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Meet Nicole…

Nicole Bremner is a well-known figure with over a decade in the property industry. Prior to that, she had a decade in investment management including a stint on Wall Street. She has a Bachelor of Commerce in financial planning and a Post Graduate Diploma in financial planning, both from Deakin University, Australia.

Having founded East Eight as a boutique house builder in 2010, Nicole and her team built out over 120 homes across London over that time. With her all-female team, Nicole raised over £6 million setting the record for the most raised via property crowdfunding, including £1.624 million in just 17 minutes! East Eight has been awarded a number of prestigious awards, more recently Best Boutique Residential Property Developer BUILD 2020.

We asked Nicole a few questions…. 

Nicole, what was it that led you on your journey? 

I think that every turn that I’ve made has been influenced, as they always are for all people, by quite a momentous change in my life. I think the most important thing is right at the very beginning of my adult life really. At 21, I left Australia and followed love to the UK. I loved it because Australia is a very ‘small’ place and I just really wanted to be in a big city. So that was kind of the first step.

I trained as a financial advisor in Australia but when I came to the UK, my qualifications just weren’t recognised here at all (and also the industry in Australia is at least 15 years ahead of here in the UK. I’m sure the British among us will agree to that).

So that was my first career iteration; trying to work out what I was going to do now. Then, I moved into banking and honestly, I wasn’t great at banking. I’m not an analyst, I’m very big picture rather than micro, so that didn’t go quite so well. Then I progressed with a great job at Capital and from there to Goldman Sachs right at the very end, which was a really interesting journey for me.

Just before this last job, I had my first child and when he was seven months old, I went and started work at Goldman Sachs in New York on Wall Street and which was really my dream to work at. It’s the dream of anyone who’s watched any of those 80s finance shows, you just want to go work on Wall Street. It was such a letdown because I started the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008 although before this I had thought:

“Here I am basically part-time only working 8 till 6 with a baby” and I just thought that it wasn’t going to last, and it didn’t . 

As the saying goes when you’re last in, you’re first out. My partner and I decided to move back to the UK because the employment law is not very friendly over in the US. We moved back and by this stage, I had no idea what I was going to do. But then I found out that I was pregnant again. I had a second child and at that point, I thought we need a home here in the UK as we were growing out of our current flat.

It was at that point that we bought a dilapidated derelict, old Vicarage in Hackney. That really was the start of my property journey in 2009 because I spent the next 18 months renovating that property. I loved the experience! I enjoyed it because it’s financial, you’ve got to keep track of cash flows. It’s highly creative. There’s management in there as well, you’ve got to manage these teams of people working on the house.

And because of this new work/life balance, I got to be the mother that I wanted to be because by then I had three young children. I was able to attend the various little Christmas shows that they put on and sports day, prizegivings and things. They were only 3, 18 months and a newborn at that stage, but still it just really allowed me to do that. It was having children that made me change from banking into the property world and then, further along, other events in my life have made me change again.

Creativity is important and it’s like that saying “when life throws you lemons, make lemonade” and I guess that’s what I’ve had to do, and that’s what all of us do. We all try and take the best or make the best opportunity of what life throws up. It’s never linear.

Do you feel more reactive or proactive?

I think it’s both. I think I’ve reacted to an event or events within my life, whether they be micro-events such as in my little family or macro events such as the world financial crisis. I’ve reacted to those and then I have had to act off the back of those.

Usually, whenever I do things, I go in and think that I can make whatever I’m doing the biggest and the best. I run into things and try to do too much and take on too much without having that sound support and foundation.

It’s the same as when I started doing properties. Rather than just being content with doing one, selling it, banking the profits and then doing another one. We just grew and we grew and we grew. In the end, we had over 110 units. The whole portfolio, at its peak, was worth over £100,000,000. And that was frightening. It was really, really frightening when you step back and think “the market’s not what it used to be”. We have to start selling because I was scared.

At the same time my marriage broke down and in my mind whilst this was happening I had reached as far as I had wanted to go in the property industry. I had to ask myself “What’s important now” and then I had to react to that and then act again on this new information to make decisions for my family’s future.

