Bricks And Bytes Podcast

#012 – Ben Richards – Transcript

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Ben Richards

The key thing for any business to grow is the team that you’ve got. There’s just no other way around it. I think if you haven’t got the team, like I’ve built Aura to where we are. So we’re a team of 13 now and I couldn’t have built it to where it is today without that team. And you can have the best marketing in the world. You have the best product and idea in the world, but you can’t grow and scale without that team behind you. So I just can’t see the answer being anything other than a good team and having the right people in the right places. On today’s episode, we talk to Ben Richards. Ben runs a successful architectural practice called Aura Architecture, and along with his business partner co-founded XP Property and XP Surveys. Please join us for this exciting conversation with entrepreneurial Ben Richards. You are listening to Bricks and Bikes podcast, where we take you on a journey in construction, technology and business. Alright, let’s get this episode started. 

Alright, fine. So, Ben, tell us a little bit about your background and you. So, yeah, my background is a very technical one. I studied physics, maths, further maths, graphic design, and product design at college, went on to study architectural engineering at university, mainly because straight architecture really wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s very arty, and I like to solve problems and have that technical side. So, the engineering coupled with the architecture allowed me to be creative, kind of satisfying that more technical understanding that I like and the sort of problem-solving side of things. So I studied to masters in architectural engineering at Cardiff University, which was great.  

Took a slight detour after that, graduated and then decided to play poker for a living, which was a bit different. And we can touch on that a bit later if you want to. I want to know more. You want to know more. So yeah, I mean, I played poker since college. It got me through university really, sort of, I guess, not living like a student because to have sort of a thousand-pound win, a thousand-pound win here and there. And it just kind of helped to make it a little bit more interesting and not have to scrape around. Played a lot with mates. You know, there were a couple of nights where we might have started at seven in the evening, and I would be picking up a bacon and sausage roll at seven o’clock in the morning on my way home, ready to start the day. So not the best use of time at uni, but it was enjoyable, so I can’t complain.  

Would you say that poker is like a gambling board? Like a structured way of playing it. It is an interesting one. I always speak, when I tell people about it, they sort of generally assume that I’m a gambler and that’s it, but I don’t really have an interest in going into a casino and playing roulette or blackjack or anything like that. Poker is a game of skill and the people that are more skilful will win in the long run. So you’re playing against other people as opposed to the house where the house is always gonna win. They are going to win, whereas you against another person, I feel like my skill set and my ability to play the game has an edge over that person, generally all the table. Therefore, in the long term, I should win money. I did win money. It was actually my kind of foray into the property industry for the year out that I spent after graduating that basically allowed me to buy my first rental buy-to-let property. That’s where my property development property investment started. It sounds like a lucrative no invite and then to the next poker event. In my head, I have been playing a bit in recent years and some. 

 One thing that caught my attention when we asked this question to you and you said that in terms of what poker taught you in terms of being an entrepreneur, does it overlap or not. What would you say is considered aggression? Yeah, it’s basically knowing the right spots to push, analysing the table, analysing the market in the property industry, and deciding when to move all in or put the pressure on. From a poker perspective, you may understand slightly that the opponent is slightly weak in their hand or not as strong as they may well be, and that’s a good opportunity for you to bluff and show aggression, to try and put that person off and make them fold their better hand. 

 So it’s understanding spots where you can push forward and be more aggressive. When you talk about a bear and a bull market, whatever those two things are, when it’s a good time to push forward, to start accumulating chips, to start buying more property because interest rates are low, because house prices are going up, that’s the time in which you should be aggressive in your approach. So it’s been considered in that approach basically.  

Just being aggressive for aggressive sake, but actually understanding the market, understanding the poker table, the dynamics of it, analysing risk, and then having the nous and the attitude to push forward and be aggressive at that point when it’s right to do so. That’s what I mean by progressive considered aggression. I know it sounds a bit weird, but actually, hopefully, that’s sort of you understand why from that. Yeah, no, that’s perfect. So, away from poker then, you were at university and poker basically got you through. Yes, it did and then basically between my third and fourth year, the summer, which I would have usually gone and worked for an architectural practice as work experience – like that’s what I’d previously done in my years before – I made the decision to see if I can make poker work for me. So I looked at what a graduate engineer would be on – a graduate architect somewhere between 20 and 24,000 pounds at the time. I was like, right, if I can make pounds per month in these two months during the summer, I deem it a valid route forward for me.  

