TLabs Showcase - Ski PadNewsBy Kevin May | March 7, 2011Share This article was originally published on TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based ski trip vacation rental service Ski Pad.Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?We are Ski Pad Ltd, a UK-based ski rentals listings website company. The website lists ski apartments, chalets and catered ski chalets mainly in Europe, but properties in USA and Canada can also be found. All properties are listed directly by the owner for an annual fee and no commission per booking is taken.The idea was born by myself (Gary Hector) after registering the skipad.co.uk domain name to use it for a small ski apartment I had purchased. The name itself got such a great response from anyone I mentioned it to that it soon become apparent it would be wasted as a single property website. I manage to secure the purchase of the Skipad.com domain name from a private individual and the listings website project began.I have an IT background: after graduating in Computing and Information Systems I worked in the IT industry for 10 years. Therefore, the processes involved with building a rental listings website were not as frightening as they could have been.However, I realised that without seed investment and dedicated staff we would not be able to compete with other players already established in the market. So I sought and received investment from Matthew Pyke, a successful owner of insurance and financial services businesses.What financial support did you have to launch the business?Matthew Pyke is the major investor in the business. We are using his funds to enable the recruitment of full-time staff and for our first year’s marketing and PR budget.The business has an extremely low cost base, therefore the large majority of income received from property owners will be used to grow the brand and increase the number of visitors to Skipad. Matthew and his businesses will provide financial support in terms of planning, payroll and accountancy services.What problem are you trying to solve?There are three problems our website is trying to solve: Firstly, the fair pricing structure, so that those lucky enough to have a ski chalet that sleeps 10 do not pay the same as a studio apartment that sleeps two. It costs just £69.99 to list a ski chalet and for a studio apartment just £24.99 (with 1- and 2-bed apartments at £39.99).Secondly, as a result, this pricing structure should increase the number of apartments being listed and our website becoming a more complete search tool for those who want to book direct with the owners on whatever budget and size of party. As a small property owner myself it does not become viable to list your property on five or six websites at our competitor prices, which range between £120-£250!Third problem I could see was service. A presence at all times to our clients. A telephone number, live help, email, Twitter. All essential services.Describe the business, core products and services.Ski Pad is, at its most basic, a ski property listings website for owners of apartments and chalets in ski resorts worldwide. Ski Pad provides an affordable, feature-rich facility that rivals those of other established ski listings websites.Customers can deal directly with the owners of these properties and Ski Pad takes no commission from anyone. Add a ski business directory, a late offers page for potential renters to find great deals and a desire to provide great customer service and you have Ski Pad.Primarily, we concentrate on property listings. As I've previously mentioned, we want to provide a more suitable option for owners of properties of all sizes. Our unique pricing structure should see to that.Secondly, there is the Ski Pad Suppliers Directory. Any ski-related business or service provider can list their business or service on the Suppliers Directory. We have more than 100 businesses currently listed on the Directory.These range from ski instructors to airport transfer services, restaurants to child care, chimney sweeping services to informational websites, mountain guides to mobile masseuses - anything and everything essentially!User experience is a major aspect for us. We're working hard to ensure that visitors to the site and its users find the experience of listing with or browsing through Ski Pad a pleasant and trouble-free one. We provide the option for property owners to let us add their property to the site and complete their listing for them.However, should anyone ever need help or advice with any aspect of the site then a live help service is available from 9am-5pm GMT, Monday to Friday.There is also the Boardroom, a forum for property owners and potential renters where users can list requests for accommodation that owners may be able to fill, and also just for general ski-related questions, queries and stories.The new Late Offers page is proving to be popular as well. Owners that list with Ski Pad are able to send details of offers and promotions they're currently running and we see that they're added to the page as soon as possible. There is no charge for this service, unlike on some other ski property listing websites.Who are your key customers and users at launch?Our main targets right now are ski property owners that are looking for a good, high degree of service and usability at a lower cost than they're paying now. Ideally we would like to get a nice broad selection of properties, from studio apartments right up to the biggest chalets you can find, the world over.Once customers and users begin to spread the word about Ski Pad then the only way will be up!Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?Before the investors came on board we proved the concept and asked a number of chalet owners to test the usability of the site together with their initial thoughts about competitors and to comment on our chances of success.This was crucial to give me the confidence to produce the investment proposition and start the business. They were very positive about the brand, clarity and usability of the website which gives confidence.What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?The business has a simple revenue model. The clients (ski apartment and ski chalet owners) pay to list their properties on the website. There is no commission to pay per booking or any other fees, just a simple annual payment.It is important for us to keep costs down to make the business profitable but still invest in marketing, PR and website SEO development so that our clients get a great response for their investment. We will increase revenues from affiliate links and advertisers; this income will increase as visitor numbers will also increase.SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?Strengths: Brand, quality of website, the community feel with our Suppliers Directory, tiered pricing structure and therefore appealing to apartment owners. Great support via telephone, online live help (available to them while listing properties), user guides and much more. Weaknesses: Late to the market, so will take time to achieve higher Google page rank and convince people we are not "just another listing website". Opportunities: Apartment owners, ski dedicated, suppliers directly. Threats: Competitors already established. We need to show professionalism and commitment by investment to demonstrate to clients we are here for the long termWho advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?To be honest no one told me it wouldn’t work. I have some friends who own or run ski chalets and one told me that it is very competitive and might be difficult to gain a significant foothold in the market.I did listen to him and took the comments on board and it made me realistic about the time scale involved. We need to make sure we do things the right way from the start, be open and honest to our clients and make sure they feel they can grow with us.What is your success metric 12 months from now?We had a target in terms in number of properties on the site, but the main success metric will be if the existing properties listed on the site are willing to renew their listing and pay for our service! NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.