The Big Interview: Danny Campbell, founder of Hoko

Danny Campbell is the founder of Glasgow-based Hoko, a start-up whose aims include shaking up residential architecture via its online platform.

Mr Campbell says that while he is a chartered architect, his natural skills lend themselves better to entrepreneurship. Picture: Elaine Livingstone.
Mr Campbell says that while he is a chartered architect, his natural skills lend themselves better to entrepreneurship. Picture: Elaine Livingstone.

Hoko earlier this year announced six-figure backing from a group of investors led by Warren Gee, the chief portfolio officer at private equity firm Cairngorm Capital; Barclay Gilmour’s Donald Wilson; and Graham Campbell of Saracen Fund Managers. Mr Wilson said: “I believe there’s an opportunity for a digitally focused, innovative business model targeted towards extensions and conversions to support the UK residential property market. Given the personal attributes and strength of character of Danny Campbell, I believe he’s the person to do just that.”

Additionally, Mr Campbell was earlier this year named Service Industries Entrepreneur of the Year for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the 2020 Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

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Can you explain what Hoko does and why it was founded?

From left: Donald Wilson, Graham Campbell, Danny Campbell and Warren Gee. Picture: Neil Hanna.

Hoko is the architect for homeowners. We provide architectural services to homeowners looking to renovate, alter or extend their home. It was founded because the industry is broken, for clients, architects and builders – we’re here to fix it.

You have said your aim is to be “the Uber for architecture” and are harnessing virtual reality (VR), for example. How is technology helping drive forward the business?

Technology is the backbone of the business. We’re constantly upgrading and iterating to make sure we stay ahead of our competitors. Our sophisticated customer relationship management platform makes the process seamless for clients as we are able to streamline the project journey and make sure the delivery remains consistent. Our investment in technology is all geared towards making the whole experience pain-free for homeowners.

Another way we have used tech to improve the client experience is VR. Clients are able to see for themselves how their finished project will look at a very early stage. One of our core principles is offering unlimited revisions at the design stage. This isn’t a sales gimmick – it’s because we know that this is the best way to ensure our homeowners are happy at the end of their journey with us.

Our architects have the freedom to work on a project and to explore design options and take the pressure off finalising a design too soon. Seeing is believing. By walking clients through these design options using VR, we have a better chance of discovering a really special use of space and clients can be safe in the knowledge that they are happy with their project’s direction before they commit. Good design will save money and time in the long term – so we’re happy to spend additional time at this stage to make sure the project’s perfect.

Tech is an enabler that empowers our architects to unleash their creativity and truly make our clients’ dreams a reality.

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How has Hoko been able to function during the Covid crisis and how have you adapted?

We are very fortunate because we have been able to thrive during the pandemic. Pre-Covid, we had three members of staff and operated primarily in central Scotland. Now, we have 17 members of staff, including architects in Birmingham, Bristol and London.

Because of how the business is set up, and our use of technology, staff have been able to switch between the office and working from home (WFH) effortlessly. The WFH phenomenon and lockdown has also created an opportunity – we’ve seen a more than a 300 per cent increase in demand for home offices, for example.

During this time, more people have been forced to reassess their home and how it works for them. Meanwhile, holidays have been cancelled, mortgage holidays have been granted, and people are saving on transport, travel and eating out. There’s a huge appetite for our service.

You’ve cited shifts in homeowner behaviour due to lockdown such as looking to improve their homes and build home offices – can you explain more about this?

A major challenge for many people during the pandemic has been separating work life from family life. Without the natural separation created by a commute, our clients have looked for ways to make their space work better for them.

The fact is that many homes are poorly designed and don’t make the best use of the space available – but people were so busy, and spent so much time away from home, that they didn’t really notice. We’re able to help homeowners discover the potential of their current home.

We always take a holistic approach to the existing building and the overall project goals. This can sometimes be seen as a diversion from where you thought the project would start, but this is why a client has chosen to work with one of our architects. By looking at the existing building first and how that can be changed, you can get a good starting point to explore where the additional space you need will come from.

The likelihood will be that they have wasted space that could be used; this is significantly cheaper and more effective than just building new straight away.

Changing the existing building first will also ensure that the new construction will flow with the rest of the building, creating a fluid relationship within the whole home whether they are adding more family space, a new bedroom or an office, which can allow for the separation between work and family.

Earlier this year Hoko secured £400,000 to help drive its expansion – what will this help achieve and what are your longer-term fundraising plans? Would you consider growth by acquisition?

The investment is allowing us to scale across the UK. We have already done this in West London, the Cotswolds, Bristol, and Birmingham. We aim to have architects operating in Manchester, Dublin, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Cardiff, and additional London zones in the early part of 2021. Our vision and everything we do stems from the ambition to improve client experience.

This is why we have also expanded the services we offer to make sure we can deliver a great client experience throughout the entire process. We launched Hoko Build – our very own building service as finding the right builder is the biggest risk in every project. We’ve eliminated this risk through carefully crafted partnerships that align with our values, attention to detail and clear communication.

Now, we are the UK’s only true architect-led design and build contractor. We pride ourselves on accurate costing, no additions, and finishing on time.

The next service we plan to launch is Hoko Shop. The finishes can make or break a project, and through our own curated shop, we will remove stress from all the aesthetic decisions clients need to make to complete the project. We are already working with amazing suppliers and are actively looking to partner with even more to help us deliver quality products that our clients love.

Hoko Shop is exciting because it opens us up to a new client base beyond those undertaking architectural work to include the home renovator.

Our architectural clients will now find it easier to stick to their budget and make better judgments on where to spend their money for maximum impact as we guide them through every step of the journey. This is all part of our ambition to make architecture more accessible by creating a brilliant client experience.

We will be looking to raise more funds to do this in 2021, perhaps with crowdfunding. I am open to growth by acquisition, as long as it brings us closer to fulfilling our purpose.

Why did you choose architecture as a career – did it always interest you?

My school reports often described me as disruptive, which I can see the irony in now. A teacher praised one of my technical drawings in third year. When I asked my mum which careers used these skills, she set the bar high and suggested architecture. It’s a long course, so it was difficult as I had to provide for myself along the way. I set up a variety of small “side hustles” while at university with varying degrees of success.

The news that I was going to become a father at the age of 25 gave me the motivation to commit to Hoko fully – to build something that could provide for my family and make my son proud. I am a chartered architect but feel my natural skills lend themselves better to entrepreneurship.

What is your approach to leading a business?

I believe in giving my team freedom. We have a fantastic company culture and we talk about our purpose on a daily basis. Everyone at Hoko gains fulfilment from our shared ambition, and this contributes to our shared work ethic. I try to lead by example. My team constantly surprises me with their creativity and willingness to go the extra mile. It’s hard to be everywhere at once, so I aim to give myself a few hours every morning to work undisturbed before everyone arrives at work, sometimes this means starting at 5am. It seems to work for me and frees up my day to spend time with my team, our clients and new opportunities.

How does Hoko help drive sustainability?

Each project is dictated by the needs of the client and their goals. Within that remit, it is our responsibility as architects to highlight sustainable design choices, materials, and construction methods. We are also working closely with suppliers for Hoko Shop to incorporate sustainable products to complement our architectural and build services.

What would you like the company to look like by the end of 2022?

A hybrid construction/tech company, delivering high-quality jobs to architects. I want Hoko to be a household name for extensions and home alterations globally, because of the high quality of work we’ve delivered for the homeowners who have chosen to work with us.

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