TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based short-term vacation and apartment rental service WhereToSleep.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
WhereToSleep is a brand new website offering short-term rentals and holiday rental listings. Dedicated sites are available in ten countries worldwide including UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, USA and Australia, but with a global reach so travellers and holidaymakers will be able to search for accommodation anywhere in the world.
The website connects hosts with travellers looking for an affordable alternative to hotels with the aim of offering a social and cultural experience.
It also allows homeowners to make some extra cash from renting out their property, becoming "novice hoteliers". Rooms currently available on the UK site range from £10 - £1,000 per night.
Yannick Pons is the founder of the website, who has also set up EasyRoommate, the world’s largest flatsharing website and Vivastreet, the fourth largest classified website with a team based in London and New York. He has over ten years of experience in classified websites.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
The website has its own funding provided by several existing businesses under the same leadership. That has provided WhereToSleep with start up funding of £1-2 million. There are no outside investors.
What problem are you trying to solve?
We want to help travellers by providing them with an affordable alternative to hotels. However, we were keen to take this a step further and make the process as simple, safe and sociable as possible.
Our research shows that homeowners are apprehensive about letting strangers into their home. With this in mind we wanted to offer a solution to the host and the traveller whereby they can get to know each other online first before the transaction takes place.
This is achieved by asking every guest and host to create a detailed profile, allowing both parties to learn more about each other before entering into an arrangement.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Unlike big holiday rentals sites, WhereToSleep allows visitors to post any type of accommodation in any price range, whether it’s £10 per night for a sofa or £1,000 per night for a penthouse apartment.
The strength of the site is its wide range of content from crash pads for individuals, bed & breakfasts or whole properties.
Reviews are a fundamental aspect of WhereToSleep, giving both guests and host the chance to review each other (building a sense of trust and community).
However, the safety of the payment system is also paramount. WhereToSleep handles the bookings and the payments between hosts and guests, giving both parties the certainty that the transactions will happen without any risk of fraud or scam.
WhereToSleep will keep the payment in a secure system and we will only send it to the host the day after the guest checks-in.
Another key feature of the site is the translation of all ads. By translating each ad, a London listing posted on the UK site for example, will be later reposted on all other nine websites and will be available in local language.
In doing this we’ve extended the reach for that ad, so a person in Spain, even if they don’t speak English can see the listing and make a booking.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
The key target audiences include: backpackers, holiday makers and business travellers who are budget minded and want to enjoy a home-from-home experience.
On the flipside, we target home owners and novice landlords who want to let out their rooms/ properties to earn some extra cash.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Our research told us that the concept would be of interest to homeowners looking to make some extra cash in the current economic climate.
Travellers, on the other hand, are always looking for a good deal when going abroad or travelling, so we were confident about demand levels. We were also getting requests from existing users of EasyRoommate looking to advertise rooms or homes, or find short-term rentals.
Our research also showed that the larger websites are not providing a regional focus, so on our site travellers will be able to rent a room in some of the larger regional cities in the UK, not just London. We will offer this in all the markets we are dedicating a website to.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We take 10% from the host on every transaction and 4% to 6% fee on every booking made through the site from travellers, which depends on the length of stay.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- The founder has extensive experience in setting up and running successful classified websites
- We translate listings and extend the reach of those ads to people who speak other languages
- The scope of accommodation - from £10 to £1,000 per night
- All listings are manually moderated to prevent scams
- The marketplace is competitive – brand recognition needs to be achieved early. However, our expertise in developing websites successfully goes in our favour
- Unlimited. Increasing and adding features to the site to make travelling as easy and affordable as possible
- Revolutionising the way people travel
- The European marketplace is still shared between many small websites without a clear leader
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Standing out from the crowd – new competitors are constantly coming to the marketplace with similar concepts
- Many people are unfamiliar with the concept and lack confidence in online booking systems
We haven’t had feedback like this, in fact, the idea is being well received and we’re keen to build on that and create the best possible product for our users. Initial feedback from our first users (almost 1,500) is very positive.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We would like to hit 100,000 nights booked. This is our main aim, along with building the brand awareness of the site in our top markets.
We want WhereToSleep to be the first port of call for travellers who are going backpacking, going on business trips or just want to get away on holiday for a week and are looking for an alternative that they can trust.
We want to change the way people travel and give them more affordable and culturally accessible ways to do it.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.