It sounds like your journey has been very adaptive personally and that has contributed to your success. Do you believe this is an important factor?

It is, but I’d like to point out that I’m not sure that’s always the best way. It’s kind of a risky way to live your life because if I think about some of the most successful people I know, Daniel Priestley from Dent, he’s great, he’s Australian and a friend of mine. He does Dent. That’s all he does and he just he’s done that for probably close to 20 years now and it had grown organically from what it was. It’s just steady and he does that.

My partner, Paul, he’s been been in wealth management for 27 years and what’s interesting about him is that he says “I love wealth management. I’m good at wealth management, but it’s not my passion. My passion is sailing but allows me to have the lifestyle that I want”.

Whereas for me, I’ve always thought whatever business I go into or whatever I choose to do, that’s my passion and I’m going to make my life, my work and my personal life and everything entwined into this passion and I’m not sure that’s the right thing.

I think that perhaps we need to have that separation of your endeavours, whatever it is that you do to make money, and live a good life and then your passion. Perhaps by crossing those over, it’s almost spoiling one with the other.

I don’t know, but I think most people I admire are the ones that have just stuck with something for a very long time rather than done what I’ve done.

What would you say are some keys for success that you have learned?

The people who are the most successful that I know, like Daniel Priestley, James Collier at Huel and Shaa Wasmund; all of these people, haven’t had the first-mover advantage but they’ve just picked their one micro-niche and they’ve stuck at it for a very long time and I think that’s what it is.

I think that if I were to give my younger self or my children advice, it would be to just do one thing. Don’t try and do everything. I used to be quite proud of myself that I was a “Jill of all trades, master of none” and that’s great. It’s given me a lot of knowledge about a vast array of things, but it means that I don’t feel that I’m really good at one thing. I think that that’s the difference, you can really get very successful by micro niching into something and just being a little more patient. Which is key.

What ways have you personally developed resilience?

My marriage started breaking down around 2017 and then the property market turned and I realised that the decisions I’ve made were probably not the best decisions. I was in a bad place, and then of course the pandemic hit. I had a new relationship and I’d spent more of this new relationship in lockdown than outside of lockdown. So, it was a very unusual place, and I think for me, what’s helped is to almost retreat back into myself and back to basics.

There’s a wonderful author, Katherine May, who talks about ‘wintering’ and it was my lovely friend and Pilates instructor, Andy, who told me about this book. She said, I think you really need to read it. I’ll be honest; I couldn’t read past the first chapter because at the time it was just too raw but I got the gist of the idea. I was then able to go back and explore it a bit later, but it really resonated.

The premise of it is this…When you go through a difficult time, it’s your winter and like with animals, like with trees during this period of wintering, you’re to go and hop in your den, make yourself cosy and look after yourself. Make sure that you’re well, nourished and all your basic needs are met.

It’s really getting back to those basics and I think for me, that was it. I was asking myself “What is it that you really need right now?”. The answers that I came up with were: you need your family, so let’s get that little core right. You need far fewer friends than you thought. All those friends you thought you had, they’re not friends, they’re just associates.

So, it’s just about having the family, your friends and your basic needs looked after; once you do that then you’re able to move past that and when you’re strong enough to do that, then you start adding things in. By September 2020; I thought that I need to do something, I’ve waited long enough. What’s the one thing that will really give me a sense of purpose and achievement? That for me it was my podcast.

I’ve been running my podcast since 2017 but I really felt like it needed a relaunch and a breath of fresh air. So, I did that, I just focused on that for months and that was so nourishing for me and so rewarding because I could just focus on one thing and know that I was doing one thing well. That’s unusual for me, I don’t normally do just one thing.

What changes in your industry have you seen? 

Within the property industry, there were huge changes. We had various tax changes and things and there was the Brexit referendum. All of that happened around 2016 continuing into 2018 and the repercussions of all of those were immense, so that has definitely changed.

