TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based vacation rental platform InCircleSales.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
InCircleRentals is a referral network just for vacation homeowners and property managers. Specifically, we group owners into circles to share marketing leads.
InCircleRentals.com is a family-owned business. Founders Randall Zats and his wife Ellen Hertz have owned a vacation rental property in Sanibel, Florida for 14 years and live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Randall brings experience as Controller for a hotel management company, an MBA and a MS from Johns Hopkins.
- Ellen was a partner at a major management and technology consulting company and owns a retail business.
- Co-founder Susan Cohen is a web content specialist, avid world traveller and lives in New York.
We are self-financed. Based on our backgrounds in systems development, project management and web marketing, we provided the sweat equity necessary to launch InCircleRentals.com.
What problem are you trying to solve?
We know that the most difficult part of owning a vacation rental is getting a continuing stream of new guests. We bring owners together, empowering them to improve their rental activity and giving them an additional tool to get more occupancy.
Our tagline, Collaborate not Compete, captures the essence of our philosophy. We know that owners who help each other are in a win-win situation.
Describe the business, core products and services?
InCircleRentals is an online marketplace where vacation homeowners can share guest inquiries (leads) with other local owners. The idea is that owners with neighboring properties can expand their rental stream by sharing viable booking opportunities among themselves.
We are launching a new web design with improved functions in February 2011.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Vacation homeowners and property managers. Independent owners and managers are the best market for us since we can feel their pain. Although we started in the US, we have a global presence with owners in 4 continents.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Yes, the idea began with our personal rental condo experience. Owners in our development, Pointe Santo in Sanibel Florida, would informally email each other with vacation requests they couldn’t use.
However there were many duplicate and unusable emails, and that gave us the idea that this could be improved.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We currently use a subscription model, with 90 days free, then $199/year. In addition, we are cross promoting with vacation rental portals, such as VacationRentalHotSpots.com and a website development company for owners, VacationStoreBuilder.com.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We believe in our product and understand what our customers want.
- We need to educate owners about our business.
- Numerous partnership and cross-promotion options.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- We do not leverage our marketing to reach our target market.
We have validated our business by getting advice through the Minnesota Small Business Development Center at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. They provide a valuable sounding board and have been very encouraging.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Grow our owner base to more states and countries.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.