TLabs Showcase focus on startups featuring UK-based accommodation rental service Onefinestay.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Onefinestay.com is London’s first "unhotel". Guests can live like a local in a London home for a few days while the owner is out of town, while owners earn a hassle-free income. onefinestay offers a new category of accommodation that is spacious, characterful and better value than a hotel.
The company was founded by three serial entrepreneurs with property management, logistics, investment and technology experience.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Greg Marsh (CEO) was previously on the investment team with venture capital firm Index Ventures. Prior to that he had management roles, most recently as product manager, at GF-X. He has an MA from Cambridge, and an MBA with high distinction from Harvard Business School, where he was a Fulbright Scholar and graduated top of his class. He also works with Amnesty International where he’s an elected member of the charity’s Finance and Audit Committee.
- Demetrios Zoppos (COO) has previously held leadership roles at several businesses, including a property management company. He was the operations director and managing director of GF-X, the leading trading exchange for airfreight capacity, which raised £50 million and was acquired by Descartes. He was a former consultant at McKinsey & Co. He has an MA first 1st class honours in Economics from Cambridge and an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School where he was a Fulbright Scholar.
- Tim Davey (head of technology) was co-founder and CTO of SnapTalent, a web recruitment ad marketplace based in San Francisco, which raised funds from Y Combinator and other leading investors. He has seven years of graphic design, web application and open source software development experience. Tim has a BA in theoretical physics from Imperial College.
The company raised some money from friends & family prior to launch.
What problem are you trying to solve?
We are creating more accommodation in an overcrowded city, but using the resources we already have: people’s homes.
Instead of building more hotels on space we don’t have, we are meeting the demand for city accommodation while offering a more characterful experience for those who are bored of staying in hotels.
For people who are often away from their homes, we deliver extra income on their greatest asset. Because we handle everything from marketing to insurance, cleaning to maintenance, they enjoy the benefits of that income without the inconvenience of short letting or trying to find their own house guests while they’re out of town.
A million UK households have bought second homes over the last decade. This means tens of thousands of central properties stand empty for weeks on end. For owners of those homes, onefinestay offers an ingenious and safe ‘turn-key’ solution, providing cash without hassle.
Describe the business, core products and services?
For guests, our services provide an alternative to a traditional hotel. Nobody wants to be a tourist, so our homes come with recommendations from the people who live in them.
We’re on call 24/7 for anything a guest needs, and provide all guests with our 5* hotel linen, fluffy white towels and toiletries from The White Company. Room service and concierge services are set to roll out over the coming months.
We want guests to live like a local while they’re in London. We lend them an iPhone which we to make local calls and get info about the area and the home.
We put small barcode labels on things like paintings or set-top boxes. You press the scan button in our app, point the phone at the barcode, and a short video plays automatically of the host explaining the history of the painting, for instance, or how to use the TV.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Our guests are sophisticated travellers who can afford a boutique hotel, but seek a more unique experience. We appeal particularly to regular business travellers to London, professional couples seeking a unique way to experience the city, or for families with children,
Our hosts are occupants of distinctive homes who spend time away from town, but lack the time to handle the complexities of managing their property while they’re away.
What they most value is having the home returned to them in just the state it was left – or maybe even a little bit cleaner!
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Definitely! One of the great things about our business is that unlike a hotel, we don’t have to build the whole thing all at once and cross our fingers that people will like it.
Rather, right from the start we have been actively evolving our service based on feedback from guests and hosts.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We’re a bit like a hotel in that guests pay us a deposit to guarantee their booking, and we then take the balance of payment by credit cards when they arrive.
With hosts, we agree a fair rate, which is usually similar to the long let rental value of their home, and take care of all of the hassle.
We’ll reach profitability when we have enough hosts and enough guests!
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We hearing from guests and hosts that they regard our service as something new which differs from what others are offering. Guests tell us they greatly value the opportunity to live like a local, in the comfort of a home, and with the services of a hotel. Hosts tell us they value the convenience of the service.
- We’re a start-up with limited resources and far too much to do! Having too much demand is a high class problem—but it’s still a problem. So hiring great people to scale up our service, finding great new homes in London, and ensuring guests have a fabulous stay is a juggling act!
- We want to see an unhotel in every major world city. We think it can be a whole new category of accommodation.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- We keep our eye on several other companies who we think might start to do what we’re doing. But our business is a bit like an iceberg and we think that many potential competitors will be put off when they realise what needs to happen below the surface to make it all work!
From the very start, people have loved the concept, but some have been scared of the logistics complexities. When Greg first thought up the idea, one of his close friends asked him, “are you really sure you want to run a hotel?”
What gave him the confidence to take the plunge was the commitment of his two co-founders, Demetrios and Tim, who bring engineering prowess, technical ability, property management experience, and logistics expertise.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
12 months from now we want enough homes and enough guests to be comfortable profitable in London. We want to have an even broader range of guest services launched and ready. And perhaps even another little unhotel on the way…
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.