More than 18 months on from the acquisition of ZPG for £2.2 billion by Silver Lake Partners, a US private equity firm specialising in technology investments, Zoopla is starting to realise its potential with ambitious plans for growth.
There have already been a number of alterations since the takeover, with plenty more changes afoot, including some big plans, as Charlie Bryant, CEO, Zoopla, explains…
What can you tell us about Zoopla’s plans for growth?
Agents are at the heart of everything we do and every decision we make. Our mandate for growth is to be the best possible partner to agents, to deliver tangible value and to unlock new growth opportunities for them through delivering an innovative, broad set of products and services.
Key to this are our efforts to improve the experience and engagement for home hunters, in turn driving applicant and valuation leads to our customers’ businesses.
We appreciate that we operate in a competitive market and we don’t take our customers for granted. We believe that we are in the best position to offer a tailored, progressive package of solutions and platforms, anchored in data and insight, and a commitment to a long-standing partnership.
What areas are you most looking to expand in?
We want to decrease the stress and revive the joy of finding a new home for property hunters, while easing pain points for agents, and it’s our assessment that the industry is hungry for tech innovation.
Since the advent of the property portal nearly 20 years ago, developments in how we help people find a home have slowed. The industry has simply not kept up with the pace of innovation in other consumer-centric experiences, from choosing a movie to listening to music.
Data, personalisation and a deep understanding of our audience will all therefore be key to our future.
We recognise that we need to be more than just a portal. Combining the power of our software, portal footprint and deep understanding of digital marketing, will be key to providing a differentiated experience for consumers whilst enabling agents to be more efficient and competitive.
Enhanced software is a key enabler to facilitating better connections with consumers across the property lifecycle, improving efficiencies and generating more applicant and valuation leads.
But tech developments don’t happen in isolation; identifying and attracting new talent is crucial to realising our ambitions for the future of residential property. Creating 120 new jobs, dozens of which are specialist roles within Product & Technology, as well as launching our first Tech Apprenticeship programme, are propelling us forward to unveiling a new era of innovation.
In terms of new products and technology, what is in the pipeline?
While 2019 was about establishing the building blocks of success, 2020 is about product and technology, defining what it means to create value for the agent community and easing the process of finding a new home.
We want to eliminate the pain points and inefficiencies agents face, and to create more added value for agents and their customers.
This is why we are investing in areas which previously have been expensive, time-consuming and frustrating for agents, such as digital marketing, lettings and attracting and winning vendor and landlord instructions.
It is critical that we innovate where it matters most and to streamline methods. Delivering an ever-improving suite of products and services for agents and consumers is our priority.
We look forward to sharing more information about each of these launches throughout the course of the year.
Zoopla recently announced that it will be creating 120 new roles to help the firm meet its targets?
Attracting top talent to bolster the impressive array of existing employees is intrinsic to our path to growth – both this year and for the years ahead.
In December, we announced plans to create 120 new jobs in 2020, a move supported by London’s Deputy Mayor for Business. The new roles include dozens of highly-skilled experts in product development, software engineering and data analysis, reflecting our major focus on innovation and Product & Technology.
They also represent a once-in-a-career opportunity to reimagine our industry – redefining the form and function of buying, selling and renting residential property.
Roles are also being created in teams throughout Zoopla, across Marketing, Customer Success and other business support functions, and are vital to us meeting our goals of reinvigorating the home buying process and providing an even better experience for agents.
More recently, we announced the creation of ten software engineering apprenticeships in partnership with the Tech She Can Charter, with a keen emphasis on bringing more females into the sector.
The ten successful candidates will participate in a 12-week bootcamp before starting work at Zoopla HQ and will benefit from a graduate-equivalent starting salary.
We hope the initiative will grow over time and will prove game-changing as we seek to provide more women with the opportunity to pursue a career in tech.
Among the new appointments, Zoopla is creating new roles in marketing and what the company refers to as ‘customer success’ – can you elaborate?
Our Marketing team is inherent to Zoopla’s success – as evidenced in the launch of our major new ad campaign on Boxing Day.
What matters is the difference the campaign makes to our agent partners and in January 2020, we delivered a 25% uplift in applicant leads and a 17% uplift in valuation leads to agents, compared to 12 months prior.
We also recorded a 15% uplift in web sessions, year-on-year, demonstrating an increase in consumer preference for Zoopla. These are underpinned by the highest prompted and unprompted brand recognition in the industry.
At the same time, our newly formed Customer Success team is also gathering momentum. Compiled over the past six months, they were launched officially in January of this year.
Comprising a selection of former estate agents and property experts, they are passionate about helping our customers get the most from their Zoopla membership. They use cutting-edge technology to provide tailored, best practice guidance, and their mission is to help our agents drive even better results.
As it stands, we have three consultants, but have hired another five, who will start at the end of February. We continue to hire for this team, should anyone wish to apply!
What impact has the acquisition of the company by global private equity firm Silver Lake just over 18 months ago had on the group?
The Silver Lake acquisition of Zoopla has proved transformational. With their financial backing, we have been able to direct significant investment into every area of our business, and the growth figures speak for themselves.
Some key metrics to illustrate Zoopla’s performance over the past 12-18 months include the fact that more than 2,250 branches joined Zoopla in 2019, with a further 345 coming on board in January 2020.
There is also the fact that home hunters flocked to Zoopla with total applicant leads up 18% in 2019 and applicant leads per listing up 24% over the same period.
Agents also enjoyed a 41% increase in total valuation leads in 2019, with monthly site visits to Zoopla rising to 58 million in 2019, total sessions up 19% compared to 12 months prior, while over 1.4 million people downloaded the Zoopla Mobile App, which was revamped in August 2019.
Zoopla brought in over 200 new hires in 2019, including a new executive team, many of whom have been recruited from blue-chip tech innovators including Amazon and MyTaxi, and yet hiring remains a priority with the creation of 120 roles and ten apprenticeships in 2020.
The marketing budget enjoyed a 25% increase, while Lucky Generals – a leading award-winning creative agency – was appointed to spearhead our new approach.
Importantly we are unique in our ability to pursue the next phase of our growth as a private company, without the need to report to third party shareholders on a quarter by quarter basis. This means that we can take a longer-term view and place the agent, not the shareholder, at the centre of our plans.
Does ZPG plan to acquire more websites, including non-property sites, as part of a diversified investment portfolio?
Our focus is on agent experience and providing tangible value to them, as well as optimising the online consumer experience and helping them to achieve their aim – whether it is to buy, sell, let out or rent a property – without distraction.
Looking ahead, what is your vision for Zoopla as an online resource to support agents?
First and foremost, we want to return to the heritage of Zoopla as a bold, fearless and innovative brand – what put us on the map in the first place. This will be coupled with bolstering our employer brand; we have already begun hiring the top talent in the most competitive marketplace – and are bringing in experts from inside and outside of the property industry to help us take those next steps forward.
We will continue to be consumer-centric, to orientate around impact, and to set a new standard for success.
Finally, we want to reinvigorate our proposition and make an impact beyond providing a platform for listings. We want every touchpoint at which we interact with agents to add value and to consolidate our credentials as being more than just a portal.
It is a marathon not a sprint, but we are confident that our data-led approach, combined with our focus on innovation and progress, will give agents a real boost for years to come.
*Marc Da Silva is Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today Features Editor and Editor of Landlord Today. You can follow him on Twitter @propertyjourno