We sat down with Robert Hoban, CEO & founder of Offr, to talk about the journey to date and plans for the future of the business.
How did you come up with the idea for the business?
The idea actually first came about in the real estate industry. As a former real estate broker in Dublin, I founded Offr to create a fast and transparent way for traditional brokers to accept offers and trade properties for their clients. The property sales process is extremely slow and opaque, and very analogue.
One of my investors, Mark Whittaker, is a keen boating enthusiast and recognised the similarities between the two industries. As a regular client of marine brokers, he always found the process very antiquated. In conjunction with a seasoned yacht broker, Jon Ford, we developed a powerful version of Offr dedicated to the marine transaction, and brokers have now successfully managed the sale of several yachts through a fast, smooth, online process.
Why does the industry need the solution you're providing?
The marine industry has been operating with little change to the sale and charter process for a long time. Technology has had a positive impact on peripheral services such as virtual tours and marketing websites, but the actual transaction itself is still very analogue and inefficient for both the broker and the client.
Endless phone calls, texts and emails are needed to manage offers, chase clients and progress sales to contract and completion. The buyers and sellers don't have 24/7 access to an app-style experience as they do in other financial transactions such as online banking, mortgage, insurance, etc.
What have you enjoyed most about starting your own company?
Having always worked as a salaried employee, I enjoy the freedom to manage my own hours and be able to travel when necessary to explore new markets for the business. I also have enjoyed building a small team of great colleagues who all chip in together when problems, big and small, pop up - as they always do in a startup. It has been a huge learning curve for me, too, when it comes to fundraising, creative marketing and, above all, disrupting the old way of doing things!
What challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning of your journey?
The biggest challenge for us, in both boating and real estate, is the time it takes for very traditional, old school industries to adopt and embrace change. In transaction markets where clients are managed by professionals (e.g. boating, real estate, law, mortgage, insurance), brokers are instinctively resistant to technology for fear of it undermining the service they provide.
But over time, the right technologies become true enablers for professionals to provide a first class digital experience to their clients. Tomorrow's clients will demand access to more and more services online, on their phone, in their own time.
Any bits of advice for entrepreneurs getting started in this space?
Don't be afraid to engage early and often with your target customers, when designing, building and testing the product. Particularly in B2B models, it takes time for businesses to try new things and to come on board, so the sooner you start those conversations, the quicker you will get to the end goal.
Some founders are overly protective of their IP and do not engage with the market early on for fear of others stealing their ideas. I have learned that other people are far more focused on dealing with their own problems and the only time others will try to copy you is when you are successful and well established. So, first mover advantage is better.
What's the plan for the future of the business? Where do you see the company in 3-5 years?
The key milestones for us include expanding the business into additional key markets. We are live in the US, UK, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa. Canada and the Middle East are of interest to us. We are also driving for critical adoption by the industry within these markets, so it is very important that new companies using Offr are doing so across their entire inventory, which is when the broker, and their clients, get maximum benefit.