Home Estate Planning Meet the founders on a mission to change the face of the real estate industry 

Meet the founders on a mission to change the face of the real estate industry 

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Two real estate headhunters wanted to build their own shop – seven years later, they tell Jennifer Sieg how their friendship (and business) is stronger than ever.

Clare Coe and Nina Zeilerbauer laugh – a lot – as they reminisce on the day they thought starting a business would free up their personal time.

Turns out, leaving their top roles at one of London’s leading real estate recruitment agencies to start their own was not as straightforward as they had hoped.

But as I sit with the two friends-turned-business partners seven years later in their central London office location, it seems as though the co-founding pair behind Madison Berkeley have yet to lose that start-up high.

The trick? Treating your role as co-founder like you would with any ordinary day job – and friendship.

Taking the leap

Coe and Zeilerbauer embarked on their entrepreneurial journeys when they realised the lack of female representation within the real estate industry was not going to change overnight.

At the time of Madison Berkeley’s debut in 2017, just 13 per cent of the industry was represented by women.

Why weren’t women in real estate being hired (and retained) at senior levels? It was a growing question neither of them could shake.

The two agree that they enjoyed working with their previous firm – having climbed the corporate ladder themselves for a handful of years – but it was this newfound wider frustration that gave them an itch they couldn’t scratch.

I think we felt we had probably gone as far as we could in recruitment as employees to be honest and to start making a real difference we needed to set up on our own.

Nina Zeilerbauer

If they could do it, they thought, anyone could – why not use their experience, contacts and network to at least try and see?

It seemed to work right off the bat, with the two placing 50 per cent of females in roles within the first 18 months of trading alone.

“We knew that by setting up on our own we could approach recruitment in a more holistic way which for us felt far more comfortable,” Coe says.

“It meant we could start focusing heavily on diversity and getting more females into the industry which is what we did almost immediately,” she adds.

Indeed, with a small safety net in savings and the strong support from their industry peers, the two surfed the waves of what often seems to be an inevitable feat of early-stage start-up losses.

By 2020, they even added another venture to their plate with the debut of executive search business, Madison Lincoln.

Maintaining the company ‘DNA’

From the outside looking in, one might expect that the founder can begin to step away from the “actual day job” as the team begins to grow.

This assumption, however, could not be more untrue – at least not for Coe and Zeilerbauer, who cannot recall a day in business without each other from the start.

“We didn’t set this up to not do the actual day job,” Zeilerbauer says as they both reflect on how their team has grown.

“I don’t think we will ever step back from meeting clients and meeting candidates,” she continues.

Admittedly, they say as any business grows it does get more difficult – but it is why their team must share the same values that they have meticulously sculpted over the years.

“We’ve just got to have the DNA throughout the whole company,” Zeilerbauer says.

Madison Berkeley partnered with Black Women in Real Estate for the #IAMWOMAN Campaign in 2022.

Taking in the advice they give their clients – to hire based on diversity, inclusivity, and shared values – the future seems bright for the two lively founders.

With any business growth comes the need for a sense of reflection, the two agree, as they discuss what it means to define success as a co-founding pair.

“It’s not the money in your bank account. It’s going to bed every single night knowing that you’ve done a good job that day and you’ve given the best service to everyone,” Coe says.

Realising that the two of them continue to surprise each other, even now, Zeilerbauer says her joy comes at the opposite end of the day – from the moment she walks through the door.

“Walking into an office full of like-minded people, who all have the same mission and who all have the same values and are also excited about making a difference,” Zeilerbauer says, with a smile.

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