Landed Houses encourages clients to use economies of scale to relax like a royal in some of Britain's most beautiful and capacious stately homes. It's founder, Edmund Cohen, explains the maths.
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From learning to code to tracking down the owners of large houses and convincing them to list on his website, Edmund Cohen has been busy building Landed Houses into a home for big homes. Here he explains the ups and downs of DIY business.
Tell us about your background
I studied Economics at Durham University and then went into supply planning where I learnt huge amounts about making face cream (knowledge that I’m still hoping will be useful one day), before being drawn into the world of finance. It was around that time in 2008 that I started Landed Houses.
What was the motivation behind this business?
One day I tried to find a large house to rent for a weekend, and was driven nuts by websites which offered houses that ‘slept 18’ but were in fact six, three-bedrooms cottages with a dual carriageway in between each. To help others, and for fun, I set about finding the gems that were big houses.
Is grand property something you take an interest in?
I love helping big groups to enjoy themselves in large houses. I also enjoy helping the owners to keep the roof on and avoid grand homes from falling into disrepair or being sold off for division into apartments. Large houses were usually built for entertaining and I believe they have never been so accessible - it’s not cheap, but often much cheaper than people expect.
Edmund Cohen leanrt to code before building his site, now he uses a professional based in Serbia
Why aim at this end of the market?
The experience of staying in a stately home is so magnificent that most will remember it for years to come. There are much better places than Landed Houses to find small holiday cottages, but very few that offer a good collection of large houses. They are not all ‘done-up’ (some are!) but I hope to have something for every large group that wishes to spend time together.
How does your service differ from others?
I do not charge commission to the houses (they pay an annual fee instead) which means I can encourage visitors to deal directly with the houses. Ultimately the removal of a middleman means that visitors should get the best deal and with least hassle - if the guests have specific questions the house is much better placed to answer them than me!
How did you get the houses on board?
Initially I ran the service for free and built the first website myself over many late nights and weekends. Once I had enough traffic I started charging and many houses have remained loyal to the site since day one, and all pay the same so there’s no favouritism and all are treated fairly.
How did you commission the website, what were the costs and how long did it take to put together?
The first website was free if you exclude hundreds of hours of my time! I learnt how to write HTML, basic PHP and SQL and find a way to mash it all into a (sort-of) working site. There have been two major revisions since and the website is now much more professional, user friendly, and can handle more traffic.
The internet has also moved a long way in five years. For most development work now I use a guy who lives in Serbia and I found through People Per Hour, a freelance website. We have worked together for three years but never met - one day we will!
North Cadbury Court: sleeps 50 and prices start at £18,000 per week - that's £51.40 a night if you can fill it
What were the main problems you faced and how did you overcome them?
Like everyone that starts a business discovers, there are good days and bad days. One of the greatest challenges is keeping up with search engine optimisation (SEO) and trying to find someone that can genuinely help and isn’t just a salesperson. In the end I do most myself. I also find it difficult to track bookings because they are not done directly through ‘me’... if someone can find a way to overcome that without making life complicated then I’d love to hear it!
When did you launch, do you have employees (if so how many), what are your expectations for the business in coming years?
I launched in January 2009 and have all sorts of help over the years, but no formal employees. I receive help from a social media company in the UK, data entry from someone in the Philippines and web developers in Bosnia and occasionally Slovenia. I hope the site will continue to grow, and in doing so help more people to have great parties.
Based on your experience what is the best piece of advice you can offer other start-ups?
Take advice from everyone - and then go with your gut instinct!
Which is your favourite property on your books?
On the basis that I have stayed in it the most often, it would have to be Buckland House. It is one of the few with a ballroom and if it’s good enough for Sienna Miller (whose sister was married there) then it is good enough for me!