TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based Love Home Swap, a new platform for luxury home and apartment owners to exchange properties in short-term deals.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Love Home Swap offers stylish home exchange vacations around the world.
The brand was launched in October 2011 by serial UK entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow and already has 3,000 listings in 80 countries worldwide.
The idea for Love Home Swap was borne out of Debbie’s personal experience of travelling with a young family.
Finding that booking hotels or villas proved to be impractical and expensive, Debbie identified home exchange as the perfect alternative.
Looking at the other home swapping sites out there, Debbie struggled to find sites that appealed to the stylish, socially connected end of the market - and so Love Home Swap was launched.
Debbie Wosskow is a serial digital entrepreneur. A former-management consultant, she built her marketing and communications consultancy Mantra over almost a decade, from first hire to successful exit.
Debbie sold Mantra to The Loewy Group and left the business in late 2008 to set up Maidthorn Partners - the media advisory and investment boutique. Debbie is also an active angel investor and sits on a number of advisory boards. She is a regular commentator on entrepreneurship on TV and in print.
She graduated with an MA in Philosophy and Theology from New College, Oxford.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Love Home Swap was originally launched with an initial round of seed funding from Maidthorn Partners.
In December 2011, Love Home Swap completed a Series A investment round of $1.3M led by MMC Ventures.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Home exchange for vacations has been around since the 1950s, but the sector has yet to enter the mainstream in the way that other peer-to-peer businesses such as vacation rentals have done.
One of the major questions people have about home exchange is around trust. The benefits of home swapping are significant: Love Home Swap members save an average of $3,000 per swap – but people want to feel comfortable that they know who they’re swapping with.
Love Home Swap is the only home swapping site that has aimed to solve this by developing a unique Trust Centre and Social Circle features.
We allow users to connect via Facebook to find friends and friends of friends to swap with from their wider social network and also to connect with other members via social media while using the site.
Describe the business, core products and services?
The business model is subscription-based and is well established for other sectors – think online dating! It’s free to browse and members can then take out a trial membership for only $1 for 4 weeks.
Beyond the trial period, annual membership costs $159 and members can contact whoever they like, and swap as many times as they like throughout the year, wherever they like – at no extra cost.
For members looking for premium service – including a dedicated Travel Team and five-star Concierge for while they exchange – Luxe membership costs $299 beyond the 4-week trial.
The site is Facebook Connected, with a fully transactional Facebook app. We also work with the world’s leading identification agency Experian to offer a unique way for members to authenticate their listings.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Our main audiences are families, empty nesters, vacation home owners and ‘have laptop, will travel’ entrepreneurs and creatives.
We also see a lot of interest from first-time buyers who need to use their home as an asset to finance their travels as they’ve invested all of their spare funds into getting onto the property ladder.
We find that 84% of our members have never home swapped before, so the business is really striking a chord with people who should be interested in home swapping, but had never heard about it before.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Absolutely – we spent a significant amount of time validating our business before we launched. And we only began our VC funding round once the business had reached profitability and we had established proof of concept internationally.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
The business model is clear, well established and high-margin. Annual recurring subscription revenue is at its core, and we see substantial opportunity to build revenues further by developing additional revenue streams such as insurance and concierge.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- In a hot space (social travel), attractive concept (big economic benefits, more authentic way to travel), huge, to date poorly penetrated target audience to go after around the world (eg. 3.5 million+ holiday home owners in the USA alone).
- The home swapping sector as a whole has not done a great job selling itself as part of the explosion that’s been going on in social travel over the past few months (as compared with the likes of Airbnb) – this is something we’re looking to change with Love Home Swap.
- At its heart this is about marketing – the more people hear about home swapping and its benefits, the bigger the sector will become. Social connectivity, Insurance and trust-building features offer huge opportunity too – take away concerns about trust, and why wouldn’t you home swap given how much you can save on travel accommodation?
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Startup life is all about pace of action. Our biggest threat is not innovating quickly enough to build the scale we’re targeting and not prioritising in the right way.
Some of the VCs that we spoke to when raising our Series A round. It’s interesting that a number of them have got back in touch as the business has grown and since we closed the Series A round to talk about working together in the future.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We’re targeting 20,000 listings on Love Home Swap 12 months from now as a platform for clear market leadership.
Longer term, we’re aiming to make home swapping a must-have for every holiday-maker over the next five years.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.