So I did, basically in those two months, I made sort of four and a half grand and was like, right, that’s my decision made when I graduate from university, I am going to try and see if I can make this work. And it was a great sort of learning experience. I did it for 10 months after graduating. And by the end of the 10 months, I kind of realised that that lifestyle isn’t like people, I like being productive. And sitting in my house, clicking buttons from six o’clock until sometimes seven in the morning to try and win some money online, really wasn’t the lifestyle that I wanted to lead. So I did actually work for an engineer, a structural engineer for a couple of months at the tail end of that 10-month stint. But predominantly it was full-time three or four days a week playing poker online. And like I say, my first buy-to-let property in it. It was where I guess the graduate salary might have been 24,000 pounds. I was basically on the equivalent of 70 grand because my net takings were about 45 grand from playing poker and that’s tax-free. So actually, if you gross that up, it was about 70 grand. So it was a very lucrative year and allowed me to do the things that I wanted to do and sort of started me off on the right foot in property investing. 

 I think it makes you bold as well, like doing something like that. And it makes the decision to perhaps your next stages and going into like, or an XP, probably you know what to expect and also how, where the opportunity is and then also how to make money. Yeah, it did set me up in terms of the sort of risk analysis type of thing. You’ve got to have an analytical brain to play poker. And you’ve got to understand people as well. I say it’s understanding me and what I want and that kind of atmosphere really wasn’t what I wanted longer term. I like to be productive. I’ve always wanted to start my own business. I’ve always wanted and sort of knew that that would be where I’d end up. It wasn’t really until, I guess, kind of seven years later because I went into full-time work after sort of finishing playing poker for a living and I went to work for an architectural practice. I got some really good knowledge and understanding of how the planning commission process works, building control, stuff like that. So I did that for four years and then kind of got, again, itchy feet and wanted to do something a little bit more. I felt like I’d become a little bit stagnant in terms of what I was learning and went to work for the Berkeley group in London. 

 So complete step change from 100,000-pound house extensions to literally a one billion pound scheme of 900 units, six to eight-year delivery program. And the other side of the foot, so I was kind of treading the boards as a technical manager. So the idea was that I was coordinating all of the different consultants to drive our design forward and then working with the internal teams like the commercial team and the build team to make sure that what we’ve designed can be built, make sure that what we’ve designed can be bought, and then working with the sales and marketing. So it was a very 360 role in understanding how a massive property development company works. And that was great. Three years there, working with some amazing people on projects, but in the last six months of working for them, it was the time in which I realised property investment and property development is really what I like to do. I was sitting there working for the Berks Group, seeing what we were doing out the window on a massive site and at the same time, in lunchtime, looking on RightMove at potential opportunities and developments. It was at that time that I basically, in my evenings and weekends, went to Staines upon Thames to a two-bedroom house that I’ve got planning permission for and done the detailed design for and got finance for.  

So it was my first property development really. And after six months of building that, I refinanced onto a buy to let mortgage. And ultimately the week after handing in my notice and because I knew at that point, it was what I wanted. I’ve got a lump of cash in the bank that I thought, if I’m going to do it now as the time, like I felt like I had a bit of a safety net. And I really enjoyed the process from start to finish. so now is the time to jump ship from the Berkeley group and start my adventures and that’s where all the architecture started so I started with a cash flowing business I guess what year was that 2017 I started that. So five years ago from the date of this and and yes, but architecture has been growing ever since. So then trying to switch. What would you say, how do you build a safety cushion, how do you get your own business? I mean, I was lucky to be able to have that safety cushion. And I do think it’s important for people to have that if they can squirrel away some funds to give them a bit of comfort. Because business is hard and having some finance there to know that you can bail yourself out if you need to or make payroll for a month because you’ve got some personal funds to strapped. 

 If you’re trying to start from scratch with nothing, business is very tough. So I felt like having that lump of cash available to me was it just allowed me to make, I guess, maybe better decisions, knowing that I’ve got a fallback plan if needed. If I didn’t have that, I might not have made the right decision for the company at the time because of the risk that, if it goes wrong, I don’t have that money available to use. So I can understand for people starting new businesses that it’s very, very difficult. But I would say having some form of capital because things cost money, even having accountants and lawyers to look at things for soft costs like that, it costs money. So I think having a lump sum there ready for you to kind of dip into if you need to is just a, it just made me feel a bit more safe. And I play poker, I am risk averse to a certain degree, but actually it’s more about understanding and putting things in place to safeguard you. That made me feel safe. Yeah, sure. So Aura is, you’ve obviously built a very, very nice business out of Aura. I just saw recently on LinkedIn, you passed £1 million revenue for the first time. We will do next year.  

