Two ex-Googlers created the vacation rental search engine that consolidates listings from sites such as Booking.com, VRBO, HomeAway and more.
The platform is using automation and artificial intelligence
to power user acquisition.
Describe both the business and technology aspects of your
VacationRenter is a vacation rental search engine. We bring
all the rental options from the leading travel sites together in one place and
showcase only the best results.
We love vacation rentals, but not how time-consuming and complex it can be to find the right one. So we reimagined a
better way. We eliminated the need to search across several different sites and
scroll through pages of irrelevant results just to find the perfect home away
VacationRenter was born inside Wilbur Labs, a San
Francisco‐based startup studio. Founded by ex-Googlers, VacationRenter uses
automation to help travelers find the perfect vacation rental.
San Francisco, U.S.
What inspired you to create this company?
Early on, the Wilbur Labs team had several company offsites
where we would rent vacation rentals so wecould get out of the office and work
from another city. Each time, finding the right rental took so much time and
planning out of our day. As a result, we spent a lot of time thinking about how
to make it easier.
Around this time we were scoping out industries that would
work well with our automation tech, and the aha moment was when we realized how
much our technology could impact the space by making it easier to find the
Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,
Threats) analysis of the company.
- Proven automation technology to scale businesses
- Need more great people to join the team and run
the business outside the lab ‐ we’re hiring!
- Continued investment in automation and AI
- Public policy affecting the vacation rental market
What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate
from both the customer and the industry perspective?
The vacation rental space is extremely fragmented. While
there has been a ton of growth and innovation in the space over the last five
to 10 years, it is still really hard to find the perfect vacation rental.
Inventory is fragmented across several sites and suppliers. Finding a rental
you like on a site with a lot of inventory can be very time-consuming. That
makes it hard on travelers and property owners alike.
The biggest customer pain points in the space are focused
around fragmented results across platforms, too many irrelevant results and
uncertainty on whether the best deal was secured. These are the same issues we
face when booking a rental for ourselves. We decided the best solution would be
building a metasearch engine that could solve those pain points for ourselves
So you've got the
product, now how will you get lots of customers?
Our growth is largely driven by proprietary acquisition
technology. At Google, we saw company after company using slow, manual
approaches to user acquisition. Automation is eating everything, but user
acquisition seems to have been left behind. Most companies have isolated teams
of marketers siloed from engineering teams.
We want to solve big problems ‐ not create lifestyle businesses.
At the same time, acquisition has
become more data intensive, more technically complex, and it’s becoming more
and more critical for growth. We saw an opportunity to run acquisition with a
product mindset, applying automation and AI to everything we do.
While we cannot share specifics on everything our technology
does, what we can tell you is our technology layer serves as a central brain
that is connected to every part of the business. It applies advanced logic to
efficiently maximize growth across product and marketing.
This is a new type of automation that goes beyond simple
executional tasks and also enables us to scale far more quickly than a
traditional business. Because product, marketing and real‐time data are all in
sync, we’re able to take personalization to the next level. That means
marketing campaigns and user experiences can be more relevant than ever before.
Our growth rate shows how disruptive this technology is. In
the two months since we have launched, VacationRenter has exceeded an annual
run rate of $100 million in gross booking value. We’re setting a new norm for how fast
companies scale and look forward to rolling this out to other parts of travel
as well as other industries.
Tell us what process you've gone through to establish a
genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.
No two companies we launch have the same founding story, but
they all follow a similar process. It starts by us finding an interesting
problem we want to solve, or an industry we can disrupt. We want to solve big
problems ‐ not create lifestyle businesses.
The idea could either be a totally
new concept, or an opportunity to 10x a mature market. By 10x, we mean that we
aren’t interested in incremental or small improvements ‐ we look to create
something 10 times better. In the case of VacationRenter, the market existed, and we knew our automation technology would add significant value to the
consumer, and allow us to grow much faster than others in the industry.
A recent PhocusWire article mentioned, “the vacation rental
industry is estimated to achieve a global market value of $194 billion by
2021,” which made us optimistic about entering this space. Additionally, we
have been following the industry from a consumer standpoint for some time, and
we’re extremely bullish.
Our team came together, looked at the automation we had
built and growing addressable market, and that was when VacationRenter was
How and when will you make money?
We bring all the rental options from the leading travel
sites together in one place. When users click on a property on VacationRenter
and book through our partners, we may share revenue with them for that booking. We like this model because it perfectly aligns our
interests with the traveler. We operate around a central goal of finding
travelers the perfect vacation rental.
What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the
founding team, and why do you have what it takes to succeed with this business?
Phil Santoro founded his first tech company when he was 14 and sold
his second company, freeforums.org, to a public company in Los Angeles while he
was in college. He became the first person at his university to rent a separate
dorm room for servers. Prior to starting Wilbur Labs, Phil was on the ads team
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Before co‐founding Wilbur Labs, David Kolodny was on the Customer
Solutions & Innovations team at Google, a team that shapes advertising product
roadmaps and designs go‐to‐market strategy.
We started at Google on the same day in 2013 and have worked
together since then. We left Google to launch Wilbur Labs so we could take big
bets across multiple industries. Wilbur Labs has launched two ventures thus
far: Nomad and VacationRenter, with two others scheduled to launch in 2018.
What's been the most difficult part of founding the business
Our biggest focus for the next year is building the
VacationRenter team so it operates outside the lab. The majority of startups
focus on recruiting a team, building a prototype and then hoping there is a
market for their product or service.
With VacationRenter, we took a different
approach. We researched growing markets that are ripe for disruption using a
high degree of automation, and then looked for a management team once we had
significant traction. In essence, we build the plane as we fly it.
Now that we have significant traction, we are looking for
industry veterans to come on board and help take VacationRenter to the moon.
Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making
an impact ‐ so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?
Given how complex it is to find a vacation rental, we know
that the long term solution for users will be born out of automation and
personalization. When you look at most existing vacation rental metasearch
engines, their main focus is being the biggest. We have used their sites as
consumers, and have found that simply being the "largest" metasearch engine rental
doesn’t help consumers by addressing their biggest problem: finding the perfect
PhocusWire Startup Stage
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