What I've Learnt: Simon Tillyer, Director, Vouch

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by Charlie Spargo

Proptech platform Vouch says it's the "future of tenant referencing", launched by Simon with his wife, sister-in-law and brother-in-law in 2017.

Having previously served for more than a decade as a letting agent, he wanted to find new ways to support and remove the obstacles to property specialists. Vouch has grown into a leading digital referencing and utilities platform with an impressive client base.  

It's based in Sheffield, and is a rare example of a company which has seen its headcount grow significantly since COVID, strengthening the Yorkshire tech scene even further over that time.

Simon sat down to share the lessons he's learnt throughout a career both in property and tech.

 

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Coffee followed by a cold shower!

What's been your luckiest break?

To be honest, I don't believe in luck. Instead, every time I spot an opportunity, I simply go for it, pouring all my energy and hard work into it.

When I think of everything I’ve achieved throughout my career, I’ve always found that the projects that have turned out the most successful have been the ones I’ve been able to invest the most time and energy into. 

What's your best failure?

Several years back, before the likes of Purplebricks and eMoov had disrupted the market, we developed a similar online estate agent, but for a number of reasons, weren’t able to get it on the market in time for the Proptech boom. In hindsight, I can see how picking the wrong developer was our biggest mistake, as the process involved a number of long delays, causing us to miss out on crucial opportunities to tap into what the market needed at the time.

Despite the setback, the experience taught me some valuable lessons - in both business and the tech world - which proved indispensable when launching Vouch in 2017. Because markets and consumer behaviours are changing at lightning speed (even more so amidst the pandemic), it’s vitally important that we’re able to quickly adapt alongside these changes.

To mitigate the risk of any future failure, I’m constantly on the lookout for any risks or opportunities that may lie ahead. 

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

The best investment I’ve ever made is in my team. It took me a long time to develop the training and review processes I needed to onboard and retain a happy, hardworking team that’s as passionate about the business as I am, but I’m so glad I did. The team has been instrumental in our growth over the past three years, and never more than these past several months - a period which has seen us double our headcount during the pandemic.

I’m also very proud to say that to this day, we’re still 100% staffed by people from Sheffield, which I think sets us apart from others in the proptech space. No matter how innovative or sophisticated the tech we develop, we’ll always remain a human-focused company. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

'The E-Myth' by Michael E. Gerber. It dispels a lot of the common myths you hear about starting a business and explains why they can become barriers to your success. In my opinion, it’s required reading for anyone thinking of starting a small business with ambitions to expand. 

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

To not allow yourself to become intimidated by other ‘successful people’ in business. As you gain more experience, you’ll soon realise that the working world is full of people still figuring it out, so there’s no rush to have all the answers. The most productive thing you can do is to focus on yourself.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My wife, who is also a Co-founder of Vouch. We’ve worked together in loads of different jobs, so we understand exactly how the other likes to work, and operate really well as a team. There’s no one on the planet who knows me better, so it only made sense for us to take on this venture together. 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I'm absolutely terrified of horror films. I can’t even watch a tense drama on my own.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

Technology has enabled countless businesses and organisations to keep operations running throughout the pandemic, and I only imagine the appreciation will grow. For those who had been late to embrace tech before the pandemic, COVID presents a crucial opportunity for businesses to invest in technology in ways that will help them retain relevance amidst any future adversity. 

It’s unfortunate, but those who fail to adapt to the challenges it has presented will likely fall away as others rise to prominence. So I’m hoping we’ll see the crisis spur on some new innovation. 

What does success look like to you?

Success looks like a couple of things to me. Firstly, seeing the value my product brings to other businesses is a hugely rewarding aspect of the job, and always takes me back to why I launched Vouch in the first place. As a letting agent-turned-entrepreneur, I understand the challenges facing the market, so being in a position to be able to share knowledge and resources with others is something I'll never take for granted. 

Secondly, success looks like a happy and engaged team. I’m hugely proud of my team and the hard work they do to make things happen. They’re truly my greatest asset.