We did about three quarters of a million in this tax year. Our tax year was literally last week, so it’s looking ahead this year. We will breach into that £1 million revenue. I had a good, good long day with Brian, who I know very well yesterday who’s our sort of business coach planning for next year and what targets we’re aiming for, how are we going to achieve that? And I mean, that’s something that I would say from a business perspective. I know a lot of small business owners that don’t take the time to step back and look at that overarching like high level view of the business.  

They’re so busy day to day, like running around being crazy that they don’t spend enough time actually looking at the business itself. And days like yesterday are great, it gives you incentive, it gives you motivation, and it also sets out a decent plan for you to follow for the next 12 months and look ahead. In terms of growing Aura as well, I think there’s a bit of lag there, but I was just going to say, in terms of your experience building Aura, what do you think is the key component for building a successful business? Good question. I think the key thing for any business to grow is the team that you’ve got. There’s just no other way around it. I think if you haven’t got the team. I’ve built Aura to where we are.  

So we’re a team of 13 now and I couldn’t have built it to where it is today without that team. And you can have the best marketing in the world. You can have the best product and idea in the world, but you can’t grow and scale without that team behind you. So I just can’t see the answer being anything other than a good team and having the right people in the right places. And we haven’t always had that. You know, it’s been a turbulent ride to get to the, you know, the five years where we are now, but we are now in a very good place. I brought in a head of operations a year ago. He’s helped to manage the day-to-day and manage the team. You know, I’m not a great manager. Like I accept that. I’m really not.  

Like I’m very entrepreneurial. I like leadership and I feel like I give everyone a good sense of the direction that we’re going and kind of motivate people to be the best that they can be. But actually managing people is really not my skill set. I’m not organised. I think people from the outside think I am. My wife will tell me completely differently. I am the most disorganised person ever. I’m just quite efficient at doing what I do, so it gets done fast. But if you ask me to, I always leave things to the last minute and that’s always been the case. You know, my university coursework was always the day before I better start this now. So unless I feel that stress and pressure, it’s difficult for me to find the mind space to do stuff. So I think, yeah, having the right team, having the right people in the right place within that team is just fundamental to growing a successful business. 

And let’s go for ideas in terms of marketing for my business, because I think they’re brilliant. So yeah, marketing is probably the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most in the last five years. I think, you know, I’ve always wanted to grow businesses. I’ve always wanted to create things. And ultimately, I think that’s why that’s led me to property. You know, you’re creating things day to day. But actually running the business and the businesses that I have run, I get the most enjoyment out of the marketing. It fascinates me and I love learning as well. So, marketing and sales were one of the first things I really got heavily involved in, certainly early days with Aura because my intention with Aura was never to be working in that business day to day. 

The intention was to grow it as an architectural practice, as a business, and step away from it as soon as I possibly could because I knew my real focus was going to be property development. And I saw Aura as a business that opened opportunities across the board from a development perspective. It was something I knew, I guess. The marketing side of it from an early stage, I decided when I first set up the website and first started the business that I wanted it to be educational. I wanted to use content marketing to provide evergreen blogs, evergreen videos that would help my website rank in Google. For me, the simple process was, “What are people doing to find architects? They’re typing it into Google. Okay. I need to be on the front page in Google.” And it was as simple as that, so from day one, I built blogs. You know, there’s a blog on our website about how much a house extension is going to cost that gets about 20% of our web traffic. And I wrote that four years ago, you know, and it still generates leads and people coming to the website, and it also helps Google understand that the quality of information on my website is very good, therefore giving a better Google ranking that’s going to help me on other pages. 

So, yeah, part of the day one was having a decent website and not a Wix off-the-shelf website. This website was built bespoke by a software developer, and that was purposeful because I wanted it to be fast, I wanted it to be technically sound, and also to look good. I think too many people focus on it looking good as opposed to actually what the technical side of things can do from the back end. The function, yeah. And the function of it. So, ultimately, I guess with the website, it was “how do I rank on Google?” And we were talking about this yesterday. When you type in “residential architects” into Google, not “residential architects in Clapham”, “residential architects in London”, just “residential architects” in general, we are second on Google, which for a team of 13 people is quite an achievement. 

