Inspiring SMB: Sarah Beeny and Tepilo

24 June 2015


In the second part of our series on Inspiring Small Business we spoke to property mogul and serial entrepreneur Sarah Beeny who founded Tepilo, an online estate agency.

“I think web businesses are fascinating,” says Beeny. “The web is a dark art to me because I am not very techy, but I think that makes me better at running a web business – if I can’t make it work then nobody can. It has to be simple and straightforward. The Tepilo site is easy to use because I need to be able to use it.”

Tepilo jumps out, she says, by changing the way estate agency is done. With Tepilo you can sell your property for a fee of less than £500, including a personal sale manager, leaving you free to focus on getting the best possible price.

“The idea just occurred to me one day when I was looking for property,” she says, “Twenty years ago, you’d go down the high street and say, ‘I am looking for X property’, and you’d give them your name and number. Today, nobody would do that. If you want a two-bed flat in Birmingham, you Google it.”

She adds: “The high street shop is totally redundant for an estate agent and they must cost a fortune to run and they’re always empty. People start their searches online so why aren’t estate agents online?”

Tepilo, she says, “is part of the dawn of a new age and it’s really exciting to be in it at the beginning. In 10 years’ time, most people will be selling their homes through an online estate agent, and people will say: ‘Gosh, do you remember the olden days when people used to spend £12,000’.”

Her wedding venue business, based at Rise Hall in East Yorkshire, which she runs with her husband Graham Swift, didn’t start as a business as such, she says. “It started as a dream, really.” They bought the property in 2000, obtained a wedding licence in 2010 and formally launched the business in 2012.

The listing process, she says, leaves buildings in this weird limbo. “Before listing, you’d just demolish a building or it would stand empty,” she says. “It’s like finding a dinosaur in the woods. Do I have it as a pet at home? What do I do with it? The most important factor with Rise was to give it a use.”

Nobody at all, she says, thought it would work as a wedding venue “and it has and that’s really exciting. And it’s created employment.” Creating employment is something Beeny is passionate about. “Do you take the money off people in wealthier parts of the country or do you get them to come and spend their money in the poorer areas? I know what I would prefer. It’s the carrot method of regeneration.

When they spend money here, they spend it on local services. We have taxis who benefit, caterers who benefit and the money is spent in East Yorkshire. That’s true regeneration.”

Plenty would say that having a media profile like Beeny’s makes setting up a business an easy ride. She’s candid about this. “Some things make it easier and some things make it harder,” she says.

“You can find the problems or you can work them to your advantage. Sometimes my media profile is really quite annoying and it would be SO much simpler if nobody knew who I was, and it’s definitely a handicap at times, but it’s also a massive benefit. So I would say it’s great. But not all the time…”

The couple are hands-on in all their businesses. But, when running multiple companies, Beeny advises: “You have to shine the headlights in one direction only. At the moment, the focus is on Tepilo, because it’s growing so fast and we have to make changes. There is a whole market change happening as the business is growing.”

One of the potential issues with Tepilo is that it’s an idea that’s easy to steal. But Beeny isn’t fazed. “There is only one way to ensure you win a race and that’s to look forwards, not backwards.

"The only way we can take out our competition is to be better, to have a more intuitive website and be better value. That’s 100pc of our focus, to ensure that everything we offer our customers is better.”

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