In an exclusive interview with Online Marketplaces, Jason Tebb admitted that OnTheMarket's mission was not to go after Rightmove...
Since being appointed as the successor to Ian Springett in late 2020, Tebb has not only overseen a turnaround of the portal's balance sheet but also its reputation and image among agents.
Under the previous regime, OnTheMarket tried to distinguish its offering for agents by only allowing its customers to list on one other portal - a policy that ultimately proved unpopular and ended after a costly legal battle. Former estate agent Tebb and his team have turned the narrative surrounding OnTheMarket and won a lot of praise from within the British property industry.
Now, in his first interview outside of the goldfish bowl of the British industry press, Tebb tells us about the advantages OnTheMarket has over its rivals Rightmove and Zoopla, how his experience as an agent helps him run a portal and what the company's mission is going forward...
We recently analysed the Linkedin profiles of real estate portal CEOs around the world. One of the most surprising findings from our research was that only 2% of portal leaders had any agency experience. Tebb was as surprised as we were by the results and was keen to point out the advantages of having agency experience as a portal boss...
"It's been incredibly valuable. Before I joined the business, I said quite openly, that I wasn't sure it [agency experience] would be an advantage. I just thought it meant I would have an understanding because I've sat on people's sofas."
"I've worked in all tears from Jr, negotiator right through to MD and I think just understanding what agents go through, what their touch points are, what their challenges are and what solutions we can bring as being absolutely vital."
One of Tebb's first items on the to-do list on taking over the majority agent-owned portal was to get its agent customer base back on side. The agenda-less 'town hall' meetings he has held with agents since 2021 have been crucial here with the portal CEO describing them as "the single most important thing we do".
"When I was an agent, I was a customer of all three of the major portals and I was quite outspoken in my views at the time and I thought that as the portals, in general, got bigger and bigger, they became somewhat detached from the customers that put them there in the first place."
The town hall meetings aren't just to mend bridges though as Tebb explains.
"Many of the products and features that we now have on the site have come as a result of direct feedback from our customers."
Another initiative that has attracted headlines in the British property press over the last couple of years is the 'New and Exclusive' feature, recently renamed 'Only With Us', that allows agents to list on OnTheMarket 24 hours before listing the property on Rightmove and Zoopla.
"You might have seen on the site now we have a little countdown timer. So when a user visits the site and they search particular location that we have only with us listing should pay very clearly differentiated is only with us and there's a countdown timer. So we'll say for example, you've got 23 hours and 20 minutes before this listing goes live with the others."
It's a feature Tebb says that other agent-backed portals in other markets could consider employing to differentiate their own user proposition.
"We found it really valuable in the sense that if someone has a serious property see they're actually looking to transact in the next three months or six months like many of our customers say that they intend to do then this is a very clear deliverable USP for them to attract them to the site."
In terms of numbers, Tebb revealed that 'Only With Us' listings represent between 4-7% of the portal's listings at any given time.
The appeal of OnTheMarket as a portal 60% owned by agencies may be clear for its clients but the biggest test for any challenger portal is getting consumer eyeballs on its website and app. When asked what differentiates OnTheMarket from its rivals for end-users, Tebb said:
"We're not really here to take on Rightmove. We're here to make sure that we're doing something different and something that consumers want and something that our agents find incredibly valuable."
"At the end of the day, OnTheMarket, especially since the rebrand and new website [launched in December 2021], is a great portal... we think we're absolutely treading that line between what our agents want and what they expect us to deliver but also what our consumers want."
"Solely focussing on 'we've got to topple this guy or that guy' I just don't think that's the right strategy."
Tebb's comments mark a change in direction for OnTheMarket. When it was founded in 2015, the portal was clear about going after its two established rivals and initially targeted Zoopla, trying to lure agents away from the British #2 portal.
As Tebb told us, however, OnTheMarket feels that its initial goal of being an 'insurance policy' against price rises from the big two portals has been achieved.
"[agents] tell us quite often that they're convinced that having three major portals to offer some differentiation and some challenge means that their net total spent is actually less than if there were two... I dread to think where prices from the others would be if we hadn't been around."
While the goal is now to continue building a portal that is different from the others out there, market leadership is something that OnTheMarket and Tebb still aspire to one day in the future.
OnTheMarket is unique among real estate portals in that it is majority owned by its agent customers but is also a publicly-traded company with shareholders who want to see growth and profit.
When asked how OnTheMarket reconciles the two potentially conflicting interests, Tebb's response was that the portal's unique position gives it some interesting opportunities.
"We are roughly a sixth of the cost of the market leader that gives us a position to be able to challenge and to make sure that we're continuing to offer that value. But it also gives us another opportunity within the ecosystem."
The key metric that British portal bosses look at is ARPA (average revenue per agent). Whereas some publicly traded portals might be under pressure to raise the prices of their listings packages in order to raise ARPA, OnTheMarket has other avenues to increase its customers' spend according to Tebb.
"There are many things that happen before, during and after a transaction. And by helping agent customers generate revenue for themselves. And by delivering these additional products and services that we can generate revenue too."
Like any good boss of a publicly traded company, Tebb has a slick line that he can turn to when asked by investors or journalists about the portal's plans for the future. The OnTheMarket Chief Exec emphasized the 'four pillar' approach through which the portal intends to make the most of its industry standing and diversify into other areas that add value for agents.
"The four pillars are software, data and market intelligence and communication and marketing tools."
With regards to software, OnTheMarket completed the acquisition of software provider Glanty last year and earlier this month relaunched its acquisition and associated products as OnTheMarket Software.
"A majority agent own portal and a majority agent owned software house - very, very powerful and particularly if they're working together seamlessly."
One topic that has generated debate recently in the real estate portal industry recently is the extent to which online property marketplaces are truly embracing technology such as offer management and virtual tours.
Like all of the major UK portals, OnTheMarket is somewhat behind many of its peers overseas in not allowing users to filter out listings without virtual tours. Tebb explained though that in his opinion the lack of standardization is holding back the spread of some technology on portals.
"One thing that's important for me as Chief Executive of a property search business is to try and have the user experience as uniform as possible and as consistent as possible. I think there are too many of those businesses still looking to find their own little niche and there isn't a single sort of outstanding industry standard."
On whether OnTheMarket pays attention to innovations on portals from around the world, Tebb said:
"Our team always looks at pretty much every other of the major first, second and third place portals in pretty much every country but also within other verticals too."
"I think as any business who wants to continue to grow and succeed, you absolutely have to have your finger on the pulse of everything that's going on both of your direct competition, both with other portals in other countries and also with other online marketplaces throughout the world."
We couldn't have put that last part better ourselves. If you want to keep up to date with all that's happening in the world of real estate portals, come and join us in Madrid from the 26th to the 28th of October for the return of the Property Portal Watch conference.