Do you know how much that’s worth as an asset, roughly? No idea. You can get estimates on the value of the traffic that that provides you, which is interesting. Yeah, no, it is something that I would like to look at, you know, understanding the value of every bit of my business is something that certainly in the future, if there is a sale of the business or I want to go down a different path, understanding those things would be really useful. So, yeah, marketing from an early stage was definitely something that I focused on, and it was more of the SEO, content marketing, and evergreen stuff that I wanted to build. In our pre-discussion notes, we turned over just shy of £3.25 million last year. My monthly marketing spend on SEO and PPC is £1,500. It’s about 2.5% of my revenue, which actually, again, when you think of that stat, is quite impressive for the amount of leads we generate organically. And that has been because of the guide downloads that we have, the social media presence, the website and how that’s built, the email marketing campaigns that we do. And all of those things I’ve built as organically and as automated as I possibly can. Because again, one of my main aims with this business was “how do I get out of the day-to-day running of this ASAP?” And marketing has allowed me to do that. I genuinely spend about 15 to 20% of my time on this business now. 

And that is something I’m very proud of because it was part of the main reason I set it up. So, I feel like I’ve achieved some of what I set out to do at the very start. So, 15 to 20% of your time – what do you do with the other 80%? Good question. Too much, according to my wife. So, the other two main businesses that I run: one is a property development business, XP Property. We do investments and developments in London and the Home Counties, whether that be generally one to 10 units in size, circa £2 million to £5 million GDV. We do land developments, convert offices to residential, and carry out house conversions. That has been set up since 2018. So, a year after setting up Aura, I joined forces with my business partner, Jack Jiggins, and we’ve been building XP Property ever since. That’s grown significantly, although cash flow issues are regular in a development business, which is why having cash-flowing businesses like Aura to supplement the more cyclical cash flow of the overall ecosystem is helpful. 

Alongside that, over the last two years, we’ve been building a supported living portfolio. We are one of four partners working with a housing association to find assets, buy them, refurbish them, and then the housing association takes on a 10 or 25-year lease. We are in the process of selling our first portfolio for a significant amount of money, and that has been a rapidly growing business. In the last two years, we’ve built over 100 beds or are finishing off that first portfolio of 100 beds. I think we’ve delivered about 45 or 50 of them, and we’ve got another 50 to deliver by March next year. So that’s been a sideline as part of XP Property. Our other business is XP Surveys. That’s been going for two years; we’re a measured building and topographical land survey business. I feel like I’m trying to learn what I’ve learned in Aura and bring that into XP Surveys so that what I’ve maybe done in five years with Aura, I can hopefully do within three years within XP Surveys and take all those good learnings. 

Is it transferable or has it been perhaps a bit of a shock? It’s predominantly transferable, but there are different nuances with the XP Surveys business. Fundamentally, from a business perspective, whether it’s a gardening business, selling USB sticks, or a survey business, the fundamentals of business are still there – the way you approach things, the learnings that you take, the way you set up your finances, and the understanding of marketing and the process you go through in sales funnels. Whatever business it is, it’s kind of transferable. The foundation is the same. Whatever business we go into in the future, I feel like we’ve got a good solid base of understanding. XP Surveys. 
 

Where have we got to with that? We obviously mentioned from discussions we had before that you’re investing in the technology side of things. It would be interesting to hear more about that. Yeah, XP Surveys was built because Aura used these types of surveys day in, day out. I wanted to bring it in-house but wasn’t really finding the time to get off the ground. So I said to Jack, the business partner for XP Property, do you want to build this together? And then two years ago, we took the plunge to start growing that from scratch. We want to be relatively disruptive. We’ve always been the sort of people that want to use technology and be as efficient as we possibly can. So the premise and USP that we have with XP Surveys is the slickness of our front-end process. 

At the moment, within the industry, what happens is somebody makes an enquiry via email or phone. The administrator on the other end takes the data and information, speaks to one of their surveyors, they go away, they maybe measure the site or they look at the floor plans and understand what needs to be done, puts a calculation to it in terms of, “Oh, I think it’s going to take three days to do on site, two days to draw this up.” And then maybe 48 hours later, I as the client get an email that says, “Attached is your fee proposal, it’s this amount and these are our terms and conditions, blah, blah, blah.” That’s taken 48 hours. It’s too slow in this day and age. Everyone wants information at their fingertips. They want it as quickly as possible. 