I got it so wrong with house prices and the supply and demand. Because who would have thought that we would be in the middle of this pandemic and all of a sudden, house prices just go absolutely bonkers. Everyone starts buying and selling, which drives up the average house price so much.

You have to be nimble and that’s really the word for it, nimble. I can also see with my partner who’s had his company for 27 years. It’s a really good company to look at. You can see how he’s had to adapt professionally. Looking at different industries, Law is a great example, who would have thought that you could sign electronically for all sorts of very important legal documents. We’ve all had to adapt and become just so much more efficient with how we do things.

Before we had everyone on social media but over lockdown, everyone has become a creator of content. Now, I think there are so many people creating content that there are not enough people consuming it. Everyone just seeing such a drop in engagement because everyone is out there creating. There are big changes but you have to be nimble with it.

Those people who went over to TikTok, they’ve obviously benefited during the pandemic, as that’s where attention went. It’s just sticking with your core values and your core purpose, but being able to be flexible about the way you deliver it; whether it be with zoom calls rather than in person, and whether it be E signing rather than wet signatures, all those sorts of things.

Has your business workflow gone very digital or are you using a hybrid method?

I’m all digital, really. In my property world, I guess I became one of the first of a handful of influences because within the property industry back in 2015, my world was very digitally focused. Even now, I don’t have meetings with people anymore. I can’t remember the last time I had an in-person meeting. I think one with a copywriter and that was really lovely.  But now everything that we do is digital and even right now I’m in the middle of writing a book and there’s that whole question, do we have it as a physical book or do we have it as just an eBook?

These are really valid questions because you just don’t know. Some people like to have it in their hand, while other people like to read it on the go. These are just all questions.

My business is very digital, I use Asana for my consultancy. I love Asana or any of those project management platforms because I’ve got three team members based in the Philippines and I’ve got another three based in the UK. It just means that we can seamlessly manage all of our various projects, all on Asana, and we have weekly catch-up calls that are all done over WhatsApp. It’s all just very efficient. The rest of it goes through Asana.

Before I was not very good at doing in-person marketing meetings. I’d get to the meetings and I’d be disorganised. My team in the UK would ask what we were doing but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t had the time to think about it.  When it’s all written in front of you in Asana or Slack or Trello or Monday, whatever platform you like, it’s just so straightforward. So, I’m really embracing it, all of the digital offerings. I’m forever excited about every update that an app will bring out.

Tell us something interesting about you?

My partner and I have eight children and three dogs, ranging from 31 down to 10, and so that makes Christmas really challenging, especially for Paul. He’s got 7 grandchildren as well.  It makes life very interesting! That’s how I introduce Paul a lot of times because you’re trying to stand out when you’re networking. I say that Paul is the father of eight with seven grandchildren and he’s only 47. So, everyone starts doing the math and looks shocked.

What advice would you give anyone reading this?

I think that it’s to just figure out what really works for you. Just that one thing. The character from Billionaire said to his wife, “what’s the one thing that you’re best at in the world?” and find that one thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the best. Find the one thing that you are best at and stick to it. But be prepared for setbacks, and be prepared for failures. If that one thing that you’re brilliant at is the right thing, it will be out there.

Pick that one thing you’re best at.

Focus on it but be flexible.

Be prepared for the setbacks, winter, then dust yourself off, rebound and go again.

How can people get in touch

Visit my website at www.nicolebremner.com or email me at [email protected]

There’s no doubt about it, the last couple of years have required more resilience in business than most. What can we learn from Nicole’s journey that could help you in your business?

  1. The right small steps, done over time lead to great things. Maybe it’s taking time to ask clients how they are, or maybe it’s spending a few minutes a day writing down ideas – small things definitely do add up and matter. Little bricks build a big house. Little decisions helped Nicole and those people she highlights in this interview, to build their future.
  2. Pick one thing. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.
  3. When you are going through a difficult time, winter and make sure all your basic needs are met. Then don’t forget to rebound and go again…it’s never over unless you decide it is!

One final thing…We highly recommend Nicole Bremner’s book, available from Amazon or any book shop.

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