StartIn: Welcome on our Spotlight series! Can you please give us a quick introduction about yourself and your team, please?
Andrea: Hi Marc! Great to be here on Spotlight! My name is Andrea, I’m headquartered in London although I was born and raised in Bergamo, Italy. My background is in Theoretical Physics (Imperial College London, 2012). Together with Konrad Rotthege, I’m the co-founder of conveyo, the automation platform for residential real estate transactions.
Konrad (LSE, 2006) is an M&A and property lawyer with over a decade of experience at magic circle law firms such as Freshfields. He is the legal expert behind our service and brings a wealth of business and corporate finance expertise. Last May, we welcomed Grace Chen (King’s College, 2023), a talented marketer with a track record at global brands such as Porsche and Shopee.
As the technologist on the team, I’m responsible for bridging the gap between real and ideal. I define and implement the product’s vision, strategy, and roadmap, manage our development team ad interim, and write the algos that power our platform. As a co-founder, my daily chores also involve pitching, comms, stakeholder management, sales, client care, finance, accounting… Welcome to startup life!
Before conveyo, my career focussed on data and analytics applied to financial markets. I spent the last decade working in algorithmic trading on the trading floors of BAML and UBS, creating financial instruments, developing the infrastructure and algorithms for trading them, and dealing with senior stakeholders and hedge fund managers.
Konrad and I met at startup accelerator Antler in Summer 2022. Both of us had been investigating problems in real estate. When algo met legal, we knew it was a match made in heaven.
StartIn: Could you share a quick overview of your start-up? Your product, your market / target group, and in which stage are you currently in (MVP, funding, scaling, etc.)?
Andrea: In a nutshell: the property market is a hot mess.
It’s plagued with a chronic undersupply of quality housing, which has made prices skyrocket in major cities worldwide. It’s hard to access, with crippling 30+ year mortgages becoming the only path to homeownership for most. And, it’s terribly inefficient. The process of buying and selling property is slow, complex and disjointed. This is because the different real estate verticals (agents, lawyers, assessors, lenders, etc) each have their own priorities and conflicts of interests, and no central direction. It’s like an orchestra without a conductor. Or a car with five steering wheels!
Conveyo tackles this last problem.
Our product is an automation platform for property transactions. Think of it as an end-to-end digital concierge: whether you’re buying or selling, just add your property to the platform and it will take care of everything, such as routing your sale to the best agents or jumpstarting legal work.
Our AI immediately starts making the property legally ready for exchange; so by the time a buyer is found, the asset is ready to be transferred. This ensures that agents, lawyers, sellers and buyers each get to do their part without unnecessary friction or delays. Contrast this to the current process, where legal work only starts once a buyer is found.
We went live with our MVP in January and have focussed on building a strong record of traction since, through a mix of collaborations with independent agents and consumers who’ve come to us directly.
The results so far are exciting. Transactions going through the conveyo platform exchange in 4 to 6 weeks, against a market average of 12 to 16. And this is just the beginning!
We’re about to launch our seed round, which will secure funds to expand the capabilities of our AI and integrate even more real estate verticals, such as mortgages, into our platform.
StartIn: Cool! You have also been part of Antler’s incubator. What does a typical day on the incubator look like and what were the top three things you got from there?
Andrea: It truly was a rollercoaster! The programme lasts ten weeks and it’s roughly divided into two chapters. The first two weeks are a non-stop series of group activities, classes and challenges. The aim is to get to know to a meaningful degree as many participants as possible, as quickly as possible, and shortlist potential co-founders. It’s also about figuring out where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
After this intense networking phase, teams are allowed to “track out” and move to the ideation and iteration stage. You keep working on a business idea with your cofounders and put it back to your coach and other VCs, pitching once a week to the board, until you either go back to square one or your proposal is admitted to the final investment committee. On average, only five teams per cohort receive funding.
My main takeaway was that there IS such a thing as a repeatable formula to successful business ideas. Other precious learnings were:
- Ideas are cheap; it truly is all about execution (and luck and timing). Be outspoken. Forget NDAs.
- Big, bold visions are great for storytelling but don’t serve you well in the short term. Forget the big tuna. Fish in the bay. Look for prospects whose hair is on fire – people for whom the cost of doing nothing is higher than the cost of using a sketchy MVP from an unknown startup. All it takes is one.
- People buy solutions, not products. Focus on solving your problem manually first, no matter how inadequate and incompetent that might make you feel. Offer a service. Turn that into a case study. Then, go build yourself the tech to automate and scale.
StartIn: You also received investment on the incubator. For other students who are at a similar stage, how do you prepare an investment round and you have some special Do’s and Don’ts?
Andrea: Disclaimer: I can only talk about early-stage investment, but happy to share!
- Find your 10x. Remember that VCs are money managers who expect power-law returns. They typically look for a “10x” factor somewhere in your product (e.g. a 10x improvement on speed, savings, sales, return on investment, etc). Before you even set out looking to raise VC money, be very clear about whether your idea is a “10x”.
