An innovator in the property sector, Steve Smith of Pixel Image Ltd talks to BQ about navigating the property downturn, putting boundaries around family time and work time, and the importance of believing in yourself as a leader.
What is it the company does?
We are technology partners to the property industry.
Developed in-house, our interactive selector systems use cloud-based software to provide newbuild home buyers with an intuitive, visually engaging way of doing their own research online before making one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
Our systems are designed to be used intuitively, allowing users to filter their search across criteria relevant to them.
Designed in-house, these systems generate independent data insights for our clients across their unique developments. This client provision is unique to our selector systems and self-navigation virtual tours.
Most recently we’ve been shortlisted for the Scottish Design Awards 2019 and the German Design Awards 2020.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I lead a team of 38 with my co-founding director and wife, Cat. The focus of my role is overseeing the company’s corporate strategy, new product development and creative direction.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I first began working in the architectural department of Miller Homes' Edinburgh head office before setting up Pixel with my wife, Cat, in 1996 after seeing a gap in the market to create high-quality 3D computer-generated images for selling and marketing property off-plan.
Alongside running Pixel, in 1999 I was approached by US firm REL Cars and asked to create a 3D virtual car showroom which led to the appointment as artistic director with the newly formed The Internet Car Company Ltd. (TICC) later that year. I was responsible for handling the design, content, functionality and development of the website. Pixel Image developed the site and technology behind it as well as processed all the content.
2001 saw the setup of Pixel Image (India) Pvt Ltd as a wholly-owned subsidiary and back-office production and processing unit to support sales in the UK, Middle East and US markets. Directing our Pune-based production team, I designed a hi-tech customer experience centre and engineered a holographic projection across a short-edit immersive AV experience and have directed more than 300 commercial ad films for the property sector in India.
Additionally, I branded and positioned a disruptive new property entrant into the Indian market and directed the branding, positioning, marketing and social aspects in a consultative role for Pune-based, YOLO homes.
When the property market went into decline in 2008, we focused our new business push on the Middle East and Asia regions, where we completed numerous large client projects as we rode out the economic crisis, which hit the global property market.
In 2007, I began masterminding the development of technology to allow buyers to select and view property details on a website in a new and informative way. This technology was to win ‘best property website’ in the UK Daily Mail property awards and ‘best property website in the world’ by CNBC in the US the same year. This was the start of what has now become our highly sought-after interactive sales and marketing HomeSelector™ system, which forms one element of our heavily developed Pixel Sales Platform™.
Since 2015, Pixel has been firmly focused back on the UK market where we have ambitious plans for expansion and continue to work with many of the biggest UK names in property and house building.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who understands their ‘why’, as Simon Sinek would say. Understand what they believe in and why they are driven to change their world. To take that belief and share the passion so that others who it resonates with can follow. Someone who doesn’t give up easily and knows leadership is a long road and takes time, patience and determination but most of all a deep empathy who whom they ultimately serve.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Educating the market in the changes technology is bringing to an industry that has seen very little change and one which has so much to benefit from embracing a more dynamic approach to the homebuyer journey.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
By trying to keep family time and business time separate. Not to check emails as soon as I wake up, no digital at mealtimes and ensure I make time for family activities like school plays. At the weekends, I like to create things with my hands, which is refreshingly different from the technological world I spend my working week in.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to make things and was fascinated by mechanical toys, especially those involved in the construction industry. When I was a little older I wanted to be like my father who ran his own furniture manufacturing business. Designing on a drawing board that later became real pieces of furniture; magic to my eyes.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Surfing social media channels on smartphones during office hours. It is a very difficult subject to address and some tech companies take a strict approach of banning phones at the desks during work hours altogether. We don’t do that, but I do let staff know other companies do. That generally deals with the issue.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We believe we can change the way property is sold and for the benefit of everybody involved. I would like to think that in five years we will have set a new standard in property communication. Meaningfully empowering buyers to get the perfect home by researching fully online and enabling developers to offer what the market demands, whilst having a full view of how buyers are engaging with their developments through the data insights we provide through our systems.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Never stop learning. Not only to develop your core skills but expand your scope and study a wide variety of topics. Lead from the heart, in what you believe. Have confidence that all the other great leaders out there are just ordinary people too. What made them great was the belief in their own ability. If you believe in yourself and what you do, others will too and they will follow as long you do.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Figure out what your big picture is. Don’t be afraid to think big and stay focused on that idea. Don’t get bogged down in the coalface of your work and identify what the small stuff is early, so you know what not to sweat about. Learn what success looks like to you and don’t expect it to be a straight path to get there. Lastly, don’t make it only about the money.
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