Danny Gray is co-founder of Zump, together with his brother, Jamie Gray.
As an ex-professional rugby player and property developer, Danny is no stranger to a hard and tough working environment and his day-to-day role at Zump is no less rigorous. His 15-year background in property brings the depth of knowledge and understanding of the processes and challenges needed to shake up the housing market with a new and innovative brand.
Danny’s property career began during his time as a professional rugby player for Bristol Bears and continued as he moved around the UK playing for different teams including Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs, spanning a 12-year rugby career. In each city, he was keen to make the place his home and bought properties to develop and refurbish, resulting in a considerable portfolio across the UK of over 118 luxury student units across 32,000 sq ft of buildings in prime city center locations.
In his time moving from city to city, Danny encountered the same issue of spending days searching for properties on Rightmove and not finding what he wanted. When selling a property, he reluctantly picked up the phone to estate agents to start the complicated selling process.
Continuously frustrated with the poor and antiquated service of traditional estate agents, Danny and Jamie decided to launch Bristol-based NEXA Properties in 2019, which offers an alternative to a typical estate agent by providing clients with a local industry professional to act as their dedicated account manager who will be their single point of contact. This means they only ever deal with one agent and receive a seamless and transparent solution. Nexa rewards client account managers with a highly incentivized commission-based structure which is vastly more rewarding than the average UK real estate agency structure and is based on achieving the best results for their clients.
Two years later, and the brothers are now launching Zump, the off-market property app for anyone who wants to be more in control of buying or selling their property. It aims to tackle the supply end of the market and connect more people with the homes they want. Launching initially in Bristol, they want to open up the UK housing market to make moving cheaper and easier so more people can find their dream home in the locations they really want to live.
When he has any spare time, Danny can be found running around after his young family. He’s also keen on staying fit and completed a 100k run with his brother last year. He balances that out by checking out the many new restaurants in Bristol and satisfying his love of food.
Where did the idea for Zump come from?
The idea for Zump came from one of the Zump founders. He was a property developer who had spent a lot of time knocking on doors and posting letters of interest through people’s letterboxes. He could never find what he wanted on websites or through real estate agents. His idea was having a map, choosing the properties that interest you, and using a real estate agent to approach them on your behalf. Maybe they would drop off a letter or maybe they would call or email them if they were on their books.
We felt the idea needed work but the heart of the concept really resonated. So, my brother and I spent a few months thinking deeply into the problem we were trying to solve. We worked hard on the concept, testing it from different sides and out of that process came a solution which we all felt really excited about. It really resonated with me because I’d been so frustrated with real estate buying and selling. I had spoken to so many people who had the exact same frustrations as me and so I thought, if we could find a way to solve my problem then hopefully we would be solving a lot of other people’s problem too.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
It depends on the day of the week. I spend Sunday night preparing for the week ahead and the week starts with a bang on Monday mornings. I’m up early at 6am getting myself prepared and ready for the day and helping to get the kids ready for school! I’ll then sit down at 8am and get started ready for our weekly sales and marketing reporting at 9am. 10am is our weekly development planning or retrospective meeting. We work in two-week sprints, so we spend one Monday planning all of the technical tickets for the next sprint. The following Monday is spent reviewing the work done, working out what’s still left to be done, what needs to be brought forward, and what suggestions the any team members may want to bring forward which will help improve our work flows and environment.
I like to keep my diary free as possible and I try to keep meetings down to an absolute minimum. This allows me to focus on what’s in front of me and think about what’s around the corner. I have a list of things that need to be done each day which are plugged into Trello as I go and each evening during my planning for the next day. As a team we use Trello, Notion and Slack to manage our work and these are great tools to stay productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I feel like the sparks of an idea can come from anywhere at any time. When I feel a spark I really try to get it down as quickly as I can, usually using my phone to make notes. To take ideas to the next stage I just like to spend some time thinking deeply about them. I find going on a long run gives me the best mental space to do this, so if I feel there’s something in the user journey or the product or the business model that doesn’t feel right, then I’ll go for a run to mull the problem over and find a solution.
I also research a lot if I have a problem I don’t have experience with. I’ll investigate how other companies have solved the issue or what they have done in similar circumstances. What journey did they go on?
There are a few go-to companies that I admire and use as a first point of reference, including AirBnb. Their design is so strong and the way they disrupted the hotel and leisure market is really interesting. Success leaves clues and there are plenty of clues left in the wake of companies like AirBnB. We can take from their journey, understand what worked and didn’t work for them, what lessons they learned on the way.
When I need to visualize an idea I run through it in my head over and over again and create a wireframe mixed with visual design details and a brief for our designer to bring it to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Remote and hybrid working are exciting. I like where I live but I know that no one else wants to live here. I don’t want to move where other people live or move to London to be successful. I believe people are most productive and do their best work in the environment they feel most comfortable in. Forcing somebody to constantly come out of that environment is not necessarily the right thing to do. It also means we can attract talent from all around the world, like, three of our developers are in Slovenia. And they’re great. They wouldn’t move over here and we wouldn’t move over there.
