First things first, tell us a bit about your background

I’ve always worked in tech. When I moved to the UK (from South Africa), I started out working as a programmer for a bank, then progressed to project manager, then switched over to another line of business to work as an analyst building financial models. After that, I moved into product development and eventually ended up heading up product management for two global regions… and I absolutely loathed it! I like to build stuff, and when you’re a manager you don’t get to do that anymore.

Then in 2018, Rich came along with this crazy idea. I looked at it from every angle and realised, I can do this! I have the experience, I know the legal stuff, regulations, development, all of it. So we spent a while kicking the tyres to make sure it was feasible, then took the leap.

How did you find those early days of Hello Neighbour?

Honestly, it was tough. I was working two jobs and it was very, very stressful. Not just for me, but for my family too – I don’t think we talk enough about the impact making big decisions like these can have on the people around us. But we did start to make progress – it was just me in our spare bedroom beavering away with our two brilliant developers; Vitaly and Ievgen, working remotely from Kiev. Between us we got the first proof of concept up and running, which was enough for our first seed investment. Then COVID-19 hit, but it didn’t really impact us because we were working remotely anyway, and still in the building phase. So we carried on building, then started taking on landlords at the end of 2021. The big change at this point was to pivot away from a purely online service to today’s successful hybrid model, as Rich talks about in his interview.

At the start of 2022, we had a functional MVP platform which allowed us to take on more properties, employ staff and begin to scale up, then we launched properly in spring 2022. With a functioning platform and revenue coming in, we were then able to raise more investment – the first time we faced the stress of fundraising – which then allowed us to build the development team and scale up the operations side. At this point, with things starting to take off, Rich and I properly split our roles so I could fully focus on tech. I had been doing everything from concept through to testing, so I split everything I’d been doing myself into separate roles. We hired Claire Wallis as head of product-slash-everything! And since our original developers were based in Ukraine, we had been planning on building out the whole team there, but then the war happened. It was really terrible. As a business, we had to mitigate our risk and chose to hire a team in Cape Town, South Africa in addition to Vitaly and Ievgen in Kiev.

Today we have one development team split over both locations – a very nice change from where we started. We have 50,000+ people on the platform with 2,000+ active users and a great tech team working to support them and keep building.

We can’t gloss over the Ukraine War and the impact it had on your team, how are they now?

When the war started, everything was uncertain and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was a crazy time. Vitaly, Ievgen and I spoke every day and in the lead up to the war when the Russian forces were on the borders, all of us would sort of joke about it, but then suddenly Russia did invade. When Kiev came under attack and no one knew what was happening, it was terrifying and they both had to flee with their families, like so many others. I was doing meetings with them in bomb shelters – they were always safe, but it was so heart-breaking. Vitaly took the decision to send his family to a refugee camp in Romania, it was very, very tough – his daughter isn’t much older than mine. Ievgen took his family into the mountains to stay at a friend’s house, but remarkably, they both carried on working the whole time. Their resilience was unbelievable. They both said they didn’t want to just stop everything – they needed to work and I think it was like an act of defiance for them. They’re both back in Kiev now – Ievgen’s family is now here in the UK and Vitaly’s family eventually rejoined him in Kiev. And three more of our Ukraine team had family actively involved in the war. Everyone’s lives changed.


Something I've always believed: people need a good, safe home. It’s a very basic right.

Mike Jenkins, Co-Founder & CTO


Did this experience impact how you view your business?

The experience of our team in Ukraine really threw this into the forefront for me, but it’s something I’ve always believed: people need a good, safe home. It’s a very basic right.

It’s always irked me that the rental market was so skewed to one side. As you know, the origin of our business was Rich renting from his landlord, so what we really wanted to do was empower tenants. The first name of the business says it all – Rent Revolution! (We toned it down a bit – too many pitchforks!). We really do want to make things better and fairer for tenants, but we quickly realised that to do that, we need to build everything for the landlord. Sometimes, it feels like the goal of solving things for the tenants is quite distant, but it isn’t really. Even just building the platform to take care of the red tape makes things more fair and our tenants are benefitting from that already. And we have to be impartial and fair to everybody – our landlords aren't the evil, two-headed monsters that people like to make out. There’s a lot of very fair and decent people who want to do the right thing and we’re enabling them to do that.

We’ve kicked landlords off the platform who were actively doing harm to their tenants and the institutions that we’re speaking to, they all see tenants as their customer, which is the right attitude I think. Just that switch in mindset is what we need – it changes the way landlords approach things. I’ve heard some private landlords speak about tenants as if they’re doing them a favour, but they’re not! They’re providing a service.

Homelessness has always been a big driver for me too. People shouldn’t be homeless in this day and age. I’ve always wanted to use the business to help that side of things, and we will get there. Even now, we’re making sure that we don’t discriminate against tenants in any way. If they’re on benefits for example - not only is it illegal to discriminate anyway – we’re actively trying to make landlords comfortable with that. I think landlords have been told lies for so long by the industry, that they really do believe people on benefits are ‘lesser tenants’ and that their income isn’t stable. When actually the opposite is true! Changing mindsets is really important to me and we’ll get there in the long term.

And for most of our landlords, they aren’t crazy wealthy people and the homes they rent out are their future – their pensions and their security. So if we can do something to help landlords and tenants, then we’ve succeeded. That’s what our platform does – creates a base for things to get better going forward.

Which leads us nicely onto - what are you excited about with the future of Hello Neighbour?

Launching the self-service letting product which has been coming for so long. We are very close to something truly unique in the industry that allows landlords and tenants to rent using just software, but with excellent customer service to back it up. We won’t just be taking on the traditional agents with our full service offering, but also the online only segment too.

And after this, I’m excited to continue to improve the product that we have. We had to shave so many nice things off to get to this point, so soon we’re going to go back and improve on what we’ve built to date. We delivered what’s absolutely required, but there’s a lot to come that’ll be really cool for landlords and tenants. And then on the management side, I’m excited to be building another product – we have the experience now with 500 properties under our belt, and going after self-serve management landlords will open up a whole new market for us.

Also, looking at AI and what we can use it for is an exciting prospect. For example property descriptions - we’ve got the data to train the models, we’ve got the knowledge, we’ve got the formula and the data behind the scenes, so it’s just a case of deploying it. This will genuinely improve the way we work as a business – writing property descriptions is formulaic, but it’s time consuming, so our team not having to do that will be fantastic. Plus when we have landlords on the platform themselves, this will be one less task for landlords and for us – checking what landlords have written would be very time consuming as well. Getting AI to generate the property descriptions saves everyone time and stops any unconscious bias or discrimination from creeping in too.

And finally – building out our tenant services properly (like Claire talks about in her interview ) to be much more than just finding a property – that goes back to why we founded the business in the first place – that excites me a lot.