- Get your story right. Numbers aside, the single biggest decision factor in early-stage investments is the credibility and strength of the founding team. Externally, VCs want industry peers, the media and other investors to look at you and feel like you immediately make sense. Think complementary skillsets, relevant subject expertise and an interesting origin story. Internally, they need to make sure that you can execute and stick together no matter what. Put your team slide at the very start of your deck.
- Be persistent. To the point of being rude. Most of us are not natural salespeople; we’ve been conditioned ‘not to be a bother’ and to take silence as ‘I’m not interested’. When you run a startup, that’s the first thing that has to go. People are busy, and you aren’t special. As you reach out to VCs, expect unanswered emails and chasers. Learn to send 5-6 emails before moving on. It’s not a ‘No’ until you hear it.
- Don’t get fixated on VC funding. In this climate of caution, early-stage funding rounds can take 6-18 months to close. Scarcity is value, and VCs are more likely to give you unfavourable terms. It’s more important than ever that you raise less, build more and pursue a hybrid fundraising strategy: VCs, angels, grants, family, friends and fools. Be a camel, not a unicorn.
- Don’t focus on revenue. Traction is key. It’s hard to find the right price point for your product early on and to get the size of your obtainable market right. Instead, focus on showing that your solution is in demand, even if all you have is a concept or you’re barely breaking even. Traction comes in a variety of forms: waiting lists, social media followers, free trial signups, letters of intent, etc. Show traction and the rest will follow.
- Don’t let the wrong investors in. Learn to say ‘No’ – even when you’d really like to say ‘Yes’. If a VC doesn’t feel right, if they don’t respect you, your product, your team, or if they make absurd requirements – don’t do it. Remember: once they own a share of your business, there is no going back.
StartIn: You worked in banking before and wanted to leave for a new adventure. Was there any day you regretted leaving the corporate world and is there perhaps something you miss?
Andrea: I miss a stable paycheck! And something that resembles a routine. And holidays!
But I know it’s a passing phase. Crossing the “Valley of Death” – as the pre-revenue period of a startup’s life is known – is a messy, gruelling experience. I surround myself with family and friends, and have an awesome co-founder who is incredibly supportive.
Renouncing the comfort and stability of banking to embrace uncertainty was hard – but that’s also why so many never take the leap. It took me the best part of five years to prepare mentally and financially. It was a battle of the self. By the time I took the plunge, my path was crystal clear. There was curiosity, excitement, and a little bit of apprehension. But no regrets.
That’s at a rational level. At an emotional level, some days are harder than others. Founder burnout is a real thing. You have to become extremely proficient at knowing yourself, at dealing with discomfort, and at knowing exactly how far to push and for how long.
Sometimes I miss the guardrails of corporate life, and the comfort of someone else dictating the pace. But I know I don’t really mean it.
I’ve never been this fulfilled – personally and professionally.
StartIn: For the end we like to ask what advice would you share with students who are unsure whether to start a start-up right after their studies or to gain work experience in the corporate world first?
Andrea: Everyone’s journey is different, so it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all kind of answer. Broadly speaking, your decision boils down to 3 factors: your financial situation, your appetite for risk, and your lifestyle preferences.
Can you survive on little-to-no income for 6, 12, 18 months? Can you take a mental and physical rollercoaster ride that’s going to bring afloat all your self-doubt and unresolved trauma? Are you willing to forsake partners, family, holidays, for…well…as long as it takes? Even if your venture doesn’t work out?
The answers to these questions can change over time.
When I graduated, I couldn’t have been further from being an entrepreneur. I thought the key to success was being ‘smart’: minimising risks and unknowns. My primary concerns were recognition and financial security. That’s why I got into banking: I wanted to pursue a lifestyle career of intellectual challenges, hard work and big rewards.
Ten years later, things couldn’t be more different.
As time went by, I felt an increasing sense of unease at my career constantly depending on other people’s decisions. I wanted clients to be the only judge. I wanted agency: the freedom to create (boldly), make mistakes – and own the rewards.
The corporate world doesn’t work like that. It was a rude awakening. The silver lining? I had been a covert entrepreneur all along. I had just convinced myself that I wasn’t, after accidentally going through the wrong life experiences during my formative years.
If creativity and agency are priorities for you, don’t go down the corporate route. BUT – if you can stomach it for a while, if your priorities are financial safety and career stability, or if you just like the idea of following a tried-and-true path – then go for it! It’s an incredibly valuable experience. You get the chance to learn a trade from global heavyweights in a short span. It also provides an environment to test your stress tolerance. And – some of the best startup ideas are found in the cracks of the mainstream: opportunities that large corporations are too busy to capitalise on. Use this time to work on yourself, build your treasure chest and prepare your departure.
It takes time to find out who you are. Be patient. Get bored. And always (always) walk confidently in the direction of your fears.
StartIn: Thank you for sharing your story!
Share your personal LinkedIn link: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreasolza/
Share your company LinkedIn link: https://www.linkedin.com/company/conveyo-uk/
Share your company Instagram handle: conveyo.io
Share your company TikTok handle: n/a
Share your company webpage: www.conveyo.io
Share any other links (app store etc.): n/a
Are you currently hiring / looking for investors?: Yes! We’re about to open our seed round. We can’t offer full-time positions yet, but we’re always happy to have a chat about internships and future hires.