In our latest success story, we speak to Edmund Cohen, founder of a innovative site which lets you hire some of the UK’s most spectacular properties for parties, weddings and other events.
What first inspired you to set up the business?
I set up LandedHouses.co.uk because I struggled to find a house for a weekend party. There were a few websites around but they were usually hard to use, didn’t show prices clearly and often re-named houses so I could not contact them directly!
Before you founded LandedHouses, how would potential hirers access the type of properties they can now access via your site?
They would spend (like I did!) hours trawling the internet and find only one or two decent large houses on each website. Or they’d use an agent and pay more for the privilege.
How much of the initial business did you design yourself?
The entire thing! I am a very poor coder but a reasonable bodger of code – I would find a script for something (e.g. ‘how to extract numbers from a database’) and then adapt it to, say, extract a house address and display it on the website. The set-up costs were about £80…. and a lot of time.
People often say that you can only succeed in a business if you feel passionate about the subject matter. I assume this is very much the case with LandedHouses?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I have never met a business owner that gets bored talking about their business. I love it – I get to help people enjoy themselves, help house owners keep the roof on, play around improving the website and earn a few pennies too.
How do you source new properties for your site, and what attributes in particular do your most popular properties possess?
It might sound weird, but I do not actively source new properties and instead rely upon word of mouth and the owners contacting me. Houses renew year after year because they enjoy being on the website and see value in it. I would much rather have houses that want to be on the website than houses that I’ve persuaded to sign up. It also means that I can grow the number of visitors ahead of the number of houses, thus delivering more value.
The most popular properties are those that are within reasonable distance of London, sensibly priced and have a grand feel. But there’s plenty of variety – one is a converted youth hostel in Wales and groups have had a great time there.
What challenges do you face in your industry, and how do you differentiate your brand from others in the same space (i.e. luxury high-end properties)?
It’s hard to run an online business because it is so easy for someone else to set one up and compete. Google has immense power and the sneaky search engine tricks that worked a few years ago now do more harm than good. However competition forces you to keep trying to improve the business and come up with innovative ways to make customers’ lives easy.
The hardest challenge is, because I want customers to have a great experience, I encourage them to contact houses directly which means I cannot track the bookings. I do not charge commission (an annual fee instead) but it would still be useful to know. Answers on a postcard please!
What would you do differently if you had the chance to start your business all over again?
Nothing really. I’ve made mistakes along the way but they have all taught me lessons… and I probably would have made them even if I’d been warned!
What’s next for your business?
I want to help more people enjoy more houses. That would make me happy.
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