An innovative online platform helping homeowners of new build homes launches successfully in South Wales.

Frustrated after discovering significant snagging issues in her new build home, Nichola Venables launched New Build Database, providing a national database of homeowner issues. She started the business thanks to support from the Welsh Government’s Business Wales service and is now receiving further advice on growing the venture.

  • Successfully started in October 2020
  • 1 job created
  • Start-up and Relationship Management support with setting up and strategic planning
  • Commitment to the Business Wales Green Growth and Equality Pledges to deliver a sustainable, inclusive and accessible service

Introduction to business

Started by Nichola Venables in South Wales, the New Build Database (NBDB) is a national database of homeowner issues, allowing clients to access a single national record of new build home issues, residential fire safety, leasehold, freehold and customer service issues, as well as a new DIY snagging service, a free snagging report and a public benchmark of residential construction developers.

The business provides a logging platform in a consistent format to support new homeowners in their initial post-sale interactions with their developer, facilitating a transparent developer benchmark.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

I bought a new build home in November 2015 with my husband Andrew and we moved in when I was eight and a half months pregnant with our first child. The sales process was quite bumpy and we refused to sign contracts until we were happy the developer would address major issues we had raised previously.

It took several months and the CEO’s involvement for these to be resolved, and even so, when we moved in, we still had over 50 active issues that needed sorting out. It was one of the most stressful times of my life and I just felt 'there must be a better way'. I wasn't the only person – it felt like everyone I spoke to either had their own story to tell or knew someone who did.

Fast forward to 2019 and another baby later, I saw some of the media coverage about missing cavity barriers in new build homes, built by my developer. They never made contact to inform me that this was an issue and at the time were insistent that this was limited to the South West of the UK, so I immediately called and requested a Fire Safety inspection.

A few weeks later, two men arrived and spent about 10-15 minutes in the attic, just to tell me there was no issue. I did not feel confident in their estimation but the Developer insisted their inspectors were 'competent tradespeople'.

Over the following months, I battled to get an independent inspection but was turned down. I went on to make a programme with Wales This Week and ITV News about the issues; it was only at this point that my Developer put a Managing Director in touch with me. He offered me an independent inspection, but I politely said I could not accept without them agreeing to do this for everyone on my development. By the end of the call, he agreed to independent inspections for all 177 homes. It turned out my house was missing cavity barriers in both the attic and around the electrical boxes – and another 32 homeowners on the development had similar findings: an error that meant our homes did not meet building regulations.

Whilst I battled on my own behalf and for those in my development, I also started a national campaign group to raise awareness of the issues, and identified 852 impacted homeowners across 32 counties, though there may be many more. The Developer later acknowledged that the issue was nationwide and not isolated. This was also against the backdrop of Grenfell and the Leasehold scandal.

The seed of the idea for NBDB came during this time. When I found out I was to be made redundant in April this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to apply for other roles – I was going to start my own business, bringing some much needed transparency to the construction industry.

What challenges did you face?

Gosh, where to start! This is the first time I have ever gone into business alone, and there is so much that you just don’t know! From the logistics of how you set up a business to the fact that I had no construction or software development background, it has been a super steep learning curve. A lot of time has been spent pausing actual activities to go and learn something to enable me to progress. Then there is the finance, developing bespoke software isn’t cheap and I needed to really challenge myself and strip my ideas back to a Minimum Viable Product. Then going on to find the right finance and software companies to support me on that journey.

In terms of construction knowledge, I’ve utilised Careers Wales ReAct funding to complete CITB’s Site Manager Safety Training Scheme and I’m currently studying for an occupational health and safety certificate, as well as an ILM Level 7 Diploma to help me with strategic thinking and evolving my business plan.

I think one of the biggest challenges of going from a corporate environment to running your own business is losing a lot of the touch points and sense checks you naturally get in those environments. For me that is where Business Wales support has been invaluable.

Business Wales support

Nichola worked with a start-up adviser, Yusuf Behardien, to launch a new piece of software to help homeowners of new build properties to complete snagging lists. She attended a start-up workshop and then received advice on marketing, social media and funding sources, enabling her to launch the business successfully.

Relationship Manager Kris Hicks is now supporting Nichola with innovation, R&D, commercialisation and sales strategies, pricing models, diversification and a strategic business plan.

Outcomes

  • Successfully started in October 2020
  • 1 job created
  • Start-up and Relationship Management support with setting up and strategic planning
  • Commitment to the Business Wales Green Growth and Equality Pledges to deliver a sustainable, inclusive and accessible service

I first attended a start-up course, which was a whistle stop tour of starting your own business, covering topics such as types of legal entity, registering with Companies House, choosing an accountant, applying for finance, local council support and so much more.

I then went away to work on my business plan and set up regular check-ins with Yusuf, who guided me through the early phases of launching my business. He helped me with applying for finance, strategic direction and acted as a mentor in the early days. I really looked forward to my time with him as I always came away feeling better than when I went in. I always worried I wasn’t advancing fast enough but always got positive reinforcement from Yusuf which encouraged me to continue apace.

Once I moved to the growth stage, I engaged with Kris, who is helping me further explore avenues for growth, including R&D tax credits, SMART Cymru Innovation vouchers, looking for grant funding, connecting with universities and his wider network of connections, taking advantage of the Kickstart scheme and referring me for additional mentoring support. Kris has helped me to prioritise and strip back my ideas to a critical pathway. Again, the regular check-ins have been invaluable and I find each time we speak I come away with new ideas or additional avenues to explore.

Future plans and ambitions

The goal for me is to drive improvements in quality and transparency in the construction industry. Every step forward will be in pursuit of that goal. The database can be all things to all people. For the homeowner, it is a free and simple issue log and report generator that allows them to project manage their issues. For the Developers, a wealth of issue data that will give them key risk and issue data nationally and locally, and how they compare to their peers. For campaigners, the public benchmarks will add weight to their cause and provide data that they can quote. For people looking to buy a home, they will be able to compare and make an informed decision.

I already have a detailed plan of action working together with my software developer, Samuel Goudie at Homamo, to make incremental improvements to the app over the next 12 months. These will streamline the homeowner user experience further and allow third parties to manage homeowner issues on their behalf. In the next 6-12 months, I also hope to be working closely with construction developers and snagging companies as well as any incoming regulators. The key income stream for the business will be Thematic Risk Reviews for Developers on a contract basis, helping them to identify and manage their Risk and Issue trends. We only went live last week so conversations are still in the early stages but there is lots of positive discussion about moving forward in partnerships.

If you want to read more success stories of how Business Wales has helped other people like you to start or grow their businesses, visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/case-studies or follow @_businesswales / @_busnescymru on Twitter.

Share this page

Print this page