EYE OPINION: Was Boomin Ever Going To Be A Contender?

For several weeks EYE has been wondering what had happened to Boomin and now we know the answer…

EYE has followed the fortunes of the challenger portal (which said it wasn’t really a portal) from back in July 2020 when the Boomin name was first revealed:

“LaunchB, the new venture of Purplebricks’ founders, Michael and Kenny Bruce, has announced that the brand name of their ‘innovative new venture, which promises to transform the property market’ will trade under the name ‘Boomin’.

“Boomin says that its proposition is ‘Transforming the property market for everyone’, and promises to be ‘the most agent and customer centric solution ever created, putting agents at the forefront of determining the future rather than needing to react to it’.

It says that its ambition is to:

Open the market and get more people moving

Get customers engaging with agents like they used to

Increase revenues – during and long after the transaction

Give agents unprecedented life-long brand exposure

Increase productivity, giving agents more time to do what they love

Power a transformational experience for everyone – building loyalty

Support, promote, advertise and enhance the profile of Estate Agents”

By the October of that year Boomin began to drip feed the trade media with the names of agents that they said had signed up to the portal. The first ten included: Foxtons, Chancellors, Andrews, Century 21, Hunters, McEwan Fraser, Dacre, Son & Hartley, Ryder & Dutton, Miller Metcalfe, Mishon Mackay.

Michael Bruce

In November 2020, still some distance from launch, Michael Bruce, executive chairman and founder of the company, said to agents thinking of getting on board with the platform: “Every time one of your customers buys a product or service [via Boomin]… you will earn a revenue share for life. Our key objective is to earn you more revenue than you will ever pay.”

At this stage the portal was planning the launch and to embark on a multi-million pound advertising campaign and in the December Bruce was inviting ‘founder agents’ to apply for a seat on the company board of directors in return for a £25,000 a year fee.

But within days the launch of Boomin was put back to an unspecified date. Michael Bruce wrote to the founder agents, saying: “Our people have been working around the clock throughout the pandemic to perfect everything and will continue to do so right up until the Christmas break. Our plans were to launch in December 2020; to create the quality of execution we know is so important to you and us, we have decided that it would be better to publically launch in early 2021.”

Come February 2021 there was still no sign of a launch but in what sounded like lines from a James Bond movie, a Boomin spokesperson told EYE that: “All is progressing well,” “The exact date is yet to be decided and will be announced separately.” “Everything is building to plan.” “The launch will be soon.”

In March 2021 EYE ran a reader poll that asked whether the Bruce brothers would succeed with their Boomin venture. The result of the poll was not encouraging. Only about 25% thought that Boomin would succeed as a viable alternative for agents to Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket. Over 50% considered that the Bruce brothers involvement with Boomin was negative for the portal’s future.

That persistent negativity about the Bruce brothers stemmed from their previous involvement with the founding of Purplebricks – a venture that, with its highly controversial ‘Commisery’ advertising set out to deliberately discredit no sale-no fee full service agents in the eyes of the general public. Purplebricks earned millions for its founders, who eventually left the business, but the animosity towards Michael and Kenny never really went away and undoubtedly tainted how some people perceived Boomin.

At the end of March 2021 we learned that Boomin was to launch on April 2nd 2021 – but it actually went live on April Fools Day and EYE ran the story that day with clips of the TV advertising that would accompany it. Reader comments were not generally enthusiastic. One wrote, with what now looks like accurate foresight: “The way Bruce brothers sat back and watched agents fees go down. I will now also sit back and see this portal go down.”

The portal attracted some talent. Stephen Murphy, the ex Virgin CEO got on board as chairman, saying he was ‘really impressed by the DNA of the business’. Former Co-op boss Richard Pennycook arrived as a non-exec director.

In April 2021, Foxtons and Channel 4 announced their involvement in a £25m round of fundraising. At the time, according to people close to Boomin, the post-money valuation of the business was £100m. In due course it will be interesting to see how much Foxtons has to write down as a result of their investment.

By the middle of 2021 Boomin claimed to have 6,300 agency branches on the portal – but at that introductory stage the agents were not paying to take part…

In July 2021, Boomin launched SmartVal ‘the most accurate online valuation tool ever’ giving agents just 15 minutes to respond to a potential vendor’s valuation request. That time limit caused some agents a certain amount of consternation.

It then transpired that SmartVal was powered in part by ValPal which is owned by Angels Media, the publisher of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. ‘Surely this is a conflict of interest?’ said one reader…

Come December 2021 and we learned that Boomin did not actually consider itself to be a portal.

The company’s MD, Athena Hubble, told EYE: “We are not focused on challenging the portals. We don’t consider ourselves to be a portal, a classified advertising site, that displays lists of properties and sends as many emails as possible to agents hoping they transform into business. We think about things differently. We think about agents, agency, experiences and quality and how we can positively support agents with unique quality business and help them to create long term relationships with their customers.”

