Coffee with the Cohort: in conversation with Hugo Gervais, CEO of Urbest
Where do people get their best ideas? The classroom, in the shower, on the train, or in the pub? In the case of Hugo, it was the latter.
His best idea? Urbest.
A property management app where everyone involved in the process can login and add updates, streamlining and improving the service and management of buildings, Urbest opens up a world of possibilities that could hugely improve the daily lives of people everywhere.
I was keen to speak to Hugo to get to the bottom of how he and his co-founder built a successful company from some scribbles on a napkin…
What’s the story behind Urbest?
I co-founded Urbest with a friend.
So way back, in June 2016, we were drawing mock-ups on napkins in a pub in London. We left at the end of the evening & my friend took them with him. Less than 3 weeks later he called to say he’s built a prototype of our plans!
We’d known each other for about 5 years, and we were both keen on new technologies and innovation, and we drew inspiration from many things that were happening around us in the tech world.
There was a British platform, called “Fix my street” which was such a simple but great concept — an easy to use platform that collected anyone’s needs and matched them with local authorities who could solve their problems.
We thought we could do something similar with outdoor problems, like potholes, traffic lights, vegetation but we struggled as local authorities didn’t want to necessarily share their ratings with the public so transparently — they weren’t keen to be subject to that kind of scrutiny.
In meantime, we started talking about the concept with someone from Engie, who really liked it, but wanted it to be adapted for buildings, plumbing problems and things like that.
It was at this stage that Urbest pivoted to a 2nd facet of building management, covering every aspect. At the time, there was no proper, easy interface for B2B in the way that Uber and Whatsapp had created for direct consumers — we saw an opportunity
When the iPhone was first released in 2007, there were lots of new opportunities to do things directly from a phone — before everything was just on a desktop. This meant that lots of platforms were simply legacy improvements, and we thought we could develop something to fill the hole in the new market that had been created.
What have been the highlights that really stand out for you and Urbest?
I can’t say that there’s been one huge highlight. For me, the highlights are more in the form of the small victories which led to us being known & recognised, like moments when we’ve signed with major clients — so for example when we started working with the Normandy region which is now one of our flagship clients.
Another highlight is all the positive user feedback we receive. It’s great to feel like we’re making a difference through simplicity, which brings an improvement to people’s working day.
What’s next for Urbest?
Obviously expanding internationally. We already see ourselves as an international start-up though. We’re an international team, we have people from 7 different nationalities in our team of 13, we work in English and approach business with an international mindset.
So that being said, I suppose what’s next for us is to become, internationally, the leading platform for collaborative job tracking in building and facility management.
We want Urbest to push collaboration and simplicity to the next level, and become the go-to tool for property management.
How are you finding the Impact programme so far?
Really positive. We’ve already had results and activity from Impact! We’ve partnered with 2 of the mentors out of the 10-or-so that we spoke to during the Learn and Dive module, and we’re in further discussions with 2 other mentors. We have about 10 meetings lined up, so already seeing some really worthwhile results.
We’re keen to see the next wave of business development meetings. So far, the programme has covered a lot of market strategy, and has selected appropriate partners with the right skills to help us with our UK growth.
What piece of advice would you give a founder now that you wish you knew when you started Urbest?
My advice would be to be more selective about the people you approach. Talking to people who need Urbest as much as we need them is a must-have to build strong and growing business relationships.
How do you see the property and real estate landscape changing as a result of COVID-19?
It’s going to be interesting. I think it will certainly accelerate the way people use platforms and tech in general, especially as people are now much more used to being able to communicate remotely. I think we’ll see people and companies cutting down on gatherings and meetings, for example.
On the residential side, things shouldn’t change too much. From an education perspective, there’s a certain tension around it, around safety for kids, and so I think they’ll need to make investments to reassure people and make learning environments as safe as possible.
Generally, I think we’ll see a reconsideration of people collaboration: an acceleration of working from home and a change to the way in which people use the office. I think we’ll get to a point where people go into the office for a particular use — and so there’ll be a new need to differentiate and improve offices to make them more attractive than alternative remote working options, such as cafes, pubs, restaurants or simply the home.
Where do you see yourselves this time next year?
In Paris or London, signing some big contracts!
I hope that by this time next year, we will have developed the partnerships, network and contacts initiated with Impact UK and our partners. I’d like to see the dedicated UK team at Urbest grow alongside our business development and operations.
We will most likely set-up an office in the UK to be as close as possible to our British users. It will also be a good place to help Urbest develop internationally.