Skip to main content appoints Microsoft partner called Xamarin to develop property search App

  • It is now working on its mobile app with a Microsoft partner called Xamarin
  • expert full stack back and front end programmers sourced from Ukraine helped to build  platform base 
  • inhouse autonomous tech team has no departures since 2013
  • company is valued at half the market capitalisation of High street estate agent Foxtons 
  • company has selected Neustar as its DNS provider - getting some DDoS protection from the US firm 

When Purplebricks became the first British online estate agency to float on AIM (formerly the Alternative Investment Market) in December, it was valued at about £240m. It marked a remarkable rise for a company that was only founded by brothers Michael and Kenny Bruce in 2012.

In another sign of the strength of the online property sales market, Stelios Haji-Ioannou's EasyProperty gained the backing of hedge fund Toscafund in December, valuing that company at more than £100m.

According to the National Association of Realtors, about 90 per cent of Britons now search online before buying a house, and it is for this reason that had to ensure its website and platform were easy to use, with infrastructure that would last for the long term - something that was not the case in the early days.

When CIO David Kavanagh [pictured below] joined the company back in January 2013, the set-up at the firm was very different to what it is now.

"At that stage, it was really more of an idea. The two founders are not very technical, so they had an outside agency to help them with the website but it became apparent that [the agency] didn't really have the skillset to do that," Kavanagh tells Computing.

When Kavanagh joined, he said the platform was "sort of working", but when he took a deeper look he realised it wasn't fit for purpose.

"We looked to build on what we had, and myself and CEO Michael [Bruce] took a trip to Ukraine and hired a team to get us further forward, and at the same time we started recruiting for an in-house team within the UK," he says.

Kavanagh explains that the firm initially hired technical staff from Ukraine because it was increasingly tough to find good people in the UK because of the competition for IT talent.

Purplebricks hired six people in Ukraine and Kavanagh and other senior members of Purplebricks' team spent time with them and did their due diligence. He believes they did a good job of getting Purplebricks' platform where the company wanted it to be, but since September 2013, the firm has been recruiting technical staff in-house. Eric Schmidt of Google recently commented that, In house developers were  crucial in a start up success.

"We've had no staff turnover at all since we started recruiting - no one has left since we've had five in-house staff," he says.

The company now has 26 people in its IT team, and only one in Ukraine. It is still growing, looking to bring in six more IT staff in the first quarter of 2016.

The company's IT staff are predominantly developers, with many QA-focused engineers, and some DevOps specialists.

According to Kavanagh, the people within the team are "self-managing".

"They have the autonomy and latitude to make decisions. [We are looking to] ensure that the Purplebricks platform will never be a legacy platform," he says. "[The developers are] looking at new technology in their own time and in the time that we give them. 

When you have people like that, it's an easier team to manage because they can take responsibility and they aren't afraid to make mistakes."

While recruitment is a big part of Kavanagh's job, and something he has had to focus on since his arrival, his first job was to enlighten the founders on what exactly the company needed.

"I had to tell a lot of stories. I had to have very confrontational and direct conversations because when I met them, their expectations of when we could go live with the platform were wrong because of their past experiences, and they had spent a lot of money on nothing, so I was coming into a very broken environment," he says.

"Michael ran a law firm, Kenny ran estate agents, they were very successful and brilliant people," he said, adding that this brilliance did not extend to managing a software development team, which is where he came in. Once that job was done, though, he was clear to proceed.

"After explaining how the software works and addressing concerns, then came recruitment, and we've been lucky that the first recruits were keen and great people who are still here today," he adds.

Cloud first
There were many decisions to be made about the architecture, including the role that cloud would play. The company eventually decided to go cloud-first, selecting Microsoft Azure as its hosting platform.

Efficiency with scale up from MS Azure Cloud could potentially give fast scale up leverage within Europe and further afield, with economics in mind. Having already expanded nationally and more recently in Scotland also. 

"Azure is a very tolerant, resilient architecture," Kavanagh says, adding that the company needed an architecture that would enable it to interface with 27 clients who all have varying degrees of technical capability.

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"There will be some clients which are progressive and contemporary sorts of companies that do APIs and then there will be others using SFTP - so the architecture has to be one that can integrate these communications and process them, and we also wanted something that would be resilient in traffic spots when it came to our marketing campaigns and TV adverts," Kavanagh explains.

Start-ups often tend to go for a large cloud partner such as Microsoft, Google or Amazon when they launch, but sometimes feel locked into that provider further down the line - perhaps not to the same extent as companies who have relational databases and mainframes, but still to the point that they can't choose best-of-breed in cloud computing tools.

But Kavanagh believes this is just part and parcel of using cloud architecture and considers Purplebricks as technology-agnostic.

"We like to think of ourselves as agnostic and able to use different technologies. We use some Linux and other stuff but you'll always get [a certain amount of lock-in] with a cloud provider, there is always up to a point a restriction which is natural, but certainly there is some code and interfaces we can change," he says.

"We could switch our code on to any cloud platform if we decided to up sticks tomorrow," he adds.

Kavanagh states that Purplebricks didn't even look at the offerings from the likes of Oracle and IBM as "cloud was the only way" for the company, and he felt that traditional IT firms were still playing catch-up in the cloud computing space.

Deciding on technology
Despite a growing relationship with Microsoft, Purplebricks has not yet opted to go down the Office 365 route.

"We've got a combination of some Open Office and some Microsoft-licensed Office, it is something we may look to move in the future but our operations manager deals with that - I'm more focused on the platforms," he says.

The company has selected Neustar as its DNS provider - getting some DDoS protection from the US firm - and it has recently signed a deal with Dynatrace, an analytics firm that provides dashboards on user experience.

It is now working on its mobile app with a Microsoft partner called Xamarin.

Things to come  smart phone apps and wearable smart watch apps Apple Iphone Android and MS compatibility.Xamarin  allows Creation of native iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac apps in C#.

"Our in-house team with C# skills is using their technology to produce an app across platforms which is coming out this year," Kavanagh says.

Now that the company is valued at half the market capitalisation of high street estate agent Foxtons, there will be more attention on its platforms, apps and website than ever before. It's up to Kavanagh and his team to ensure that they're up to scratch.

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