On April 1st 2022 Sky News reported that Boomin was raising another £20m and that the business was valued at £150m. A few days later it was announced that the first paying agents had signed up to use the platform.

We asked Boomin on a number of occasions over those weeks how many paying agents were actually on board but they tightly controlled their announcements and a clear answer never really emerged, just a drip feed of a few names at a time, here and there.

In that month Kenny Bruce who had never been a director of PD Innovations Ltd, the company that owns Boomin, ceased to be a ‘person with significant control’.

On June 9th 2022 EYE reported that Boomin had acquired ‘My Bespoke Room’, an interior design service that uses proprietary technology to allow people to style and furnish rooms. Michael Bruce said: ‘“My Bespoke Room will have greater financial firepower for growth and access to potentially millions of new customers through the Boomin platform.’

Then on July 1st EYE broke the news that 20 Boomin employees were to be made redundant.

Michael Bruce wrote a letter to partner agents telling them that: ‘Boomin is reducing the excess headcount which was necessary during our build and launch phase. Whilst it is fair to say that we would have liked to have retained some people for longer we recognise that in this economic environment we need to invest to deliver the innovation and high levels of customer service you rightly expect from us, whilst also accelerating our path to sustainable profitability.’

Come July 8th and EYE broke the news that Michael Bruce was selling his Sunningdale home at an asking price of £19.5m – and it wasn’t listed on Boomin…

From then on Boomin went relatively quiet. No press releases, little advertising in evidence. Their Facebook page dried up on the 16th September. Such a contrast to the early days up to and after its launch. EYE enquired from time to time about how things were going. Nothing of note came back and we began to suspect that all was not entirely well.

A search of the records at Companies House shows that on 23rd August 2022 (filed at Companies House on 9th Sept) PD Innovations borrowed an undisclosed sum from ‘My Bespoke Room Business Limited’. The sole director of that company is Michael Bruce. That search also shows that Michael Bruce is a director of ‘Bruce Family Investments’. The accounts for the Bruce Family Investments in the year ending 30th April 2021 show investments of £6.1m and cash at bank of £2.2m However there are creditor liabilities of £7.5m leaving a net asset of £874,176.

Then yesterday EYE, way ahead of other trade publications, broke the news to the industry that Boomin has been placed into voluntary liquidation. The message from Michael Bruce said: ““It is with deep sadness and huge regret that we have reluctantly decided to place Boomin into a formal process of liquidation.”

Bruce said that ‘timing has not been our friend’ and went on:

“Notwithstanding a successful partial raise in the spring and my own continued financial backing of Boomin there was always a need for a follow-on external funding round to secure our pathway to profitability. Whilst we had a plan, support from a number of existing shareholders and a solution with a new investor the progressively worsening economic situation in the UK, combined with increasing uncertainty in the housing market, has resulted in us being unable to get the necessary funding round over the line in time to enable us to continue at this time.

“We believe more than ever that agents and consumers need a next generation portal that works harder for them and delivers tangible results. Your support, dedication and belief in Boomin has been inspiring and we have been enormously grateful for it. We are sorry that we have not been able to deliver for you at this time.”

EYE has always tried to be fair and balanced in its reporting of the Boomin story but decided very early on that it would reserve judgement on whether yet another portal (yes, we do get that Boomin was apparently not a portal) was either wanted or needed by agents – or if it really had deep enough pockets to embed itself in the public psyche. Frankly, given Rightmove’s position, we doubted it. It is therefore no real surprise that Boomin has turned to Bustin, but to all those who will likely lose their jobs we extend our sympathy.

Was Boomin ever going to be a contender and worth the £100m+ valuations put upon it before it came within a country mile of delivering a profit? Highly doubtful. The property industry is littered with the bones of enterprises that set out to ‘disrupt’ or ‘game change’ what have long-been established as sensible, financially viable, business models that some may characterise as outmoded or old fashioned, stuck in a rut, or not fit for purpose, but which, when all is said and done, make money rather than burn it on a pyre of trying to change the status quo.

Like it or not, Rightmove is totally dominant; Zoopla is unlikely to seriously challenge that position and is clearly seeking to diversify in order to remain viable; OnTheMarket has gained support since Jason Tebb started ‘listening’ but still has a long way to go if it really wants to be publicly recognised and be widely accepted as the ‘agents’ portal of choice’ (our interpretation, not theirs). Credit to the Bruce’s for trying, but Boomin never really boomed.

Perhaps future ‘disruptors’ should review the advice of Dicken’s character in the David Coppperfield novel, Mr Micawber, who was always on the edge of bankruptcy:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness.

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”

OPINION: Ha, brilliant! Boomin has gone bust…