I’m really interested to see how it’s gonna pan out, people do not want to go back to the office full time. But one thing that’s really important with this trend is culture. It needs to be super strong and you have to have great systems and processes in place to keep things on track. Obviously having a team of A players helps!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Probably my most annoying habit is I just can’t let anything go. Ever. I just can’t stop and rest until there is either a resolution or a solution to the issue that is annoying me.
I will work on the problem until it’s resolved. I think being able to focus like this means that things keep driving forward and I don’t let things derail me for long.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Let yourself make mistakes. You learn so much from each mistake made and by definition a start up puts you in an environment which is completely new and unfamiliar. You have to be willing to try things, to fail and to learn quickly.
No one wants to, or actively seeks to make mistakes, but when I played rugby, I know that I would have benefited from thinking more like this. Taking every mistake as an earth crumbling disaster inevitably ends up with a person being so scared of making them that they don’t even try. By far the best lessons I’ve learnt have come from my mistakes not my successes. So, I now try to have a bit more perspective and appreciate the lessons learned rather than worrying about the mistakes made.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Not enough focus is given to psychology in professional sport. When I played professional rugby I was always surprised at how much focus was spent on the physical attributes and so little time was spent on mental focus and strength. In my opinion, rugby is often more mental than physical but we only ever really spent time on the physical.\
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I constantly reevaluate all of our work here at Zump. I think it comes from my time as a professional sportsman, where our games were evaluated on the Monday morning with the whole team and managers. Every move and action was considered and analyzed and a small mistake suddenly becomes a large one in that environment.
I take this reevaluation and apply it to what we do to ensure we’re being successful. Is there another way we can do something? Is our way working? Why not? How can we be better? The aim is to create the best possible environment for a team to consistently produce their best performance. Everything we do is to strive towards giving our users the best product and experience we can.
We work in two-week sprints and we have a constant loop of progression. Obviously you have longer term goals are things that you don’t get done in a two-week period but because we reevaluate everything, it also means that we’re doing a retrospective every single week of where we are at that point in time. And then the following week is our planning for the next two weeks and then retrospective event planning and it builds this momentum. It’s good for the team because they feel like they’re always moving forwards and achieving.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Our business structure has massively helped us grow our business. We have kept the team lean and small deliberately to ensure we stay agile and can respond quickly as things come up. Each person in the team is very knowledgeable about what they do, much more knowledgeable than me, and that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room, that’s not going to make you successful.
In our team, everyone is focused on their tasks, not helping others with their tasks and wasting time. Everyone’s an expert. We’ve surrounded ourselves with really good people who are driven to succeed and high performance by nature.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I first experienced failure as an entrepreneur when I underestimated the costs for a particular development project we were doing. We had also overpaid for the land. It was okay in the end but it was one of those things where it was easy to get excited about the end result without considering the process of getting there.
As a real estate developer, if you’re obsessed with the outcome and you forget the process you can get yourself in a mess. A spreadsheet of figures can look any way you want it to, so it’s easy to get excited about the numbers. There’s a huge journey that you have to go on to get to that outcome. So, if you underestimate the process, you’ll never get the outcome you want.
Knowing that, we properly assess things to understand our situation in relation to the end result. Then again, as an entrepreneur, you have to go in blind sometimes, you can’t always know what you’re doing, and you have to be happy with risk. By surrounding yourself with good people and feeding yourself with good knowledge you can reduce the possibility of failure, but it’s never guaranteed.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t know if this has been developed already but I’d really like it to happen. Every month or so, I take my car to the carwash and wait for ages for a spot when my car can be cleaned. I have to drop it off and wander around the supermarket for 50 minutes. There has to be another way to organise this. It would be great if I could just quickly book a time and place that suited me and for someone to turn up, give the car a clean and it’s done before I even know it. I’d double the number of times I get my car cleaned!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A pair of Nike Pegasus when I was in Dubai. I’ve always had bad plantar fasciitis and on this holiday I was wearing flip flops everywhere. I was in so much pain one day that I went to a Nike shop, found these trainers and bought them. Within two days, I was happy and the pain had gone. I always wear these trainers now.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Notion. We use it to manage our work and production and couldn’t work without it now.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Matt Ridley’s How Innovation Works is very good. It’s very insightful for entrepreneurs who are looking to innovate and create something which does actually change the course of an industry. I think back to where I was a year ago as a founder of a startup now and my knowledge and understanding has progressed so much.
What is your favorite quote?
Success leaves clues. This is something I feel I’ve always done well since I was a kid. I always used to just watch the best rugby players on TV, at trials or in other teams. I used to watch, listen and learn and be in a constant loop of improvement. It’s pretty easy in sport to find those top people and learn from them but it took me a while after retiring to find where the next set of external mentors would come from. Eventually you find them, whether on YouTube, podcasts or if you’re lucky or proactive enough you’ll meet some in real life.
- Why you should make mistakes to become more successful and knowledgeable.
- Use the current trend of remote and hybrid working to create more success for your business.
- Why reevaluation of everything you do should be at the heart of your work.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.