Key Women in Business interviewed Ayra Taware, Founder and CEO of FutureBricks to discuss her entrepreneurial journey and find out how she got started as an entrepreneur in the SME property sector.

Paul:
Welcome to KWIB Radio. Today we are lucky enough to be joined by Arya Taware, founder and CEO of FutureBricks. Hi Arya!

Arya:
Hi – thank you for having me!

Paul:
Arya, it’s great that you’ve come to talk to us today but can I start by asking about your early life growing up in India. What was family life like for you?

Arya:
It was interesting. We actually had a very small family which is the opposite to the stereotype of big Indian families. My dad was a first generation entrepreneur; he came from a very small village in India and moved to Pune which is a city of 8 million people and is where I grew up. I used to listen to stories of how he started the business; how he came from nothing and built his business from scratch. There was a lot of outdoor stuff – going to the fields as my grandparents remained in the countryside so I was constantly in touch with and grounded in reality. It was very pleasant, going to country and city life as well. Books – he gave me a lot of books and the love of reading. He would give me books for Christmas and Easter and I’d go to the farm and read books and more books…

Paul:
Do you have any brothers or sisters? Are they are driven as yourself?

Arya:
I have one older brother and I’d say that he is driven in his own way. I would say that I’m more like my father and he is more like my mother – he’s quite a quiet introvert and I’m exactly the opposite.

Paul:
Was education important to you? You said you read a lot and I’m guessing that it was. What was it school life like?

Arya:
I went to UCL to do my undergraduate course in Urban Planning which was, or sounded like, a very niche subject but I learnt a lot. It was something that I was not exposed to growing up in India so it was really interesting – things like how you get people to move around a city and to think about the break-out spaces. There was also the exposure to the real estate industry through the academy group. I met some very exciting people like Robin, who was my classmate. We started our first entrepreneur venture together. Then Eleanor who was already a successful entrepreneur. They were really interesting and although it was only a small class of 30 people, we bonded a lot. UCL is an amazing university – the kind of exposure that they got; they had their own business wing so from very early on, there were business mentors available, accelerators and office spaces.

Paul:
Was that business element something that attracted you to UCL?

Arya:
To be honest, I did not even know that it is existed but in the first and second year of university when Robin and I, being entrepreneurial, found out about it, it was amazing how much support it provided.

Paul:
The business element was part of the culture of UCL that encouraged you be able to do things outside of your studies – similar to Harvard?

Arya:
Absolutely. They had their own competitions where you pitched and won – we actually did win back in 2014. It was a very encouraging grounding. There were always workshops about where to start, lectures, seminars and interesting business case studies etc so it was a very encouraging environment. I hope that many other universities in the UK have such a facility because I believe entrepreneurship can’t be taught, you can only go out there and do it. The sooner you do it, the better you get at it. It’s as simple as that.

Paul:
You took that to heart then as you’ve had a few attempts at it. Your first business was in 2012 – First Stay?

Arya:
That was actually based in London and the reason for that is that both Robin and I are international students. For the first year you will usually be given university accommodation but you don’t if you want to rent a private apartment or bedroom. It is very difficult for international students and we felt that problem as we went through the process. You would need a guarantor and we thought, ‘ok, let’s try and solve the problem’. So we went and talked to landlords and said that we’d take the properties and rent them to students. It was where the entrepreneurial journey began. It was very interesting. We didn’t do much with First Stay but it was our first entrepreneurial adventure.

Paul:
Like a true entrepreneur, you saw a need – a gap – and you went and did something about it.

Arya:
Exactly. It was definitely a very, very good learning curve.

Paul:
In 2013, you were working as an intern in Solid Space. What was it that you experienced there that helped you develop your idea for Real Funds?