So what we’ve built at the front end of our process is an instant quoting tool. So you go to Compare the Market, you go to all of these big platforms nowadays, all you really need is your postcode. And that’s all it is. So the instant quoting tool is on our website. You can type in your postcode. It brings up an address selector. You select the address. And then, because that is integrated with an API and some clever algorithms and data in the background, we pull in property data. So we know the house address from Ordnance Survey information, from the EPC data that’s available to us. We can pull in the size of the property, the size of the land, how many rooms there are, and all sorts of other data points that we can pull in to put together with our in-house algorithm. We then calculate how long it takes our surveyors to survey this size of property to spit out an instant quote. So instead of it being a 48-hour process, the client types in their postcode, selects their address, selects the services they want, i.e. they just want floor plans, they want floor plans and elevations, they want a section as well, they don’t really need a full topographical survey, so they just want a basic topographical survey. All these things are basically check marks. I want this, I want this, I want this, get quote, and within two seconds, it spits out an instant quote back to them. How accurate is it? It will be accurate to the data that’s provided.  

So it’s a good question. Not every property address that we have has the relevant data that we need. Sorry, what I mean is when the software, the platform generates the quote, and then you look at this quote, is it always at the level that you want it to be, or sometimes it is overpriced or underpriced? It should be exactly the same as what we would have done in-house, because if we’ve got the area of the property, the number of rooms, and the size of the land, we would only be taking that information and manually plugging it into a spreadsheet to find our cost anyway. So essentially, what we’ve taken is the data that we would have, or the calculations that we would have done on a spreadsheet and just had that hard coded with the API to spit out the price. So there’s nothing really tremendously clever about it. I just think it’s, you know, nobody else is really doing it. Yeah. And for me, it makes sense to create an efficient front-end process. 

What we’ve developed as phase two, which is now live, is the next phase. So they’ve got the quote, the client’s got the quote. They can now book in a survey via a calendar booking system, and they can actually pay a deposit for the survey via an e-commerce page. And that’s from start to finish, basically. So they found us, typed in the postcode, got their quote, booked in the date of the survey, paid a deposit. It’s on our books. The survey is going out in a couple of days. And that, for me, can be done in literally five minutes to suit the client’s timeframes. It makes it very easy for them to make payment. All of our T’s and C’s are very clear. So yeah, for me, that’s been a really exciting thing to build. It’s not something I’ve done before. It’s using technologies and processes that I knew nothing about beforehand. 

And it’s, yeah, we hope that it can disrupt the industry to a certain degree because at the moment it’s a very antiquated industry. It could be a lot more efficient. Yeah, I get it. I like what you say as well. It’s nothing cutting edge, should we say, but the fact is the baseline for the industry is extremely, let’s say, low. Just a slight bit of innovation and improvement probably give you a huge competitive edge against these people. So, it sounds like a great idea. 

Exactly. I think I was getting frustrated from an architecture perspective for clients asking, what’s the next steps? Or the next steps is a measured survey. And I’d say we can’t do anything until we get that. Okay, how much is that going to cost me? And I’d be like, well, I don’t know, I’ll have to go to three surveyors, get a quote back. That could take me three days to then relay that information to you as the client. Whereas I know I can go on our website now, type in the postcode and address and get an instant quote and give them an instant answer. Yeah, it just maintains the flow, doesn’t it? And when you’re like just discussing with clients as well, you want to keep that engagement and, yeah, engagement going with them. 

Yeah, it’s not been all roses in terms of the actual take-up of it. Because we haven’t seen as many people go through the full process as we’d have liked. So at the moment, we’re constantly tweaking the website, we’re constantly tweaking the way it’s presented, the emails that people get to push more people down that route. Because I can kind of understand, like it’s not a flawed system, it’s great to have, but some people do want to pick up the phone and speak to people. But the way I see it is that that’s what everyone else is doing anyway. So our fallback position is what everyone else is doing anyway, whereas we do have this option for people to cut out the middleman completely, get instant quotes and book surveys as quickly as they want. 

