Soon to launch OpenBrix is not just another portal, it is a digital democracy where the agent comes first and is nurtured to make maximum profit, where the property consumer experience is enhanced, and where collaboration and transparency replace corporate greed.
We spoke to Adam Pigott, CEO and co-founder of OpenBrix, to find out how he has re-engineered the way real estate is going to be done. The property world is never going to be the same again, and that is a good thing.
Like most founders of proptech companies, Adam Pigott, by his own admission, is a little different. In his formative school years, he was and still is an excellent rugby player. But, like most enfant terrible, the school suggested he did not return after yet another breach of school rules, much to the disappointment of his father, who was a medical man.
Unperturbed, in true hero manner, Adam then wanted to join the army. But after an induction camp, a similar suggestion was made, this time at the recommendation of his CO, that Adam ended up in the External Services of the Foreign Office. All these traits are obvious to any person who meets him. Underneath his charming smile and open and friendly demeanour, you can see a very quick bright brain at work, and you sense that if you were in a fix, he would be the one to call on.
His background, being a team player at sport and disciplined employee of HMFCO, was the perfect foil for Adam’s next adventure into the world of property, when he joined the Gascoigne Pees, Blackhorse Agencies, in upmarket Epsom.
“My foundation in property was down to Alan Gottschalk (CEO, Blackhorse Agencies, Lloyds Bank),” Adam said, “he gave me the interest. I was the only valuer for Lettings they had and I was doing dozens of valuations a week.”
Unsurprisingly, a year later, Adam decided to back himself and was running his own property business, Mountford in Surbiton, which he successfully grew over the next 24 years into a mature, four-branch agency, being one of the largest lettings businesses in Surrey.
Adam structured the business so that if an opportunity came knocking, he could step away. In 2014, Countrywide did just that, and it was a point that he first met John Hards, managing director of the lettings operation for Countrywide.
At this point, Adam’s business was predominantly lettings, but “we did do big stuff, for instance in St George’s Hill four sales, £250k in commission.” Asked if he was happy to sell, Adam said yes. “It was a good time to sell and we got the best price.”
In 2016, together with a partner, Adam bought MakeurMove, which is now run extremely successfully by Alexandra Morris, who just received a recent plaudit.
Adam is still a director of the firm and, when buying MakeUrMove originally, as part of the deal he acquired CreditLadder. He identified the long-term value of that business which was subsequently developed.
CreditLadder, he explained, is a platform through which “a tenant can have their rent read by Experian and Equifax, and have rent payments added to their credit score. Due to the ‘Consumer Credit Act’, this type of outgoing is not scored. We make them read it.”
OpenBrix now has the CreditLadder facility bedded within it, so, as Adam says: “We have this same system where rents are read.”
Off into the sunset
Having accomplished so much, Adam was then ready to disappear into the Spanish sunset with his wife Katie, which he did, splitting his rest and relaxation with several property developments here in the UK. Finally, basing himself back in England.
Then, in 2018, a school friend named Tom Fox, (ex-CCO of Arsenal FC and ex-CEO of Aston Villa FC) asked for Adam’s expert advice on a new venture, OpenBrix. He said he should have a chat with Shahad Choudhury (Founder & Innovation Lead) as he did not fully understand Shahad’s new idea. For Adam, it was a slow burner. “I kicked the can down the street, but after a while, I agreed to meet up with Shahad.”
The OMG moment
After his first meeting, Adam recalled saying, “OMG, what have we got here?” He instantly saw the opportunity of OpenBrix, but also grasped the fact that the technically brilliant mind of Shahad had limited knowledge of the property sector.
They then had meeting after meeting and slowly Shahad drip-fed information and piqued Adam’s interest as he explained the technological side of the business. Soon, Adam was 100% hooked.
All of a sudden realising that the blockchain platform model was the ultimate, secure, and transparent solution, Adam said he “saw how people can connect with such power, ease and transparency.” In the end, he thought “I am going to invest in it.”
OpenBrix was going be, “not just a portal, but the future of agency. A seamless platform to network on.”
Being a control freak, Adam’s first thought was that he needed to be on the company board. As he put it: “I understand what agents want, therefore I want to drive the bus.” Luckily, the other directors saw his value and he was the natural choice to be the CEO.
Originally, Shahad had thought maybe OpenBrix might be a public listing portal service, immediately Adam said no. OpenBrix was going to be always for agents. “I have been an agent for 30-years, I know what they want, and this is exactly what they need.”
