Shaun Simons, Founder of Compton

S1 Ep9: Shaun Simons, Founder of Compton Podcast Transcript

Chris: Have you ever wondered how the businesses you know and love have evolved? What inspired the founders to create them? What chances do they take and what mistakes they make along the way?

Hi, I’m Chris. The CEO of Uncommon, a company creates exceptional spaces for work. In each episode of Alive with Possibilities, I get to sit down with a different business leader whom I admire and discuss the journey they’ve been on.

In this episode, I’m joined by Shaun Simons. Shaun has worked in the real estate industry for over 20 years. He started his own venture in 2011 with Hatton Real Estate. Hatton was hugely successful, not only in the deals it helped brokers but disrupting the market too.

After five years, Shaun and colleagues sold Hatton Real Estate to Colliers International where he became a director.

Fast forward to now as Shaun is back breaking new boundaries with his second venture Compton. I’ve known Shaun for a while, and we’ve worked together on a few projects. I find him hugely inspirational, and I think in this episode you’ll get a true sense for his infectious drive, focus and ambition.

Shaun, thank you for joining us. Can you start by telling us more about Compton?

Shaun: Hi Chris and thank you for having me. Compton was established in April 2021. We are a 25-person commercial property agency specialising in office space in and around the Eastern City Fringe, predominantly covering areas such as Clerkenwell, Farringdon, Old Street, Shoreditch, Old Gate, Whitechapel, King’s Cross, Islington, Camden, and Hackney.

Chris: You’ve also actually joined the hospitality sector, I believe.

Shaun: Part of our kind of crusade to do things slightly differently. We thought it would be a great idea to open a restaurant beneath our office. We had no intention of doing so when we took the building, but it was one of those things that kind of snowballed.

So, we are now a Michelin guided restaurant offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We are not restaurateurs; we don’t ever plan to be proper restaurateurs.

But having flag on the ground floor of our district, being able to engage with our local community and our client’s, potential future tenants on a much more meaningful level, we think gives us a kind of an interesting and alternative edge, which was kind of one of the things we set out to do when we set up this business.

Chris: It’s also very human. The bit about having been there that I really enjoy is it’s walking through the door and meeting you guys there. It’s just very personal.

Shaun: Properties are people’s business. We want to make it about the people. We want it to have that personal touch and that restaurant allows us to, I guess, show our personality more so than our competition.

Chris: The amazing thing to me about the Compton restaurant is that one half of me argues that everyone is in hospitality now, and what I mean by that is that everything is an experience and if you’re not giving that experience, someone will go elsewhere.

And it applies to Compton, the agency side of the businesses. You are giving a certain hospitality-like experience that literally manifested into a whole restaurant now. And it’s fascinating seeing your business evolve with that.

Shaun: It’s like your business. So, when you first started your business, maybe you are slightly different, but I reckon most of your time was spent focusing on what the office space looked like.

Today I reckon, unless you really tell me I’ve got it wrong, half your time is spent on what that space looks like, but the other half is spent on how that space behaves. What’s the experience? What’s the journey? What happens when you get to the front door, and you go through reception.

You’ve adapted, I mean, everyone’s had to adapt to that. We live in a world where people expect more.

Chris: Talking about experiences. One of the things that I know about you is that you work very hard and how you are always one of the first people in the office. So, does that make you happy?

Shaun: No one can wake up at 4:45, really happy.

Chris: Well, why’d you do it then?

Shaun: Great question. And I really love answering this question. So, I’d been in the industry for 18 months, saw the job, I’ve applied for it, and I got it, and I was really kind of proud of myself for getting it.

My contracted hours were 8:30 till 5:30 and I thought day one, week one, I’m going to really impress everyone. So, I decided to get in at 7:45, which I thought was a really kind of a big sign of commitment.

Walked in at 7:45, strutting my stuff, really proud of myself to an office where it was a small business of only 12 employees, but every single one of the employees was there, including all the support and secretarial stuff.

And I walked in and said, good morning. To which I’ve been greeted by this kind of chorus of good afternoon. From that day moving forward, I made it basically my life’s mission to get in before them.

And I obviously got to a stage where I was getting in before them, and I greeted them every morning when they arrived with a good afternoon. Now, the reason I did that was what, 20, 21 years ago.

So, the theory is as follows: if I’m at my desk by 6:30 and my competitor is at his desk at 8:30, that’s two hours a day. That’s 10 hours a week, and that’s 500 hours a year.