Arya:
My job was to go and look for sites for development, to check there was planning permission and that the numbers stacked up but he couldn’t get financing. That really bothered me because everything was checked on the paperwork. When I dug deeper into the issue, I realised it was a massive problem in the UK because the government has set a target to build 400,000 new homes every year but only 115,000 got built in the last four years combined. More homes were built in the 2nd World War than in 2000. The main reason for this lack of housing crisis is the lack of access to finance to the SME housing builders. These are the ones who build the right type of housing supply – the 5 semi-detached houses or converting offices to residential. So again, I saw a massive gap in the market. It’s something that we need – the country is suffering and has been for the last three decades. Prices are going up and up: the average deposit and rent in London is £80,000. I saw a gap from that side of the market.

Paul:
With that idea, you won the UCL Bright Ideas Award in 2014 with fellow student Rob Karlsen. How did it feel to be recognised in that way? Did it give you a greater belief in your ideas and ability?

Arya:
Yes, definitely and also we got £10,000! The fact that you get recognised for your efforts is always encouraging. It pushes you forward in every possible way and that’s what entering and winning to competition did for us. We were students and we’d just got £10,000 – it was amazing.

Paul:
After graduating, you started FutureBricks which I’m assuming is the successor to Real Funds?

Arya:
Yes – First Stay was the entrepreneurial adventure with Robin. Future Bricks is the evolution of the idea of the crowd funding for real estate from Real Funds.

Paul:
How difficult was it to get a male dominated investment and construction industry to take you seriously with FutureBricks?

Arya:
Initially it wasn’t easy at all. Originally you get a lot of sceptics, especially as you are so young and yes, female. Mostly it was because we are so young but I think you just have to prove yourself even if it is little by little. What I found challenging was that the vision was so big so the first challenge was to break it down and then do it piece by piece so I could get there one step at a time. That really helped me and looking back, I call the same people and now these guys are getting funding from us. It’s just unreal in that sense that we could actually do that. We’re in a position now where we can fund SME housing projects.

Paul:
You’ve been identified as a rising business star and role model. Listed in the top 21 female founders in the Fintech industry by Innovative Finance, in the top 40 coolest people in Fintech by Business Insider. Does this affect you? Do you feel added pressure when it comes to business decisions? Do you worry about the success it can bring?

Arya:
I’m not worried because I think the good attention you get when your work is recognised is very encouraging but it doesn’t directly impact the business because I think as an entrepreneur, you really know what is the bottleneck and what is the bottom line. I think that keeps you grounded in reality. You are always thinking about ‘what’s next?’ or ‘what now?’ ‘we’ve got the platform but how can we be better?’ It’s always about the drive to improve and be better, introduce more product. It’s that hunger in our belly as a company as well. So, no, it doesn’t affect us in that sense but it’s about keeping our feet on the floor.

Paul:
A lot of people will have a mentor to help them with their success – someone to bounce ideas off. Do you have a mentor? If so, how does that work with you?

Arya:
It’s an interesting question. I have had different mentors for different phases and stages of the business which I think is very important. For example, when I was in Uni, I thought that founding a start-up was something that you do later in life as that was the presumption I came with. Then my classmate, Eleanor, who is a very successful entrepreneur, (she came from a hard background and built a property empire) said to me that entrepreneurship cannot be taught and the sooner you start, the better your chances of success. You have to fail fast to get up and learn fast. So, for me, she was a mentor at that time on starting out and how to hustle and what you need to do and to find the gap in the market. Then, over time, as you raise money, some of my investors have had successful businesses, then they have become mentors at different times.

Paul:
That answers my earlier question about being worried about the accolades that you get since as an entrepreneur – even the really successful ones – do have failures. Even Peter Jones is said to have gone bankrupt but quickly makes his money back. I guess it’s part of the journey?

Arya:
Yes, definitely. Things don’t always go according to your plan. The first year and a half was really difficult. Funding that was supposed to come didn’t and I had to start all over again. Sometimes you don’t meet the nicest or most honest people on your way but it is about getting up again as fast as you can and to keep running.

