Interview: Ed Mead of Viewber on helping agents prosper

High-profile former Douglas & Gordon chief discusses his new venture

Last month, one of the most recognisable figures in estate agency announced he would be leaving his post as Exec Director of Douglas & Gordon to run an ambitious start-up called Viewber. Here, Ed Mead fills us in on the new venture, tells us what he’ll miss about agency life, and explains why great service will always win out…

  • You’ve been a stalwart of the London estate agency scene for 37 years; what made you decide to try something new? 

37 years is a long time and I’ve no intention of leaving the scene, it’s exciting and I love it. It’s just less exciting than it was – somehow grey hair and central London don’t seem compatible any more! Someone told me once that the ones who got rich in the Gold Rush were the ones selling the pans and spades – and Viewber provides a simple service to help estate agents prosper.

  • What’s the elevator pitch for Viewber? 

A simple service that guarantees no seller, landlord, buyer or tenant need ever miss a viewing. Project your brand further than you imagined, cover larger areas and do more with less. For some the fight to stay competitive is about fixed costs.

  • How did you get involved in the company?

It was an idea born in a Dorset field in July 2015. Once it started with a partner it was clear it was a good idea that needed impetus.

  • How many Viewbers are you aiming to recruit and which areas of the country will be covered?

Our coverage is nationwide, with over 2000 people part of the network. This is growing daily as word spreads – most tend to be retirees, stay at home mums and local professionals keen to supplement their income. We find their ratings help self-police the system too.

  • Prospective buyers often have a lot of questions about the property they’re viewing; how will that work? And will Viewbers be ‘selling’ the property during viewings or simply enabling access?

Viewber pretends to be nothing other than a viewing service and we tell that to our customer agents. They know the locality well of course but we tell them to have the instructed agent’s telephone number to hand so that the buyer can call them. After every viewing/open house the Viewber gives the agent feedback.

  • Which particular sections of the agency market will Viewber be targeting, and are you able to divulge any names with whom you are already working?

It benefits anyone who wants to expand what they do and where they do it, or save on fixed costs – we have found that open houses for auctioneers and lettings agents have been particularly popular. Rural offices covering large areas and franchisees with large patches are also benefiting. We have a range of clients of all sizes, a flexible price list and have a simple model that suits all. Simplicity is the key.

  • What will you miss most about traditional agency life? And least?

Clearly the day to cay contact with those I’ve known and respected for many years, but the business is changing and the majority of those I came through with in London no longer practice. Being free to talk to anyone is a real boon – I suspect no one has had such an interesting and eye opening time talking to such a varied audience in such a short time, we live in very interesting times, that’s for sure – and it’s very exciting.

  • To what extent will you continue to be involved with D&G?

I retain a seat on the board as a non-exec and will attend quarterly, and of course retain my shares.

  • You’ve also said that you’ll be working as an independent property advisor; what will that entail?

I’ve always been amazed that so many people engage in selling their prized asset with zero advice. A couple of hours talking to someone like me could make all the difference and mean they get the right agent, and the right advice. Over the years I’ve dealt with many mates who appreciate straight advice too – so there’ll always be something. I suspect there may be a few companies who may appreciate a straight talking non exec too!

  • A major, established firm like Douglas & Gordon is a very different animal to a fresh start-up; are there any particularly valuable lessons that fledgling enterprises can learn from the old guard – and vice versa?

The two are so far apart, but it’s the objectivity that can be difficult to access when one’s been around for so long. For me it’s eye opening and has shown that the trick is to be appealing to the next generation of homeowners. They will operate differently – they prefer clicking to talking and the agency model MUST adapt to include this. For many start-ups the efficacy good service brings can be overlooked in the rush to profit. Service has always been, and always will, form the basis for a good estate agent of whatever hue.

  • There’s been some big changes in the estate agency sector this year, with major players like Savills and Countrywide staking their claim in the online/hybrid market; how do you see the business of estate agency evolving from now, and will there still be a distinction between ‘online’ and ‘traditional’ firms in five years’ time?

No one knows how it will pan out, but in an industry funded entirely by sellers and landlords the industry needs to think about what they, and the next generation want, not what we THINK they should. Make no mistake, the younger generation WILL have a different idea of how to do business – look at Airbnb and Uber.