What we do for a living, we don’t charge by time, but you can do as many deals as time will allow you to do. You’ve got as many hours as there are in the day. So, if I’ve got an extra 500 hours on top of my competition, that is an extra 500 hours’ worth of deals that I can do more than the competition. That is my belief.

Chris: I respect that belief and you still do it now.

Shaun: So, still today, regardless of success, failure, whatever it is, that is something that I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to get rid of. I just think it’s a really, really good discipline.

Chris: How do I guess, the office team or your team, do they all follow this kind of route or do some do it differently? Some work in different ways? How does it work for Compton as a business?

Shaun: Well, A, we try to lead by example, and just because 6:30 doesn’t mean everyone’s got to be in at 6:30. Everyone works in very, very different ways. I mean, my business partner Michael, I haven’t seen him at 6:30 in the 20 years I’ve been working with him, but I can guarantee you he’ll have his laptop open a lot later than me at night.

Everyone’s got different things. What we’ve tried to refine at Compton is we want people to be individual. Our mantra since we started is that property is a people business, make it about the people.

So, we kind of want everyone to be themselves. We’re not interested, we’ve got no desire to kind of create 20 Shauns, 20 Michaels, 20 Elliotts, that isn’t what we’re trying to do.

What we’re trying to do is put together a group of entrepreneurial ambitious people all who share a kind of a common goal in terms of their ambitions, their targets in life, and we believe we give them a platform to succeed.

Chris: From a business point of view, do you think that the biggest challenge is yet to come and it’s going to be kind of coming in the next 18 months, or do you think it’s kind of been or talk me through I guess the different challenges you’ve had and what’s been.

Shaun: My first business, I set up with two partners in 2010, a company called Hatton Real Estate. The idea behind Hatton Real Estate was to kind of disrupt convention. When we set up Hatton, which was in the middle of the financial crisis, there was one of the biggest agents in the world. They were marketing probably one of the best buildings in our patch in Farringdon.

It was two pages of A4, their logo, black and white, with a black and white single photo. And this was 2010. It wasn’t like, it was like 1990, this was 2010. There was Facebook and there were camera phones and there was modern technology.

But the biggest agent in the world was marketing a 50,000 square foot building, which was a big building for Farringdon at the time, one of the most expensive. And their route to market was two sides of black and white A4 with a single photograph on it.

We kind of looked at that and thought right, here is the opportunity. We were going to go the complete opposite way. Every set of particulars, whether the building was 500 square feet or 50,000 square feet, had a minimum of 10 photos. Almost every building budget permitted had a motion picture element to its marketing. So, some form of film.

We were using Twitter, not just to market property, but to engage with a community who otherwise we wouldn’t have the ability to communicate with.

We kind of rode an incredible kind of wave for five and a half years before we eventually sold to one of the biggest companies who do what we do. And then we spent five years working for them. We needed to try and move the needle again.

Chris: So, at that point you want to create Compton. Was the market the same or had it moved on a little bit?

Shaun: Quite frankly, everyone else has just got better. The added problem to that is because we live in such a fast-paced world, and I go back to why I’m so frustrated today. This will hopefully lead you into it.

The minute we do something as Compton, the competition’s go and copy it, it’s bonkers. It’s absolutely bonkers. Now I have to keep reminding myself that imitation is the best form of flattery and I’m having to remind myself that almost on a daily basis.

But people are sending me screenshots of people’s social media or websites and they’re just completely copying us. It’s just nuts.

Chris: Launching or having Hatton and the success that that had and then launching, what Compton was that eight years later, nine years later?

Shaun: Hatton formed in 2020, sold in 2016, Compton formed in 2021. So, 11-year difference between Compton and Hatton.

Chris: What are the differences between the businesses? For context, they are very similar businesses in terms of, I guess the output, but can you tell me what you think the differences are between the businesses?

Shaun: Firstly, headcount a number of departments. So, when we were Hatton, we were a 12-person business. We were two departments. We had a disposal business, which dabbled in the investment market, and we had a very, very small residential business.

We’re now a 25-person business with four departments. So, we dispose of office space, we have a proper investment capital markets department. We do flexible workspace and service office brokerage and occupier services where we represent occupiers.

So, we are much more rounded in terms of our kind of real estate offering. We’re also much better business people. So, one of the questions I often get asked is, what did Colliers give you? Did you benefit much from being there?

And people assumed when we went there, we would benefit from a P&L perspective. We’d turn over more money, we’d deal with bigger instructions. But the reality is at the time of selling, we had a 55, 60% market share of our location.

It was going to be very, very difficult to move the needle much beyond where we already were. I know for a fact what Colliers did for us basically made us better businessmen. It gave us an insight into big business and how big business operates.