Paul:
It tests your belief in your idea…

Arya:
100%. You always have an easy option: you can go back in the employment pool – it’s easier to give up when it is so hard. It really tests your resilience – is this really what you want to do? Do you really believe in your idea? If yes, how much do you believe it and to what extent can you go for it? Initially as you know, to get funding I would pitch to 50-100 investors and 60% would reject the idea. Some would follow, others would say it was too early and to come back later after a year. You’re also going through that and how do you survive – how do you pay for yourself? I’ve gone through those struggles. I’ve rented my room on Air BnB and slept on the sofa! I’ve gone through it all and it really does test your resilience. It’s good in a way as it makes you think that ‘yes – this is it; I have to execute my vision!’. I think that’s what kept me going.

Paul:
From growing up, going to university and starting and running your own business, do you have any role models that have inspired you on this journey?

Arya:
So many are in books. Yesterday, I finished Jo Malone “My Story”. Amazing. She came from nothing – she did massages then made face cream in her kitchen with her husband. What an empire she built before she sold the business. It was a beautiful journey and all these books and entrepreneurs really inspire me. There is not one figure – I try to get the best from each of them or at least try to relate to them – I think like that, I need to change that. Whenever I can get my hands on an autobiography or biography of any entrepreneur that’s where my inspiration comes from.

Paul:
Most entrepreneurs by their very nature are looking ahead to the idea, the next milestone. What are your plans for FutureBricks?

Arya:
Our vision for FutureBricks is to fund as many small and medium-sized house building entrepreneurs as we can and indirectly help solve our housing crisis. That’s the dream. On the other side of the market, it is to make investing in property as accessible to everyone as possible. Our platform minimum amount is £500 and we try to democratise this process of investing in property which is seen as so inaccessible or exclusive as you need a lot of capital to begin with. All of those barriers are broken through this and we hope to keep doing it. Those really are our two missions.

Paul:
Do you have any goals for FutureBricks with regards social responsibility? For example, is urban regeneration important to you?

Arya:
Absolutely. So we actually work in a difficult sector because most of the small, medium-sized housing projects and house builders are very scattered and can be unorganised. Some of the builders are first or second timers and we run a mentorship programme for them. Going forward, because we are the financiers and have some control, we want to impose terms around our investment that say it has to be more environmentally friendly whether that’s using timber or something that’s sustainable. We’re also collecting data about how much material they are wasting and how much they are recycling, how many trees are cut down and how many are replanted. So we’re trying to impose the rules to make the housing as sustainable and environmentally friendly as we can – not just the end house but also the whole construction process – from the usage of material, to wastage and how much can be recycled as well. From the lenders’ side what we’re trying to do (apart from making money as an investor on our platform) is to be able to see the social impact of your investment. The construction industry has a lot of economic ripple effect on footprints so you can see how many jobs your investment created. The construction industry is the 2nd biggest employer in the country. As an investor on the platform – yes you are making money but your investment has such a good impact, from employment and then money has to be given back to the local authority for the development and you can see and track all of that. So we want to be both sustainable and ethical as a company.

Paul:
You mentioned earlier that Richard Branson was an entrepreneur you admired. Obviously he a bit of a serial entrepreneur. Will we see you as a serial entrepreneur in the years ahead?

Arya:
I hope so! I think it’s really fascinating that you can take something, create value it, be successful, and repeat it, not only once but multiple times. I thinks that’s why he’s so amazing. To me he’s the definition of a serial entrepreneur. I do have other interests and I hope to explore them once FutureBricks sets its own sail.

Paul:
What one piece of advice would you give to our young listeners looking to start their career or who have a business idea that they want to run with?

Arya:
I think that if you’ve found the gap in the market and if you think that you can really solve that problem better, or solve it in the first place, then go for it. I know it can be daunting and you might have a lot of doubts but I feel that especially if you are young like myself, then go for it; you have nothing to lose in this phase because later on, you might have a family and a mortgage. This is the time to experiment and the time to be brave. The third piece of advice would be to be very determined; there will be a lot of challenges and things won’t go to plan; they never go according to plan so you have to be open minded and go through it – be resilient, keep at it and never give up.

Paul:
Arya, that’s good advice. Thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with us. We wish you every continued success. Thank you.

Arya:
Thank you so much.

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