How Property Detective Changed the Way People Buy Houses in the UK
Property Detective (PD) is a “big data” application that provides comprehensive information on the current and predictive quality of life in areas in which people consider living or investing.
The London based startup gives customers answers to important questions about the area they want to live in: can I commute to work on a train? How high are the noise levels in the area? What kind of food is available at nearby grocery stores? What are the political demographics in this area? Are there plans for future development? And many answers to other questions.
PD helps people estimate the value of a property by providing an in-depth analysis of its location, taking into consideration issues that are important but are not commonly found in a property advertisement: schools, noise levels, safety, pollution, quality of life, future development, convenience of your commute, etc. PD collects this data from various sources, processes and automatically generates and delivers a customized report to the user.
Netguru is responsible for the development of the Ruby on Rails (RoR) PD engine and the front end (the web application and website) since day one in 2014.
At the beginning of 2016, Property Detective started a strategic partnership with the Zoopla Property Group, a leading online property market in the UK, with over 30 mln unique monthly visitors to its main website and a market capitalisation of over £1bn. In April 2016, we finalized the integration with Zoopla. This project was highly challenging and proved once again that remote teams can work just as closely and efficiently as if they shared an office.
PD wanted to create a “big data” solution for property buyers. The idea was to give them insight into the current and future quality of life in areas in which they might consider living or investing. The challenges faced include:
- Processing huge amounts of data.
- Presenting complex information in an intuitive report.
- Serving over 30 mln users monthly.
The core of the PD application is collecting, analyzing and visualizing very large amounts of data. The algorithm takes into consideration: crime records, airports, election statistics, political data, family friendliness, schools (31K+ in our database), motorway junctions, roads, motorways, town centre locations, water hardness, broadband availability, broadband speeds, lightpaths, environmental (noise and smell) inconveniences, retail and leisure opportunities and much more. In total over 3 million data points and over 100k records need to be scoured to automatically generate a single customized report.
The application’s functional requirements are significantly different. For example, huge datasets need to be processed each time when an individual report is generated. On the other hand, the document downloaded by a PD customer needs to be clear and comprehensive.
Adding to the challenge for PD and Netguru is that the amount and diversity of data available on the platform for each location is growing. Likewise, as the number of PD users grows very fast, designers have more feedback to consider.
Integration with Zoopla was a significant challenge. Netguru had to prepare for a huge surge in traffic and adjust the engine, so that it could handle generating up to 150 concurrent reports. This had to be done without a minimum viable product (MVP) stage, which meant that the product had to be ready with all its features for the launch. We had just over three months to get it done.
The project was run by three remote teams with different cultures. Over the years we became familiar with PD’s London headquarters, but we still needed to integrate with Zoopla’s workflow (i.e. a workflow of a large and established corporation). As such we had to adapt to the bigger partner, who had the final word on requirements.
Netguru's expertise and experience were the key to delivering a quality product on time. Our programmers always feel free to contribute their own ideas and actively participate in crucial decisions. By working closely and in harmony with Property Detective, we were able to take full advantage of our team’s best qualities.
- Close working relationship with PD engendered trust.
- Joint brainstorming sessions harmonized concept design.
- Transparent communication ensured smooth workflow.
- Free flow of ideas engaged and empowered developers.
PD founders selected RoR as the backend framework. As a startup platform, RoR is fast, low-cost, scalable, and flexible. Moreover, it allows Netguru developers to quickly develop and integrate new features with good quality code and standards.
This allowed PD to expand the number of data sources and generate reports in a matter of seconds. RoR scales up well, which proved to be very important when partnering with Zoopla. RoR’s modular structure makes the application very flexible. Netguru engineers were able to develop new features quickly and with good quality and high standards.
One of the biggest technical challenges of the Zoopla integration was working live with production servers and the code. To tackle this directly, Netguru and PD arranged a brainstorming session in Poznan. The two teams came up with solutions to possible scenarios. They also adopted a stepped implementation strategy that would integrate our services with a fraction of the millions of Zoopla users at a time.
Brainstorming solutions not only generated many ideas, but also brought the people working on the project closer and increased team spirit. This made everyone even more committed.
It also helped Netguru and PD embrace working in remote teams. The people responsible for the business and design of PD work in London while the developers are in Poznan. The physical separation of these teams, however, has never been an issue. Each team member can communicate directly on live Slack channels, and share projects in Jira. If a meeting is needed, it is arranged on Google Hangouts.
Netguru's remote team’s experience proved to be useful when incorporating the Zoopla team into the project. The project involved three teams coming together from different organizational cultures: startup and corporate. Both the PD and Netguru teams were able to work with Zoopla's more hierarchical decision-making process as well as respond to changing circumstances.
The Netguru team working on PD consists of a project manager, a quality assurance specialist, a backend developer, and a frontend developer. At the peak of the Zoopla integration project, the team grew to five developers plus a devops engineer.
Netguru helped PD founders bring an innovative idea to life. Together we created a successful product with a big future potential. Its key benefits included:
- Delivering an exceptional service to house buyers.
- Helping PD attract a strategic investor (Zoopla).
- Integrating with a property market leader (Zoopla).
- Providing PD with access to a scalable dev team.
PD helps people make a rational decision when buying property. Anyone who has ever had to relocate knows how stressful the process can be, and how much there is to gain (or lose). Being a part of such a project brought lot of individual and corporate satisfaction.
PD has already proved to be a successful startup. Not only did it find an investor and strategic partner in Zoopla Group, but it has also received a lot of praise from the users and competitors. Over time, the London and Poznan teams earned each other's trust. The startup founders know they have a skilled and dedicated development team, quality assurance support, and knowledgeable and experienced project management.
On 26 April 2016, we released PD reports on the Zoopla property website, giving users the opportunity to buy an in-depth report on a location while they are looking at it online. We managed to work simultaneously with two London-based teams with different cultures. The service was launched after some time and user response has been positive. The companies’ co-operation proved to be mutually beneficial: PD managed to gain access to a huge sales channel, while Zoopla succeeded in getting a competitive advantage over their rivals.
The success of PD proves that employing a remote team can be an ideal solution, especially for startups based in highly competitive and technically savvy, but IT saturated hubs, such as London. Our experience with PD, proves once again, that Netguru can coordinate and collaborate with startups to successfully bring projects to market, and that geographical distance is not a limiting factor.