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  • Writer's pictureRichard Meier

Stories aged five.

Stories, the business I co-founded with James and Paul, recently turned five. This provides cause for celebration for us, and some relief too, as half of all UK businesses don’t make it past five. Major events, such as global pandemics further worsen this statistic too. So, we are really pleased to be here after the early twenties rollercoaster that was, and we thank you for those that have supported us along the way.


Briefly, for those of you new to Stories, we are a purpose-led, mixed-use property developer.​ We enable positive outcomes for people and planet, partnering with aligned landowners and funding partners to deliver outcomes with a greater purpose than just profit. When Stories was born in 2018, co-founder James set out why we were doing this in a blog post. I re-read this recently and it continues to resonate.


In the same vein, here are three points of reflection on establishing a property company for you, five years on. (Or just skip to the bottom for a selection of my pics from the last 5 years!)


Stories visit James in Lisbon – April 2023

1.     Patience really is a virtue  


When you set up a new property development company, it pays to be patient. You must be patient, so plan for it. Our industry is very much relationship driven and it really does just take time for people to get used to you and the idea of your organisation. It takes time to build trust.


Patience is all the more important when combined with a global pandemic in which you can’t get out and meet people, when two of the three founders have young children to boot. And not to forget the new world that has followed, following a decade or more of relatively predictable conditions in a low interest rate environment. Perhaps Stories’ biological age is more like 3½!


Of course, in time, awareness grows and it was lovely to see Stories mentioned for good reasons just the other day in the Guardian.


Stories has sought ... organic growth, rather than growth at all costs.

For those wishing to grow their business more quickly, there are of course various routes to try. Such as increasing volume by working on projects less directly aligned to your values and vision. Or bringing on board third party private equity investment. But these inevitably require some compromise against the plan and so, where possible, Stories has sought to avoid this to create the right kind of organic growth, rather than growth at all costs. 


2.     Stay true to yourself


Cynicism can become the enemy of progress. We have both bid and worked on projects where stakeholders aren’t perhaps quite as aligned as one might hope or imagine. I have witnessed behaviours, be it public, private or third sector that cause you to question why you continue trying to be a purpose-led developer.


The whole industry really needs to stamp out the remnants of how it is so often perceived, be it the ‘fat-cat’ developer, ‘red tape’ local authority, ‘egotistical’ architect or ‘greedy’ investor.

I recently met up with an old developer friend and we discussed the challenges faced when presenting oneself as a ‘developer’. In our situation presenting the ambition of development as a force for good and seeking to be as open and transparent as possible. My friend summed up some of our experiences well; “I am trying really hard to do the right thing but it’s so difficult to get things done. Perhaps I should just be a **** (insert expletive of your choice) and I’ll have more success”.

The whole industry really needs to stamp out the remnants of how it is so often perceived, be it the ‘fat-cat’ developer, ‘red tape’ local authority, ‘egotistical’ architect or ‘greedy’ investor.


And then there is the power of money – which money really cares about the broader outcomes and can take a more balanced approach? Clearly this a bigger challenge than just the UK property industry. As the recent frantic battle over OpenAI allegedly demonstrates, not even a non-profit board with a capped profit structure for investors can match the power of big tech and Wall Street money.


But there is hope. Good things do happen. Having stayed true to our purpose and values, we have gradually met and now really enjoy working with people and institutions that are well aligned and who sincerely care about good outcomes for people and planet. Of special note is our partnership with Aviva Capital Partners, and working with Mansfield College Oxford, Mayday Saxonvale, The Crown Estate and Barnet Council.  Indeed, perhaps we are on the cusp of a golden age of partnerships, as my other co-founder Paul recently considered.


Of course as Mike Tyson so eloquently set out “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” So we can never rest on our laurels and we mustn’t become overly fixated on a way of doing things at the expense of healthy evolution. We do, however, stand by our purpose and values to the core.


3.     Rough with the smooth


There have been some joys over the past few years. Number one is working with lovely people. 


Working with co-founders Paul and James – a real pleasure. Who knows if you will get on five years later? Fortunately we do. We enjoy a robust discussion. And we often swap sides in the debate. It’s always a gamble setting up a new business but take the time to choose each other as carefully as you can and be open about what each of you really want to achieve from the outset.


Then there is our team, including wonderful Phyllis, Jess, Irina, Oli, Sandra and our Advisory Board. It is very valuable to have a broad, diverse team and a joy to work with such great people. I’m proud they have chosen to spend their time at Stories. Proud too to be supported by many other organisations, and for this we are hugely grateful.


But, of course with all things you have to take the rough with the smooth. To start a business without a great deal of money or land raises the bar higher for sure!


No-one gets everything right all the time either, and Stories is no exception. We will in time seek to share where things haven’t worked as well as they could, alongside hopefully celebrating successes too.


Looking forward


We are really excited looking forward. We have ambitious plans. Uncertain times, but even more necessary therefore to work together in partnership. And with the continued support of our colleagues and partners, in 2028 we know will be one of the three out of ten businesses still trading a decade after setting up!


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