, so I don't have that conflict of interest. I hope FindProperly makes people's lives better.

How do you get listings data?

Data for listings comes from Zoopla, with leads that go to estate agents. Zoopla pay FindProperly for that.

They're sort of a competitior, but that's where we get our money from.

They've been fantastic, and super collaborative.

What's the size of your customer base?

Going against Rightmove and Zoopla isn't possible, so I'm focusing on having a really good product for Londoners.

There is absolutely a limit to our market, but we're no way near our limit.

Our technology could be used in other cities, not the whole of the UK, but we could also build links with portals in other countries.

Who do you consider your most potent competition?

Obviously Zoopla and Rightmove are direct competitors, but we offer something unique, we only do London, and we think we do London really well.

There is also Rentonomy and Locatable, but both have moved into different markets.

Any challenges that you foresee?

Agents' Mutual cropping up is going to be interesting.

It's not clear what effect they will have on the market as a whole. Does the one (other) portal rule include us? Even though the agents don't pay us, do we count as an additional to Zoopla? That would be a concern.

And Zoopla cutting us off is a risk, but they seem to be happy with what we're doing and our trajectory.

Not sure (what challenges are ahead) yet, but need to make the product better.

Who is on your team?

I am the founder and only full time employee. It's the Royal We. Day to day it's just me. FindProperly is not really big enough to support many.

I have a business partner 1 day a week, and others help as and when.

Others? What help do they supply?

Machine learning from an expert and stuff like that. 

How did you meet your business partner?

His name is Gertjan van der Goot and he randomly emailed out of the blue, asking if I would like to have a chat. The relationship grew from there.

He is the founder of a comparison website called CompareMySolar.

He's a really good second pair of eyes to help improve conversion and user experience. An obsession over where should this button go is great. I don't enjoy doing this on my own, so it has made a huge difference. 

What are your work habits like?

I have to be fairly regimented as I'm working alone. It's not too difficult as I worked as a management consultant before. I thought that was long hours, but I enjoy this a lot more. I guess its my baby. Working non stop, but it's a pleasure.

Do you receive any outside help? If so, in what form?

The logo and front page are done by others (girlfriend for front page).

So you design the site yourself?

Design is a strong word; I do the best I can.

Where is your name from?

My parents are from the US, but my Mother is German and Father Italian; so my sister and I have a fairly unique surname.

What is innovative about your technology?

The commute time optimisation allows you to put in where you work and it suggests places to live. Then you can filter by things you care about like green space, crime and council tax.

Most recently, not innovative from a computer science perspective, I updated the layout so that it works very well, is clean and shows what you want straight away. If you load the Rightmove property search page, the property starts two-thirds down; the top is all adverts. 

I am paying people to read floorplans: 1,000 a day, to get the floor area of the property. Nothing clever about it, but we're the only ones who do it.

Any future features planned?

Widgets are my main marketing tool as it gets people talking about the site.

How do you build a widget?

A widget is the most annoying product to come up with and make. Once you have the idea, it's iterate like crazy until you get something people understand.

I start with one sketch, no mock ups. When designing the actual product, I use Balsamiq for wireframing. Without the need to communicate to someone else makes product management a whole lot easier.

The technical side is usually done in a day; essentially plotting points on a chart is not difficult. However, communicating clearly what it is is difficult. I send out prototypes for feedback. 

What is your average daily traffic, and what do you do to boost it?

The site has 100,000+ visitors a month with no marketing budget, no outside funding. Most find it through a friend.

It's mainly the widgets and word of mouth - the value per visitor isn't there to pay for traffic.

Saying that, revenue growth is 20% month-on-month this year.

What's next for you?

Keep growing and improving the product. I'm thinking about a property investor specific site too.

Even if we are the best portal, the market is such that you need the relationship with agents. The users are not the people who are paying. The big portals don't need to spend too much time making the best product.

Is there anything you need to help at this stage of your business? Are you recruiting? Do you want to seal a partnership that you currently don't have?

Not recruiting at the moment.

Partnerships-wise I always like talking to people. In London there's a small real estate tech scene. I'm working with Commuter Club to drive traffic to their site.

As an independent standalone product, FindProperly is working quite well, and I don't want it to become an advertising portal.

If FindProperly becomes wildly successful overnight and you become impossibly wealthy, what would you do next?

I would definitely not retire to St Lucia. I don't like holidays. I would need to find another venture pretty quickly. I'm not going to set up an airline or something. I'll look to set up something novel and interesting.

Suppose you one day IPO, what would you state in the prospectus as the biggest risk to your business?

Something like Agents' Mutual, where agents are trying to restrict the market. Agents' Mutual is set up to not make life better for consumers. They have control of the data, and the data is what I need to keep the site going.

I'm entirely reliant on Zoopla's good will to provide the data and keep data. That's why I'm obviously not going to IPO at any point.

If you could wave a magic wand to make one person do something for you, who would it be and what would they do?

The business has been built up to not rely on other people. There aren't any blockers. If someone gave me £1m, I wouldn't know what to do with it.

It would be great if Agents' Mutual bought FindProperly.

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