Yeah. Do you see any improvement on the hardware side of measured surveys? Because when I got my iPhone, I think 12 Pro, or something like that, like a year ago, maybe a little bit earlier than that, I got a LiDAR app that was a scanning app. So I basically went to the property, I scanned the house and I got, I don’t know if it was a DWG or some other type of file that you could convert into DWG and create some plans. So the question really is, are we somewhere closer to someone just getting into the house, taking their phone out and with the app scanning the property and basically putting it into the DWG or getting it done this way? Yes. Because the reason I’m asking is the scanner costs probably around 20, 30, 40 thousand pounds. Yeah, it might be available on the phone at some point in the future. That’s a game-changer also. 

Yeah, it is. And I spoke to one of the outsourcing companies that we use. They’re very large, 130 strong. They are software developers. They work in the scan-to-BIM industry regularly. And yeah, their views are that in two years’ time, there will be a phone that will have both the LiDAR side of things and also have the ability for laser scanning. So, there is an industry that is moving super fast and we have just bought a £42,000 Trimble scanner, which is annoying, considering that in two years’ time, it might be completely redundant. The iPhone will get there, I would say, but I think in terms of the quality that you get from these 3D laser scanning pieces of kit, it’s not going to be as good as the 3D laser scanners that we use, which are specifically built and made for the purpose. 

This type of thing, what the iPhone does, I think, is just like photogrammetry. So it can gather a lot of information and measurements will be accurate to a certain degree, but it doesn’t have the kind of laser pinpoint accuracy that the laser scanners do. But what I am told is, yeah, in two or three years’ time, there will be a combination of the two that you will be able to do it on your phone. And that’s only part of the battle, though. You still need to have someone who can digest that information, process that information, and then export it and create either a 3D model or a 2D drawing. So the scanning on site will improve dramatically, but you’re still going to need someone with an understanding to then process that information. 

That being said, one of the companies that we work with to do our surveys, so we’re trying to build a process whereby we do some in-house, but we also have a network of outsourced professionals over in India, Poland, and various other places in the world, whereby they can actually take the information, then create the models and the drawings themselves as well. One of the companies that we’re working with has built a machine learning plugin for Revit, whereby it takes the point cloud data and can automatically create windows, create doors, create floors from the point cloud in Revit. It can take something that might take a day down to 15 minutes, which is obviously incredible. And they’re constantly improving the way that that kind of software and machine learning is created. So, you know, I don’t think we’re too far off having a very streamlined process on that front, but it’s still going to need someone manually with an understanding of how the process works to check, verify, tweak, and amend to get the final output. But it’s an industry that is moving incredibly fast, and just even hearing these things, it makes me want to get there faster because we’re using this company overseas. 

We are hoping to take an average turnaround time from survey to drawing output from an industry average at the moment, which is somewhere between three to four weeks. And even just six months ago, that was more like six weeks because it was crazy busy out there. So we want to take it from three to four weeks. And this is for, let’s say, a three to four house, terrace house. We want to take that down to five days delivery. We’re on site on the Friday, and then by the Friday after, that drawing is outputted and back to the client. That’s what we’re aiming for. Is that through Aura, the fast drawing output process via Aura? No, that is. XP Surveys is basically using overseas CAD technicians, scan to BIM technicians to generate either the models or the 2D drawings. Yeah, sure. Okay, cool. Yeah, one more in terms of, because so I love the idea in XP Surveys that you put the postcode in and what you get, you get a quick quote and then the client can decide if they want to proceed or not. So what I think like planning, in terms of planning and architecture, because it’s all connects with what we talk about. 