And that is something that when I launched my second business I think it’s a priceless thing that I’ve secured here because Hatton was the biggest company I’d ever worked for. I’d worked for three companies before I set up my own business.

Hatton was the largest firm I’d ever worked for. I had 12 members of staff. I’d suddenly at the age of 33, been propelled into a senior director role at a global business that employs 17,000 people.

And I was a senior member. I’d go to Boston and speak at a conference with 5/6,000 people. I’d attend kind of the heads of business meetings every month. I was kind of catapulted into this kind of really senior role and a big business. And the experience and exposure and the amount I learned through that has just been unbelievable.

And I think a lot of the decisions we’re now making when it comes to Compton are very much based on all the things we’ve picked up over the last five years.

Hatton was a small business with a small business mentality. That’s what it was. There is no denying it. We were very proud of it, but it was a small business, small mentality.

Compton is a small business with a big business mentality, and that is, I guess, the big fundamental difference between what we try to achieve when we were Hatton and what we are now trying to achieve under the umbrella of Compton.

Chris: Sometimes when people go to bigger businesses, they can feel slowed down and frustrated by the speed of change. Did you feel that by your time at Colliers?

Shaun: So, when we joined Colliers, I absolutely loved it. I loved being there. I loved the people there. I loved the exposure. I really loved it.

And if I’m being really, really, really honest, I didn’t want to leave. I really didn’t want to leave, of the three of us, I was probably the one that was the most upset to be leaving because I really did enjoy it there.

Without wanting to go to the ins and outs of why we eventually left, it was something that we felt we had no choice but to leave. But I don’t think it slowed me down. If anything, it was arguably kind of one of the most important parts of my career journey to date to be honest with you.

Chris: One of the questions which I really loved asking guests through the series is how they celebrate success. So, Shaun, how on earth do you celebrate success?

Shaun: Things often tend to be a kind of a bit of an anti-climax. You spend six months on a deal, deals happen, but you’re so worried about finding the next one that you forget to celebrate the ones that you’ve just worked so bloody hard to do.

Given what I’ve kind of trodden through more my adult life, it’s really kind of levelled me to really like when you do good things, you’ve got to enjoy them. So, I’ve got a rule: every time I do a deal, I buy myself a present.

Now, it doesn’t have to be of significant monetary value, but I have to buy myself to mark what that deal was. So, even if I go and do a deal that the fees are less than a thousand pounds, I will go and mark that deal with something.

So, obviously when we ran Hatton, we ran a small business, we could give ourselves little perks and bonuses and do all sorts of things with the business.

But when I worked at Colliers, I couldn’t do that anymore. So, the deal I majored in was every year I’m at Colliers, every time I get my annual bonus, I’m buying myself a watch. That was my thing. I know you and I have a shared love for timepieces.

I remember there was one of the years we didn’t have a great year, by default I didn’t have a great bonus, but I still had to do it. Probably wasn’t the sensible thing for me to do at the time, but it had to be done because it’s about recognizing good you’ve done, commitment you’ve given and kind of giving yourself a pat on the back. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Chris: Your point on mentors, my suspicion or thought is that probably the guys that you’ve had around you each time have been kind of your mentors where you’ve had that ability or room to then bounce ideas off each other and do that.

Shaun: We’ve never had mentors. So, the whole of Hatton Real Estate … and by the way, when we started Hatton Real Estate, no degrees, no A levels between us, barely GCSEs. I was kicked out of school at 16, the other two left between 16 and 18.

No business school, no business courses, nothing. The whole of the Hatton Real Estate business was basically built on a football analogy. That was it.

So, if we were recruiting a new member of staff, we’d talk about the squad or the lineup. When we were talking about investing, whether it was something new, we thought about what a football club would do.

It was like the common language that the three of us could all relate to and then translate that into what was right for the Hatton Real Estate journey. But it was all done through football analogies.

We still use football analogies as Compton sometimes, but obviously we’re much longer in the tooth now and we’re kind of established ourselves as business people.

So, it’s kind of the school of life more than kind of the school system or mentorship. I’ve never had a mentor, just good business partners and good analogies.

Chris: You can see the shelf life of companies coming down and down and down. You don’t have a hundred-year company now. You don’t have 70-year companies. I mean the average half-life of companies is under seven years and that is going to compound and get faster and faster and faster. So, if you’re not moving, what are you doing?

Then you get into this whole thing. I think of big businesses that manage to get tripped up by their own bureaucracy about what’s going on and that’s what causes them to slow down and eventually someone comes along and just does it better and is more nimble.