To deliver on this, Adam realised that, just as in rugby, if you are going to win the league you need to put together the very best, handpicked team. John Hards was a natural choice.
His key insight, connections and knowledge lent immediate credibility and expertise to the enterprise. He effectively opened key doors and sped along the commercial partnerships. Being the elder statesman of the lettings and partnership world he was a safe pair of hands.
His only reproach, according to Adam, was that he was meant to be retired, and now was working eight hours a day. Adam loves the relationship they have. “It’s like working with your mentor,” he said. Others in the team include Andrew Taylor as CCO, who has previously worked as a branch manager at Mountford’s for eleven years.
In the last two years, Adam and the team have been building out their great solution.
“The journey from 2018, being from a low-cost listing portal as an alternative to the largest and most expensive UK listing portal, then focused upon building in all the sexy things it now offers, and the portal part is now not the main offering.”
When asked what OpenBrix is, Adam says it is built on several core services and unique product verticals which powers the platform.
Multi-listing services have been around in one form or other for nearly two centuries. It is where Agent A takes an instruction, with Agents B, C, D or more getting to market it too, the fee being fractionalised between the primary agent and the subsidiary agent whose offer is accepted. It has traction in America where it originated, though it has been gaining popularity in the UK for some time and in other European countries, as well as Australia.
Curious as to why OpenBrix has adopted MLS, Adam is quick to point out that agents can list their property stock in the normal way on OpenBrix too and it can be sold in the traditional private treaty fashion. But the functionality of the immutable and transparent blockchain design lends itself perfectly to the MLS process. That is why OpenBrix is now the world’s first MLS utilising blockchain technology.
“How it works is that an agent lists their property on OpenBrix and then gets to choose, do you want to put it out to every agent on the MLS? Equally, you might have 6-8 agents been working alongside for a time and just use them. Ideal for an agent with, say 30 branches and you only want to share your brands stock. The agents decide where the properties can be marketed. For example, Agent A may select Agent B, because Agent B is on Rightmove and Agent C is on Zoopla.” Adam smiles at this point and says “Do you see where we are going with this? It is not all about the OpenBrix Portal!”
Alternatively, an association which states it supports each others’ branches can set up their own bespoke network. A primary agent can set up their commission share, or fee splits, at a micro-level or individual level or indeed on a whole MLS basis and the same can be adopted with the marketing rights. The whole process is very simple to use and so flexible.
But as the instructing or primary agent, you can set the controls. So if you want to give your best friend, who runs another agency, 40%, then you can, it is the agents choice. They can dictate the terms on their dashboard. The agent is always in charge, not OpenBrix.
Another strong component is that OpenBrix agents can also search on MLS. So, if someone is moving locally to Manchester, they can look on OpenBrix on the MLS and agree to the terms and introduce the buyer, and get paid on it. Collaboration seems to be key, rather than just having a listing portal.
ID for the consumers
OpenBrix has created a unique Digital ID for the consumer. Adam points out that the ID does not belong to Amazon or Google!
“They have their own immutable ID, and if they are a tenant, they get to keep a ledger of their validated rental payments, Right to Rent verification, a copy of their passport, driving licence, utility bills etc, are all stored within that ID,” Adam says.
“They do not have to share it unless they want to, it is like a digital vault containing their DNA. We don’t have access to it, it is on the public community blockchain, but it has a 9-digit letter and code formulae that sits behind a 256 alphanumerical and character code. No amount of current computer power can hack it.”
Any individual can use this. You do not have to be a tenant or a buyer. Adam says he loves the fact that it cannot be shared, unless the consumer wants to, “and even then, they can choose only what needs to be shared. No more emails with their data on it, no more photocopies sitting in office filing cabinets or being discarded for others to claim!”
Partnerships on the open marketplace
Realising that agents are under constant financial pressure, fees reducing, the tenancy fee ban, and having extensive knowledge front end running his own agency empire, Adam and the OpenBrix team wanted to supercharge revenue steam profit for estate agents and lettings agents. I asked how it works.
“So, it is like going into an App store, from inventory companies, utility companies, TV/internet packages, white goods, financial service products, legal services…in fact all the things you need when you buy or rent.”
It is an open marketplace inside OpenBrix. The agent sets up the dashboard once they have signed up, set up which companies they want to work with and see what the product does and how much commission they will get per sale, or let, so when the end-user is “paired” with their new property by the agent, the user gets these choices at the key moment.
