VENTURE CAPITALIST TO TRANSFORM REAL ESTATE SERVICES
Written on the 26 July 2016 by James Perkins
SERIAL entrepreneur Chris Rolls (pictured) has a new project. In his first move since selling Rental Express to billionaire Paul Little in December 2015, Rolls has launched real estate venture capital fund, Brisbane-based PieLab Venture Partners.
Its first fund will raise $20 million to invest in service providers to the real estate industry. This is an area dominated by small and sole traders, a fact Rolls knows well, having worked in the industry since 2001, when he bought the Harcourts franchise at Paddington Brisbane.
"Typically, the small cottage players operate in local market. For example, at Rental express, we used multiple electrical maintenance firms as we couldn't find one to service all. At some of those businesses we were their only clients. They are often small, hard to deal with and inefficient," Rolls tells Business News Australia.
His first-hand experience is backed up by the IBIS World report, Real Estate Services in Australia, that showed the country's real estate industry, which turns over $14 billion and has enjoyed annual growth of 3.4% between 2011-16, employs 92,344 people in 36,429 businesses.
PieLab will invest in a small handful of the most promising service providers and help them to grow. Rolls is working with investors from the real estate industry, to ensure that the businesses that receive the investments will have a ready-made market to serve. "The big thing we can provide, that most investors can't, is a customer base,' explains Rolls.
Rolls has also made a smart move by applying to register as an Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership, which if granted will allow profits to investors to be income and capital gains tax exempt.
If track record is anything to go by, PieLab, and the businesses in which it chooses to invest, will be worth watching. At age 19, when Rolls was pursuing a dream to be a professional triathlete, he co-founded SCODY Performance Wear, which has gone on to become a market leader in sportswear. He then sold his share of the business to found First Class Accounts, which he grew to 120 franchised outlets in three years.
In 2001 he purchased Harcourts in Paddington, Brisbane, for $6000, and built it up to become one of the largest Harcourts real estate sales businesses in Australia. In 2005, he was ranked Queensland's number one real estate auctioneer. In 2006, he founded Real Estate Express and by the time he sold it last year, it was Queensland's largest residential property management business.
"The common thing I have found with running a successful business, irrespective of what it sells, is that as a business owner if you are good at hiring good quality people, giving them the tools to do their job effectively, and making sure they are happy, then they will perform at a high level."