A lot can change in a couple of years. In early 2014, my co-founder and I started a company to use technology to help small builders find small plots of land. Recently at the Future Property Technology exhibition, Kane Lewis of Cushman & Wakefield labelled us:
“the start-up company that corporates most fear will disrupt their industry”.
When we started out, it seemed so obvious – produce a tool that makes it easy to see the development potential of any piece of land. Yet no-one was doing it. Was there something we didn’t know? It turns out the answer isn’t that straightforward!
We had already established that land development requires some art, craft and a lot of technique. Once you have a base understanding of this, it can be done by pretty much anyone, although it takes a lot of time and effort. So we figured out the processes undertaken to do it, with a view to centralising it, so it’s easier for people with less expertise.
But what we hadn’t fully understood is that gathering the information needed to assess a plot of land into one place is difficult. Often I have thought it was unfeasibly difficult. We have had to bring together tens of millions of data points and make them play nicely together. Extracting, cleaning, standardising, visualising and mapping real-time planning applications from more than 300 sources has been a major challenge of ours.
Help was at hand
We happened to be at ‘the right place at the right time’ for bulk data processing in the cloud to be relatively affordable. We hired a PhD neuroscientist to implement machine learning technology for us to use, to better extract insights from our data. We’re also lucky to live in a connected world with outsourced workers, which enabled us to grow our team very quickly. And ethically, I might add.
A final piece of luck was the ability to access new datasets, such as Land Registry’s Commercial and corporate ownership data. We integrated the names and addresses of all non-private ownership records using the data and then added our own value on top – filtering by size, adding colour to highlight the types of owners and connecting it up to the company structures behind the site. Doing this allowed our users to quickly bypass the ownership complications many potential development sites face, to see related parcels and identify all land held by a company.
We have created a vast amount of transparency in the development market, which has led to customer comments such as ‘hours of time saved’ and ‘increased productivity’. Our mission is to make a more effective and efficient land market, accessible to more people who can more easily build the homes for a growing population. Our way of creating that is by bringing more transparency, speed and simplicity to the process by using technology.
The usefulness of the product has not gone unrecognised by large agents, including big names like Cushman & Wakefield, Savills and CBRE and forward-thinking developers like Regal Homes, Aitch, Anthology, Pocket Living, Link City and more than 100 others. They are finding more sites and doing more deals than ever. One developer told us in nine years he had found two sites through digital land searches, in one year he had found two with Land Insight!
Understanding land ownership, through Land Registry data, is key for starting new developments and a big part of what we do. But there are many more inefficiencies to tackle in the land market. Our latest development is turning our planning applications dataset that goes back to 1997, into a database that can be easily searched. For the technically minded, we have an Application Programme Interface (API) to allow the planning applications dataset to be reused in any way imaginable, in the user’s own software applications.