We recently sat down with FirstHomeCoach CEO Ben Leonard to discuss the issues that currently face home buyers as well as his plans to address these problems with his new coaching app.
Ben shares his thoughts on why the homebuying process is broken and how this has impacted the wellbeing of first-time buyers.
Property Division – What problem are you trying to solve?
Ben Leonard – The homebuying process is broken.
The chances of owning a home in the UK have more than halved over the past 20 years, and the average age of a first-time buyer is now 30. In the last ten years, there has been a massive fall in home ownership amongst 25-35 year olds. Only 30% of social tenants believe they will ever be able to buy their own home. Furthermore, with 45% of first-time buyers being made ill by the process, this is becoming more than just an economic issue.
As a society we need to address this.
PD – What was the inspiration for your business?
BL – Prior to FirstHomeCoach, I spent 18 years in Investment Banking at HSBC, most recently, as Co-Head of the UK Financial Services. My business partner Paul Carse was previously CTO of newspaper and media company, Racing Post.
We met back in October 2017 via a LinkedIn introduction from a mutual friend, realised we lived a few streets away from each other and had both spent the last 10+ years travelling from Wimbledon into the City. It is our passionate belief that industry can both make money and help create a better society, something that is not done enough in the finance and betting worlds. You could say that we are the Banker and the Bookie who grew a conscience; however, fundamentally, this just makes sense. We decided to use our knowledge of ‘the system’ to help others to navigate it, bringing together industry and charity to create better consumer propositions.
Central to this is how we create a fairer society by empowering people with their data, helping them navigate their key life moments. We set about exploring where this could have most impact and this led us to helping people get on the housing ladder. Doing anything for the first time is always really hard, and you end up making lots of mistakes, however the breadth and depth of complexity of house buying today really struck us. Having gone through this ourselves, we felt there was an opportunity to make it better for others. What you really need is someone to help guide you who has done it before.
PD – What are you doing now to fix the problem?
BL – We are on a mission to make it faster, cheaper and less stressful to buy a home, from saving up to moving in. Our app, FirstHomeCoach is a digital coach that enables first time buyers to make smarter decisions, powering their journey using their data and connecting them with relevant products and services. Essentially we are taking all the lessons from people who have done it before and translating this into a coach who can support others.
Data is at the heart of the business vision, blending intentions, personal information and open data sets to deliver micro-education, nudges, scenario planning and product onboarding to deliver a better user journey. It is really important to stress that this is your data being used for you; we are not selling your data or randomly advertising to you based on your data; rather we want your data to help you make smarter decisions and create a smooth experience into other relevant products & services.
We wanted FirstHomeCoach to be available to everyone so made it a free to use app and we make money from commissions when people take a product or service via the platform. The services we facilitate include mortgages, insurance, credit ratings and solicitors. We choose partners carefully, and work with organisations who share alignment with our core values of inclusivity, empowerment, transparency, curiosity and wellbeing.
PD – What’s next for the business?
BL – FirstHomeCoach is a commercially viable, socially responsible proposition which solves a clear consumer need: the lack of help in navigating a key life moment. We have gained traction over the last 12 months, including backing from HM Treasury for Rent Recognition; being selected by Allia for their Serious Impact accelerator and closing a £250k Angel Round. We have a live product, with growing customer numbers and are actively engaged with a range of organisations regarding distribution most recently announcing a partnership with Timpson for their 5,600 staff. We are now seeking investment for a £1m Seed Round to drive growth, develop the coach further and reach our first 75,000 users which will take us to break-even.
Moving forward, our vision for resetting how people use their data through digital coaching is scalable and can be applied to a range of situations. Life moments will form the basis for how we will build the business, focusing on problems and people then building technology to create better outcomes.
I can speak for both Paul and myself in saying that building a profit and purpose-driven business solving societal issues and changing lives is worth getting up for in the morning.