Alex Depledge MBE
Entrepreneurship coming from necessity
Alex Depledge’s venture into entrepreneurship came from necessity.
Alex Depledge is the founder and CEO of Resi, an online architectural platform. She has already built and sold Hassle.com, now known as Helpling. In 2016 she was awarded an MBE for services to the sharing economy. She talks to Smith & Williamson about her experiences.
Alex Depledge’s venture into entrepreneurship came from necessity. After many years working long hours as a management consultant, she needed a way to make her work life fit with her family life. “I asked myself how I would gain the ability to do both. I realised that I needed to be able to control my time and the best way to do that was by running a business.”
She had an idea and a business partner, Jules Coleman. The pair had worked together on a consultancy assignment and Alex admits that they may never have found each other had they not been forced together. They were polar opposites, but it turned out to be the perfect balance when building their company.
“She is not extraverted at all. I’m the opposite and she admits that I terrified her. We’d never have got talking in normal circumstances, but this felt like fate.”
They quit their jobs and launched Hassle.com, a domestic cleaning services platform and company. Alex says they “flailed” around for 12 months: “we had a lot of technology, but no customers”. Eventually, they started to use data better. “We realised that one in four people were looking for cleaners and we didn’t have any cleaners. We threw away all the work we’d done in the previous two years, rebuilt the site and from there we doubled our bookings every single month. It was phenomenally successful.”
They took it into Ireland, into Germany and into France. They won backing from venture capital groups. They were ultimately bought by a German company Helpling for $37 million in 2015.
In terms of the work/life balance she’d been hoping for, it was – just about – a success: “Certainly I could craft my day to spend more time with my children. But did I work less? Definitely not.”
Alex was keen to prove her first business hadn’t been a one-off. Feeling that Hassle.com had been over a little too quickly, she looked around for other opportunities. Her next idea came from a home renovation project: “It was such a manual process. It was all about spreadsheets and visits to offices. No-one trusted anyone. There was a definite gap in the market for digital technology. We decided to play around with it and developed a prototype.”
It helped homeowners develop home renovation projects, looking at what was possible, including what would need planning permission. Whereas architects would charge a percentage of the end build for the service, Resi.co.uk could provide a similar service for a few hundred pounds.
“People were asking us to take it one step further – could it help them with the design, for example, or to get planning permission? Now we don’t just design, but also help with the planning. We can even help finance it through connections with second charge and remortgage providers.” People often use it when they are buying or selling to experiment with ideas in a way that isn’t possible with a traditional architect model.
It hasn’t all been plain-sailing. In particular, the past year has been one to remember. “I’ve been through tough times, but they’re usually of your own making. Emotionally, this has been very different and has felt quite bleak.”
She believes her and Jules still have much to achieve with Resi.co.uk. She wants to build it into a household name: “Something where I can sit back and think ‘I created that!’”. However, she’s also pretty sure it will be her last business. Entrepreneurship requires a lot of energy.
The secret to her success? “A massive part of it is luck and timing. There have been lots of great ideas that were just too early. Napster, for example. Equally, you can be too late and miss the boat. On the whole, we’ve had impeccable timing. With Resi.co.uk, I really couldn’t believe there was an industry that was so untouched.”
She was lucky with her partner too. “We have a common set of share beliefs. We are different sides of the same coin and we get on very well. She has no aspirations to be CEO and I have no aspirations to be CTO. It means we’re never the only women in the room and we laugh a lot. That has given us real resilience. Even in the darkest moments, we’ve found something funny. That’s been very important.”
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