Like why there is no platform portal yet that you put the postcode on with your number of your house and you get a set of extension types that you can build on this property which are kind of pre-approved. Is it feasible or is it not feasible because of the planning rules and the way it is currently complicated? I think it is a really interesting idea that someone can pre-select a design for their house. I think it’s very good for mid-terrace properties in southwest London, which is obviously what we do a lot of. There’s only a few ways that you can do a ground floor rear extension and loft conversion. If that was a drop-down list from a planning portal, then it’s a really interesting idea. I think permitted development rules have been brought in to somewhat do that, because people don’t need planning permission at all to do a ground floor rear extension up to three metres in depth, subject to a few other things in terms of height and whatnot. But typically, there are set regulations by the government under permitted development rules to allow them to do it. It’s an interesting idea. It’s not something I’ve thought of before. I think, obviously, it only works on certain housing types, but it’s interesting. Cool. Yeah. All right. Just looking at the time, I think we should probably move on possibly to off-topic because we’re going to get so deep into these questions. I mean, we could probably talk for ages, but here we are. If someone gave you an unlimited budget to invest in any emerging business, technology, or trend, I’d say construction in the future industry, but I saw you mentioned something outside of that. But we can stick with one maybe in the industry and one outside of the industry. What would you spend it on and why? It’s a good question. I didn’t clock the just in the construction industry. The thing that I instantly came to mind is sort of eSports, VR, the sort of online gaming platforms. I just think with Bitcoin, with NFTs, with all that space coming in, I do think that there’s a massive gap for online games and making money from online games. The eSports industry has grown incredibly in the last couple of years. People play at one of our team in XP servers actually went to, I think it was Cologne last week, to watch an eSports gaming event, and I can’t remember it was like. Wasn’t Commanding, that’s like old school, but it was something like the kids play nowadays. Money in a tournament playing FIFA. I just think that is an industry that will expand rightly or wrongly. I think something that is going to happen whether you like it or not. But I’m not really here to judge whether it’s a wrong or right thing. I just think it will happen. From a construction perspective, if somebody could solve the issue of streamlining the construction process and having a platform that everyone uses to consolidate their own project management, consolidate tender processes, consolidate the design process. People are trying, and I’ve seen a lot of software out there and platforms that suggest that they offer that one-stop-shop to manage everything in-house, to keep all of your documents, to provide clients with the 3D model on demand, to see when RFIs are being created on site.  

There are things being built, but I think the reason we haven’t stepped into that zone at the moment is that it is very fresh. When you go down one of those routes, you kind of have to make sure it’s right. Otherwise, you’re kind of wasting a lot of time. Like if you find out in two years’ time, it doesn’t quite do what you want it to do, but you’ve like changed all of your processes, you’ve brought on board all of your clients, all of your contractors, all of your design team to follow that process, you have to make sure it’s right. So yeah, there’s definitely a gap to do that. You know, I don’t know whether blockchain technology is one of the solutions for that in terms of everything in one place, role, secure. Maybe. I don’t know. Yeah, that would probably be my answer. Some sort of project management tool that creates an integrated workflow. Okay. So being involved in so many adventures, how do you stay sane? How do you keep the work-life balance at the right level? Now you’ve got a little boy and wife, obviously. So how do you deal with it? Yeah. The work-life balance thing is something. About. I love work, like I don’t see it as work, I do genuinely love what I do. But there has to be, you know, with an 18-month-old kid, you know, there has to be family time and there has to be, you know, health and wellbeing time for yourself as well. I generally try and do some sort of exercise twice a week. 

I stopped drinking alcohol about a year ago, not fully, like I do every now and then. In the last year, I have had an alcoholic drink, but I just don’t want the hangovers and the sort of the lack of productivity off the back of it anymore. Brain fog, yeah, the brain fog. I look back at my uni days, and like there’s a reason why I didn’t go to lectures until one in the afternoon. I was just constantly drunk, and the alcohol in my system was just causing me to be lethargic. So, yeah, not drinking, although, you know, it’s somewhat frowned upon quite often or questioned. You know, I just think it’s been the right thing for me. Like I’ve got a lot of people relying on me being productive now, you know, not just my family and, you know, my boy and my wife, but actually within our businesses, there are 20 plus people that are reliant on essentially me, Jack, and the senior management team to deliver business and keep those businesses sustainable. And I just, I just don’t, it hasn’t affected my life at all. I don’t miss not drinking. And you know, I still go out, I still socialise, I just drink other stuff, you know, it’s as simple as that. Yeah. And in terms of keeping sane, music, I do love listening to just drowning things out, you know, getting absorbed by favourite artists, by music. I listen to a lot of podcasts, I do love Queen. And I am sad. I like a musical. I do listen to it. I didn’t expect that. That’s pretty cool. All of those things help me to keep grounded, sane. Cool. All right, Ben. So where can we find out more about you? Maybe just your key places you hang out on. Yeah. I mean, social media, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. We are trying to grow our YouTube presence for Aura and XP property. So yeah, find us under Aura Architecture and also XP Property on YouTube. We’re hopefully going to be bringing some good content to you guys in the next 12 months. And yeah, social media platforms are the best places. Sure. Great. Thanks, Ben. Thanks a lot. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the Bricks and Bytes podcast. If you are enjoying the show, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. We really appreciate it, and we’ll catch you in the next episode. 

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