So, service at a key time, rather than bombarded and upsold throughout the process. “It means an agent does not have to do any more selling, but the agent gets all the money, we don’t take any. So, the best person to sell the service or product is interfacing directly with the end customer,” he said.
“For lettings, it happens when the holding deposit is taken. I am suggesting to estate agents when they exchange on a property and you have a completion date, all you then do is pair buyer with the property and watch your selected partners work for you. The agent has a window that totals the commissions and they can click on it to see where all this money is coming from.” Again, empowering agents is at the heart of what Adam has done with OpenBrix.
We’ve done the maths
Challenged on how this all works out financially, Adam in his usual diplomatic smiling way says, “We have already Beta tested OpenBrix with lettings agents. So, for example, take a typical tenant couple looking to rent a two-bed flat who commute to work, what are the average number of products and services they will take up when moving in?
“OpenBrix research says that 65% of new tenants will take up an average of five products, utility accounts, internet/TV, insurance, maybe a rent guarantee, average value of a product to the agent is £70, so £350 per tenancy. One of our clients was achieving 38 new tenancies each month. On these figures, that is potentially over £125,000 of extra income a year. We believe our subscription of £75 per month is therefore justifiable.”
But Adam says that “upselling the Openbrix way where the actual service provider does the sell, and not the agent, will actually result in even higher conversion rates, and allows the service provider to get into the agency nexus and sales will naturally increase.
“One corporate agency told me that they sell the providers products best and far better than the partners do. I have spoken with nearly all the providers and that view is disputed by them all. It may be what they say to the corporate agent’s board member, but it is a view that is not upheld behind closed doors. Our partners are excited to finally get to do the selling themselves! And you watch those sales increase. The knock-on is that the agents will get even more commission.”
Agents get 100%
Asked how much of this revenue passes to OpenBrix, Adam is adamant, “Zero! OpenBrix takes nothing. The commissions go directly to the agents.”
He goes on to say that not only does Openbrix take none of the revenue, but the agent will also probably get a fuller commission than they may be presently receiving even from the same supplier.
For example, selling a Sky Homes package, presently agents may get £40 a deal through an alternative introduction platform, however via Openbrix this same deal might earn the same agent £130 as there is no middleman. The supplier is paying the agent directly, no middleman and no reduction in earnings.
“We are all about being transparent, we are on the same team as the agent.”
Some suppliers offered Openbrix a cut of the revenue. Adam, as CEO of the company, said no. “We will not do it. In all fairness, the game has to be played properly.”
All those long hours on the rugby field certainly paid off. The dynamic is clear, it’s not about squeezing agents for profit, rather helping and nourishing agents so they flourish. After all, he says “we are all on the same team.”
Fixed low charges for agents, forever
“What we wanted to do from the start is to be transparent, that is what blockchain does, we want people to know exactly where we get our money. We are like a transparent motorway, there is a simple fee for utilising the motorway. In our case, it’s £75 a month to be an OpenBrix agent and have access to the listing portal and to the partnership scheme, and £55 extra upgrade a month if you take up the MLS.”
In time Adam intends to reduce the £75 monthly subscription to a model where the agent is charged £1 each time you list a new property.
“When we get traction and the numbers up, then we will start to reduce the monthly subscription and bring in the £1 per listing until we lose the £75 completely. So, if you have taken 12 properties to the market you pay £12 that month. Unlike some portals where you could be paying well over £1,000 for this tiny amount of inventory.”
Being a portal is clearly just one aspect
In answer to the question, ‘can agents list their property stock on OpenBrix?’ Adam visibly groans. “Yes, agents can list property conventionally as they do on other sites, but we think this is a by-product of the platform, listing their inventory. The good news is that an agent can load their managed portfolio on and open the partnerships up to all these tenants. Every product they take up will result in more revenue for the agent.”
The great news is though that the cost model is super low. OpenBrix charges a user branch only £75 a month as a licence fee, and £1 per new listing, sales or let. We think being a portal is our most boring part. Obviously, however, at the start, there will be a free trial period. The £1 will not come in until we get traction and then we will reduce the £75 subscription. One day I would like the subscription to go completely.”
It is at this point you become acutely aware that Adam is driving the OpenBrix bus, and that he started that bus journey from the exact polar opposite point that the largest portal in the UK started its own journey two decades ago.
