Josh Graham is the founder of ehab.co, a Norwich based startup that is building a platform on top of the blockchain to make housing affordable for all. This is the story, in his own words, of how it got started.
The ehab story, from the beginning
Josh studied Environmental Science at UEA and Adam studies Ecology. These courses revealed the incredible damage that the modern way of life was doing to the earth and the majority of the human and animal inhabitants on it.
The natural world had in fact been under siege for the entirety of our lives, and it had been losing, heavily. An area of forest the size of South Africa had been cut down, 52% of all biodiversity had been lost since 1970, greenhouse gas emissions have been rapidly rising during our lifetimes and hardly show signs of slowing and the human population has risen from 5.5 billion to 7.5 billion. If we continue to live in the same way that we are at the moment then ecological collapse is a certainty. That does not look pretty for anyone, or anything on this planet. At the same time billions of people are being failed by the system, they live in poverty whilst other people live in mass throw away luxury.
We therefore set out to build a property development company which would produce homes and housing developments which could be self sufficient for energy, foster a greater sense of community, have biodiverse rich green spaces and allow for the growing of food.
We founded ehabitation on the 18th of September 2015 with a vision and a general idea of how to get there. We researched build methodologies and hunted for land. We wrote a business plan and started to understand what the property development world looked like. Finding land proved very difficult but we persisted. As we continued to research we found more and more that there were lots of groups of people trying to develop the type of housing developments we had envisaged. We discovered the very niche phenomena of Co-housing and custom build. (In Denmark 10% of people live in Cohousing and this has consistently been in the top 5 happiest countries in the world.)
It was at this point we decided to try to enable these groups of people and help them develop their own custom built houses. This of course also proved difficult, people needed real solutions and many had grown frustrated with searching for a decade or more and not finding one. We had managed to procure some small grants from the UEA these however were not enough to create the service we needed to deliver.
So in the New year (2016) we were struggling to see how we could continue.
But in early February we stumbled upon an app competition the UEA student enterprise were running in conjunction with Santander. The competition was simply to submit an app idea that would help your business and a team of developers would build it for you. The team would be made up of UEA computer science students and a scrum master from industry, all of whom would be paid to work on your idea.
Why not digitise the facilitation process for community oriented house building?
We could provide information and a support service and a marketplace where groups could connect with developers and landowners to build their project.
We entered the competition and won! Which meant the 3 summer months of 2016 were spent on the lean development process, iterating and building our app. At this stage our friend Filipe became the CTO and began to input ideas into the tech team. There were bumps and hiccups as there are in any development process but eventually we had created a very bare bones MVP.
During this development process we had been attending events and networking. It was at a digitising custom build event that we met the MP Richard Bacon who was the leading politician pushing for reform around housing to make custom build an easier process. He was very supportive of our system and continued to invite us to events and gave us speaking slots.
At the same event we also met Thomas Hoepfner of Bright Forest limited, who supported our idea and invited us to demo it at their stand at the Homebuilding and Renovating show at the Excel in London.
Being able to attend this show and get first hand feedback about the app from potential users was incredible. We made great friends, and partners to this day, and could get validation from lots of different user groups that the platform we had been building and refining could be a real business.
There was overwhelming support for the product so now we thought it was just a case of costing out the full price of development and pitching for some investment to get the ball rolling.
Once again our idea was validated by several VC investors, but they needed to see more from us before they could invest.
We spoke at several events and continued to refine and validate our idea.
We attended housing events at Portcullis house and met lots of interesting allies for potential partnerships and projects, but without the platform it was difficult to take relationships much further and without the relationships we couldn’t build any homes.
After more pitching and trying to gain funding from somewhere we realised the project could just be too upfront cost heavy for a traditional investor to take on. Every conversation we had was that the idea was incredible, that it would work and that once we were up and running to get back in touch as they would love to be involved. But that doesn’t get a tech platform built.
At this point Adam decided to leave the founding team to become a teacher a seek a different kind of challenge.
So Josh and Filipe had to come up with a different way of developing the idea.
Why not incorporate blockchain, pitch ourselves as a global, digital house building platform and raise funds through a token sale? Our idea had always been to subvert the existing system of centralised developers and bankers so why not use the decentralised community to fund this?
So at the end of summer 2017 that’s exactly what we did.
Check out ehab.co whose token sale starts 1st February 2018