During these unsettling times, most businesses and individuals have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. While we may not know what the future looks like for the vacation rental industry, it’s important to remember that we are in this together. Read below for a Q&A with Vanessa de Souza Lage, co-founder and CMO of Rentals United. Vanessa talks about herself, how her business and team are overcoming current challenges and where she sees the industry heading post-pandemic.
Can you talk a little about yourself and how you got started in the vacation rental industry? How did you get to where you are today?
My partner James and I started in the year 2006 by creating an OTA for vacation rentals — out of our 270 square foot apartment in Rome.
Made a website, found two property managers to work with and had $1,000 bucks to market it. It was a make or break situation: make the $1,000 bucks work or pack our bags, go back to London and find a job. Luckily, we were in profit within a week and, over the next six years, grew the OTA to 8,000 worldwide rentals.
Then Airbnb came along with their millions of dollars, HomeAway started acquiring other agencies and eventually, we couldn't compete with the marketing spent. So bye-bye B2C and hello B2B!
We got together with other competitors and created a distribution platform, which we called Rentals United. This is when our third co-founder, Emil, came into the picture. We ran it with interns from our cellar in Barcelona—lovingly called "the dungeon" — until we found our first investor.
Fast-forward to 2020, we have 100 employees and help 180,000 worldwide rentals convert on small and large OTAs. Though, in my view, this is just the start of our journey.
How has your business and daily work-life been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Over the years as an entrepreneur, you tend to develop nerves of steel. When a crisis strikes, you go into survival mode and you act fast. We've had many crises as a business and even though we couldn't have prepared for this one, we managed to deal with the new reality quickly and swiftly. Within two weeks, we had planned the worst and best case scenarios for the rest of the year and secured all of our employees' jobs with government's help.
Daily life has been the hardest for our own "front-liners," our key account managers, who have had to support our clients in this most difficult time. It's been high on emotions for them and I will never be able to thank them enough for their tireless work.
Uncertainty and fear have taken a forefront within the industry over the last few months. How are you and your team handling this crisis? What obstacles have you encountered and what actions are you taking to overcome them?
"Uncertainty and fear" creep in if you don't communicate enough with your team. We organized a "Drill the Founders" monthly meeting where they can ask us anything — from "what's your hobby?" to "what opportunities should we pursue?"
"Uncertainty and fear" creep in if you don't communicate enough with your team.
As we, founders, are positively convinced that Rentals United and the industry will bounce back like never before, the team is reassured and re-energized. It's important to be available and positive. And, looking at the facts, there's no reason why you shouldn't rally around hope.
Oh, and on a daily basis we meet for five minutes to clap for each other. That's been one of the best things for me, seeing everyone smiling at each other on hangout. I miss being in the same room with the team so much!!
Where do you see the industry heading post-pandemic? What do you hope to see?
Plenty of opportunities out there for everyone:
- For property managers who managed to hibernate successfully, there will be tons of products to pick up.
- Demand will reach new heights as people want to travel in the safety of vacation rentals.
- In the short to mid-term, domestic travel and longer-term stays are two very good strategies to focus on (check out my webinars!).
- For tech companies, we will start seeing mergers that actually make sense.
In your opinion, what do you believe is the most important thing to keep in mind while working during these turbulent times?
Keep educating yourself, work on your marketing mix, save cost with automation, take care of your team, stay positive. Onward and upward!