The typical property portal model is; get the client agent to spend money gaining instructions and then charge the agent as much as possible to list those instructions on the portal, and that brings buyers on to the site, who then depart the site and pair up with the agent and hopefully do business with that agent.
By listing on Openbrix, the process of automating the monetization of every conceivable revenue stream that exists, and is chosen by the client agent, happens seamlessly in the background. The agent has to do no selling, the consumer client does not get ambushed, and the commercial partner interfaces directly with the consumer at exactly the correct key moment, and 100% of the revenue goes to the agent. If that is not genius, the Openbrix team would like to know what is.
Transparency, full income, choice, interconnectivity, service, the ability of the agent to focus back on their core skills, not intersperse their time driven by the need to repeatedly ask for more from the consumer buyer, upsetting the sales or letting relationship. The estate agency reborn for the digital age.
Wait a minute, what about that huge elephant in the room: Blockchain?
At this point, I nervously ask: “Is it not all based on Blockchain? Can you tell me more about that?” Again the smile and the ease of expression that relaxes me so I feel reassured. “Blockchain is merely the road that the car (agent) drives on, it allows for a decentralized network where agents and users and partner businesses can communicate directly.”
In simple terms, OpenBrix is the world’s first blockchain property portal, which means that agents have control, unlike the largest property portal in the UK, which is governed by shareholders. The agents will ‘control’ the site and direction. Adam smiles and says “Don’t fear Blockchain. I get bored explaining what blockchain is, no one cares really, it’s not important. It is merely the technology that allows people to transact securely and transparently, much like a big WhatsApp group.”
This means OpenBrix’s DNA is decentralized and it is unable to be owned by a single ruling body, this eliminates annual price hikes in fees, because unless agents decide to increase charges, there can be no rises. A major concern for agents with present portals.
Being a member of the OpenBrix community means that each agent on the platform has a voice and a vote towards how OpenBrix works.
“Blockchain technology ensures that you have the power to decide on how we price the platform and how we utilise the data. True democracy.”
Another advantage is that the OpenBrix data is not only secure, but it is also cryptographically stored, and the data forms a ledger of everything that is immutable.
An example would be, as Adam says, “Complete online end-to-end management of a user’s managed property portfolio, or access to tenant information including payment history and maintenance tickets.”
So, unlike normal databases which can come under attack and be tampered with, everything is set in stone and secure. As Adam puts it, “With complete transparency comes trust.”
OpenBrix gives the power to the agent. Decentralisation means power is not held from above. The system is completely transparent, and no-one can tamper with the data that exists as it is not stored in a single place like a bank vault, vulnerable to attack. The agents hold their data, the end-consumers hold theirs as do the partners.
“OpenBrix gives buyers more property information than any other portal and allows all parties involved in the property purchase and sale process to share instant communication and documentation.” This, as Adam notes, is an “efficient modern agency.”
He continues: “Our blockchain-based peer-to-peer communication removes all third-party control, meaning you, the agent, have uninterrupted, direct access to your customers.”
“Covid-19 has quickened the need for the roadblocks and pain points in an agency to disappear,” he says. “Collaboration is the way forward, and a more democratic and accountable portal platform. That’s why each agent on OpenBrix will have only one node, so that big corporates will not hold a higher concentration of power.”
“Unlike other platforms, OpenBrix cannot raise prices or sell data that was not agreed upon by most of our community members. UK agents will form the community.”
Adam is confident that OpenBrix will get mass adoption, when agents realise that, “everything we do is about making agents’ life better, through a decentralized, democratized platform, where, in all directions, our partners have a vested interest to reduce the cost of acquisition and get access directly to the end customer.”
“Agents are busy and very bad at turning data into profitable outcomes. The power of Openbrix is, if an agent gets a lead from another portal, great! Put them onto OpenBrix and let the system automate the maximum monetary reward to the agent, and they receive 100% of it. So put your end-users onto OpenBrix no matter where you got them! Let us earn you money!”
I then find out Adam has set up a UK charity and has teamed OpenBrix to support a poverty-stricken village in North West Uganda, where Adam spent several weeks living in a mud hut. He goes on to tell me that he is launching a big campaign and that OpenBrix has agreed to give a percentage of its revenue to support the education of the children to attend the school that Adam built, but that’s a story for another day.
To learn more about OpenBrix and Adam Pigott’s charitable endeavours, visit: https://openbrix.co.uk/charity