Shaun: But how unbelievable. All you hear about, and I’ve seen it in my own eyes, and there’s politics in all businesses. I have been so staggered at how things get so kind of stuck in the mud and so delayed by internal rigmarole policies. It’s just nuts.

And that’s kind of I guess one of the really refreshing things of doing Compton. As you know, we do a lot of videos.

And again, we were really clear at the beginning of this journey, we wanted to differentiate ourselves. We were the guys that originally stood outside the building. We would be like, “Hi, I’m Shaun from Hatton and this building’s owned by X and it’s X amount of square foot. It’s got air conditioning and raised floors. It’s close to a station.” It’s like yawning, enough.

We did it for five years. Everyone’s been doing it for 10 years, if we’re going to create video content, it has to be different. But it was last October, and we were storyboarding our Christmas special. What we all collectively thought would be a great idea for a Christmas special is to talk about our successes.

We’ve seen other corporate people talk about their successes. You get a guy behind a boardroom table with a bar chart in the background and he’s like, we’ve done X amount of square footage and we’ve done this, we’ve done that. It’s like a two-and-a-half-minute video of them. Like smash a laptop in front of the screen because it’s so boring.

And we said we want to do it differently. We had a 16-piece marching band, and we had a sheep. We gave all the messages, but we wrote the number of square footage we transacted on the side of the sheep. The marching band was there for the big finale.

Going back to the big company mentality, that meeting was signed off round a table within 15 minutes. We got the sheep approved; we got the band approved. We had 70 people featuring that film and it was all agreed over a 15-minute meeting round the table. Someone had an idea; we ran with it.

Originally, we were going to spray paint the sheep, which I didn’t think there was anything wrong with. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with, sheeps getting sprayed in their natural habitats. So, that’s what happens.

But I then went to my sister, my sister is a lot younger than me. She’s kind of Gen Z, and I said, “Can I just ask you an opinion? How would you feel if you saw us putting a video and we were spray painting a sheep?”

And she was like, I think it was “disgusting.” Anyway, we then decided to buy a drape for the sheep and just had the sheep draped rather than spray him.

Going back to corporate governance, all this kind of stuff. We can do things really quickly. We can have an idea and we can execute it. I think for me, that’s one of the most refreshing things about being an entrepreneurial person, working for a business which is incredibly nimble and can kind of do what we want to do.

Chris: You mentioned earlier your sister saying no to the sheep.

Shaun: No to the sheep, was a hard no.

Chris: Do you have people in your life that deliver these hard NOs?

Shaun: Well, my wife. People always say in business, do not go into business with your friends or your family. It’s like a constant thing.

My first business was with my, well my two best friends. My second business is with my best friend and my stepbrother. And actually, I’ve been very, very blessed over the years to be in business with not one but two partners every time.

So, it’s not about being told no, it’s about healthy debate. And I think what I’ve had with both my businesses is you have me at kind of one extreme. You have Michael at the other extreme. You’ve either had Ricky, who was our co-founder at Hatton, kind of working in the lines in between. And with Compton Elliott doing that.

We’ve now got equity partners in Dan Howard and Kyle Joss is actually a committee of five. So, it’s not about saying no, it’s just about debating, discussing, exploring and kind of finding the right way.

But doing that with business partners is just incredible and especially business partners that you get on with and respect.

Chris: From an outside looking in at you or people who work in the market that don’t know you might sit there and say, “Oh he is arrogant.”

Shaun: Loads of people say that.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s fair that that’s the view that someone would take but then there’s a moment in that where they’re going, “No, no, it’s part of the Compton machine.” Yes, in one sense and that’s the kind of marketing side of what you’re doing.

And if you can’t talk confidently about these things, certainly from a client’s perspective, why would someone buy into you? You do that extremely well.

But it’s also you as an individual who do it very well where you are kind of making sure that people are feeling certain ways about certain things and believing in what you are saying.

Shaun: There are people who don’t know me, don’t know my story, don’t know my background, don’t know things I’ve been through that perhaps suggest or could think he’s a bit cocksure of himself, that guy.

But property is a people business. Make it about the people. That isn’t just me, that’s everyone in the Compton business. The reason we shoot the videos, the way we’re doing it is to show personality. I believe we are moving into a world where personality really, really matters.

Now I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I know there are certain clients that Elliott might be dealing with, or Michael might be dealing with. They’re like, “Listen, we don’t want Shaun on this project.”

