For Gemma Young, buying and selling homes is about more than pounds and pence.
The former real estate agent is the cofounder and CEO of London-based site Settled, which connects sellers to buyers directly online. Young saw the need for simplified home selling while watching her clients grapple with stress and anxiety — not to mention, seeing their mistrust of brokers like her.
But it wasn’t until she began working at Google that she realized the potential to ease their worries with a readily accessible, user-friendly online platform eliminating the need for traditional agents. And when no one else stepped up to create what she felt was a satisfactory online solution, “I thought, ‘This is my calling,’” she says. She quit her job and began developing Settled in 2013, then officially launched in 2016.
Here’s how it works: For a fee of £499, Settled takes professional photographs and draws up floor plans of clients’ homes, and then creates and shares a listing on popular U.K. property sites like Zoopla and Rightmove. Young’s team also offers guidance on home valuations and support during negotiations, collects feedback from viewers, and provides a digital dashboard for coordinating viewings and tracking offers, among other support services.
About 98 percent of properties listed by Settled attract offers at the seller’s asking price — or above — the company says. And because it does not take commissions the way traditional brokers do, the company says it saves customers an average of £5,000.
Though still in its early stages, Settled is thriving. Young declined to disclose annual revenue figures, but says she and her cofounder — her younger brother, Paul — along with her team of 19 employees are on the path to growth. And they are committed to making it even easier for sellers to strike digital real estate deals in the coming years. “I see the opportunity technology has to completely transform the sector. For me, that’s very exciting.”
Destined to Start Up
Young’s entrepreneurial drive runs in the family. Her grandparents were working-class folks who lived in northern England and ran a fish-and-chips shop, she says — a “classically British move.” Young’s father and his siblings grew up in that shop, and tales of those experiences informed her professional aspirations. “I knew, inherently, that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
She earned a degree in sociology and criminology from Buckinghamshire New University in 2003, then worked as a real estate agent. At that time, the internet economy was just starting to take off — and Young noticed. “It was changing everything, and I was so excited by what was happening. The connection across the world, the opportunity to change industries, it swept me away.”
She soon transitioned into the tech world, getting in on the ground floor at Google in 2006 as one of its first 100 employees in the U.K. There, she rose up through the ranks in sales and marketing, eventually becoming the company’s marketing lead for its outreach efforts in Nairobi.
But all the while, she kept an eye on the real estate industry, waiting for the technological advances she was seeing daily to revolutionize that sector. “I heard about online real estate agents and thought: ‘Brilliant, this is really changing and improving the property sector.’ But looking under the hood of it, not much changed.”
She eventually decided to accelerate that change herself, and left Google in 2013 to get to work on her own startup idea. After she developed a plan and secured funding through Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, a U.K. program that offers funding and other benefits to local small business owners, she launched Settled in 2016.
Taking on Discrimination in Tech
Young isn’t stopping at shaking up the real estate industry, though. She is also pushing for change in the tech world’s male-dominated culture.
As both employee and entrepreneur, she says she has heard horror stories about gender-based discrimination and harassment, and also felt the isolation of being a woman in tech firsthand. That’s why “I am very involved and active in Europe’s gender diversity scene,” she says, and frequently speaks on the subject publicly.
Her mission is to raise awareness about discrimination and harassment ranging from overt incidents to more subtle slights. She emphasizes the importance of “addressing the whole spectrum, starting with driving more awareness of what makes people [who are affected] uncomfortable.”
To that end, she works with groups like the International Conclave of Entrepreneurs that bring founders and investors together to drive discussions about discrimination, harassment and women’s feelings of exclusion. It matters that “people are aware of subconscious bias,” she says.
An Emotional Product
Last July, Settled completed a £1 million seed funding round led by 500 Startups in Silicon Valley. The company also raised £1.2 million from Connect Ventures and Piton Capital in the U.K., “providing us with the resources to further develop our platform and technology, and enabling our model to grow significantly.”
Specifically, Young plans to use the funds to improve the functionality of Settled’s website through a series of updates, including a “strengthen and secure” feature that will give buyers and sellers alike the option of paying a bit more to increase their “strength rating,” which can improve their attractiveness to the other side and chances of a speedy, successful transaction.
She is also meeting with government officials to investigate ways the company might make the home-selling process more seamless that would be in compliance with local laws.
As a homeowner herself, she knows how tough the home-selling process can be. Her long-term vision is to “remove anxiety” from real estate transactions by simplifying the process, handing the particulars and facilitating quick communication between buyers and sellers. She often asks herself, “How do we, as a business, make this hugely emotional and, hopefully, joyful thing seamless and easy? How do we avoid the pain so commonly associated with it?”
Ultimately, she believes it is well worth the effort to buy a home — she describes her own house as “my sanctuary,” and wants others to experience the same feeling. Indeed, her tech-centric business has, at its base, an emotional core. It’s “about people, about humans, about emotions. It’s about getting to a point where anxiety over real estate is a thing of the past.”