Sarah Beeny, 40, is a property developer, TV presenter and internet entrepreneur. Her series include Property Ladder, Village SOS and Restoration Nightmare, which followed her and business partner husband, Graham Swift, as they converted their Yorkshire property, Rise Hall, into a going concern as a wedding venue. In 2007, she launched an online dating site, mysinglefriend.com, and, in 2009, the online property site, tepilo.com.
business:life: Why did you feel there was demand for another property site?
Sarah Beeny: It seems absolutely mad that people go online direct to find property, but that owners who want their property to be seen have to give it to an estate agent who, in turn, often has to pay thousands of pounds a year to place listings on one of the bigger property sites. It's a weird monopoly that costs the homeowner a lot of money. So we launched Tepilo as a way of buying, selling and letting property direct, without charges and commission. In the USA, 40 per cent of properties are sold this way and it seems bizarre that in the UK that figure's only 1-2 per cent. The rest of us are paying on average £10-12,000 agency fees. The internet is changing everything, breaking down barriers, letting people explain things in words we understand. We had half a million questions in the first 18 months from people looking for anything from mortgage brokers to paint suppliers, so we've added a directory of property services, and that's going really well.
bl: Is your main interest property or fixing things?
SB: All of our businesses are about common sense. I am quite logical and don't understand why, particularly if you are busy like me, married with four children and lots of stuff going on, you're unable to take the quickest, easiest route. I need everything to be easy, quick, simple, good value and straightforward. Our businesses are born out of the irritation that things aren't like that already.
bl: Hence what might seem a surprise move, launching a dating site?
SB: I had a friend I was trying to fix up and I'd tried introducing her to all my single friends and, frankly, it hadn't gone very well. I thought if I was single how would I go about meeting people? There was a stigma about dating sites. It's embarrassing describing yourself for a job, let alone for a date. It's not very British. So I created one that was a good laugh and let busybodies like me put their single friends forward. It's got over a million users. There have been lots of success stories, and we're about to launch in Ireland.
bl: You build businesses. Do you ever sell them?
SB: Rise, our wedding venue, is getting lots of bookings and is near the point where we'll be able to let it go. We started the restoration of
Rise Hall in 2000 when we were really young and hadn't thought it through. When we had the kids we realised we were never going to live there full time. We did the sums and decided on a wedding venue business. I knew that if I could present the house with an income, this would guarantee
that it could be kept in a good state of repair.
I was lucky I could make a TV show about it.
Now someone could live there and have an income of £150,000 a year, enough to maintain it. It's been an amazing adventure but part of the fun is growing a business and letting it go.
bl: What are your business strengths?
SB: I'm fundamentally a start-up person. I find
it really exciting watching an idea fly where there's a hole in the market. The things that I loathe most are legislation, health and safety, red tape and form-fillers, who are responsible
for holding back economic growth. There's a view that if you have enough people in enough departments with enough forms you can create a risk-free environment. You can't. That's when we have to bring someone else in because I don't have the patience. I'm in business with my husband and my brother, and then there are different business partners in each of the different areas, but I don't have an office and a 'head of ideas'. We're a network rather than a team. It's quite loose. There have been masses of failures along the way but from those mistakes I've learnt what I'm good at, and what I'm not good at, and to find people who are strong in the areas I'm weak in. My brother is practical and capable, my husband is an architectural detail man, while I'm a bit hasty and impulsive. I'm not a manager by nature but I have a brilliant PA. I've got online businesses but, to be honest, I'm an IT moron and not techy in any way. I'm lucky in that I'm surrounded by people who are. Everyone has their role. It's a weirdly positive working environment.
bl: How do you balance work and family life?
SB: I dream of getting rid of the phone and computer and only making appointments by letter. Compartmentalising family and work is a constant mission in life. I think that I would like to pick up the kids and drop them off, bake cakes and plant potatoes, but I wouldn't. I'm too driven. When I was younger it was because I wanted
to prove that I could succeed, but I've been really lucky and success is addictive. I've had opportunities open to me, I happen to have taken them and they happen to have worked. Now I say yes to everything because the idea of missing an opportunity is unbearable. Not just in work — in life, which is probably why I've got four children. My mother died young, when I was ten, and that's partly why I believe you've got
to make the most out of life.
bl: Aside from never turn down an opportunity, what other words of wisdom guide you?
SB: Someone told me positive things happen
to positive people and it's true, it works. Sorry.
My husband finds positive people really irritating, and I apologise because it's terribly un-British, but I am quite a positive person.
bl: What's next?
SB: I'm doing a property series that comes out in September on Channel 4 looking at how to get more house for your money. My plan is to do less, but there are so many interesting things out there. I'd love to do a chat show, set up a chain of campsites and a petting zoo. I'm working on a children's book, and I'd like to write more. I was once asked what I did in my spare time, whether I went to spas. I thought, spas? You must be off your rocker. A long bath's a luxury, and even then I've usually got a child in there with me.
Interview by Sorrel Downer.
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