And I get that right because I bring a certain kind of energy to things. I have a certain way of working that is not everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s life. People don’t want to work with Michael. Everyone wants to work with Elliott because everyone loves Elliott.

So, the reason we are making our staff, and our own personalities more out there is so people can choose what they want to work with. Who am I to tell you who you should be working with if you employ Compton, that shouldn’t be the way it works.

You should be telling us; I’ve been seeing this guy on social media. I like his work ethic; I like who he’s connected with. I like his style. I want him working on my project. We don’t make markets; we can only respond to them. So, you should decide who you want on your team to respond to the market. Simple as that.

Chris: If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, you’re going to go nowhere.

Shaun: Correct.

Chris: That’s my point is that you are very, very good at doing that and I think a lot of people from a jealousy point or a misunderstanding point of why, that’s what I’m digging at.

Shaun: You’re absolutely right.

Chris: If you were to kind of look back on this journey and you’ve done an awful lot already, is there any one thing you would do differently given the chance?

Shaun: I don’t think there is to be honest with you. I mean I’ve made loads of mistakes; I’ve done things wrong time and time and time. We all have. And anyone who says otherwise is a liar, no, I don’t think I would.

I’m not overly spiritual or any — I mean my wife is, and maybe some of her stuff rubs off on me, but I don’t believe in manifesting, probably I’m a natural manifester.

But it’s all been part of the journey. The good, the bad, the indifferent, both personal and business. I mean, yes, I’d probably change the fact I wouldn’t let my son be born premature or my dad to be killed.

But other than those things I’m a very, very happy person. Life is short. We don’t know what’s going to happen, how it all will unfold and enjoy it whilst you’re here.

My dad died when he was 56-years-old. That is an unacceptable age to die in my opinion. Now I have no intentions of dying anywhere near 56, but in the event, I do die at 56, I want to make sure that I’ve lived my life to its absolute fullest during that time.

And sometimes it does take really bad things in your life to happen for you to have that mentality. And yes, I’ve had some really kind of tragic things that have happened.

But I kind of look back at them and I’m a little bit thankful sometimes for those things happening. Not what they were, but they’ve just given me a different mentality. They’ve given me this kind of never say die attitude. I will not be beaten.

I’ve gone through my dad having what was virtually terminal cancer, my son basically being told he is going to either die or be physically disabled. And then my father dying in the most traumatic of situations all within a five-year window.

And I’m still here to tell the tale. I’ve got to take the positives from that. I just have to have to convert all that kind of negative energy into something that can benefit me in my life, benefit the people around me, my family, my coworkers, my business partners, my clients, whoever it may be.

I need to channel all that negative energy into a really, really positive place, which I feel like I’ve done. I’ve just got to keep doing it now for however long my career’s going to have me for.

Chris: So, we ask everyone to leave a book on the Uncommon bookshelf. I know you’re not much of a reader, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a book or something that you’d like to leave on our proverbial bookshelf. What book would you leave and why?

Shaun: I don’t read books. This is a problem. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you — if you haven’t got one already. No, you haven’t got one. We have a Compton book. Can I give you my Compton book?

Chris: What’s in the Compton book?

Shaun: So, when we moved into our townhouse in St. John’s Square, we took an old townhouse, we counted up, we needed 90 pieces of art to fill the walls. And for myself, Michael, and Elliott, to decide on one piece of art, let alone 90 when you’re trying to run your business, is a very inefficient process.

So, a mate of mine’s a really top photographer and we sent him out into our area to capture the culture and life of the City Fringe. We didn’t want buildings; we didn’t want them architecturally. We wanted to capture the essence and the soul of our location.

He did that and we’ve now got 90 pieces of artwork in our building, and we loved it so much that we decided to put it into a book, which is called Eyes to the East, and it captures the spirit of the City Fringe across about a 45-page book. I’ll send you a copy for your delicious bookshelf sitting behind you.

Chris: Thank you, Shaun. That’s very enterprising. I’d love to see a copy of the book. Lastly, if people want to see about Compton, where should they go?


Chris: That’s great. All that’s left for me to say is thank you for your time and thoughts.

Shaun: Thank you for having me.

[Music Playing]

Chris: I really love talking to Shaun. One of the things I get from him is his clear belief that you have to work hard to achieve success. His attitude and drive is infectious, which is a reflection on how he’s achieved so much so far in his career.

I know him well and it’s true. He’s in every morning without fail, even if it is trying to prove a point.

I think above all, spending time with Shaun, you really get a sense of authenticity. What you see is what you get. Some people might not want to hear the opinion at a certain moment, but he’s someone who will give it. Personally, I do really value that.