The average rental property sits vacant for 45 days out of the year. Isabel Berney, Founder of Vacayo, is determined to change that. As one of Airbnb’s first hosts, Isabel put to action her in-depth knowledge of the home rental space to create what Vacayo is today. So far, the company is available in six cities with $1.3M in revenue and there’s no sign of slowing down.
What is your business, and what problem you are solving?
Vacayo is a real estate platform and service that guarantees landlords higher income than Airbnb and minimizes vacancy risk. We furnish and lease vacant properties, matching them with “Superhosts,” who are local hospitality experts that manage on-the-ground operations.
We’re a landlord's best friend and aim to solve many of the pain points landlords commonly experience. These include prolonged vacancies, high broker and management fees, and tenant repair issues. Our technology streamlines the leasing process to furnish onboarded homes in under 72 hours.
Many landlords wanted to list on Airbnb but lacked the time or resources to manage a short term rental. We saw a clear opportunity to make their lives easier.
What inspired you to start your company?
As supplemental income to help fund the first startup of Truth, my Co-Founder and husband, we rented out a spare room on Airbnb in our East Village walk-up apartment. It was a small room, but you'd be surprised how grateful guests were to stay there and save in hotel costs!
We started renting other places in the city, but our "lightbulb" moment came when a landlord approached us in the winter and asked us to help her lease a few vacant units. She explained to us that business was slow and it was hard to find tenants. Not only did we say "yes", but we quickly realized our model could help many landlords – big and small scale alike. Many landlords wanted to list on Airbnb but lacked the time or resources to manage a short-term rental. We saw a clear opportunity to make their lives easier by bridging that gap.
Who is in your core team? How did your team come together?
Truth and I met, ironically, as roommates in New York City. I always had entrepreneurial drive, but he was the one who really brought it out of me. At the beginning, to keep costs to the minimum, we furnished the rental units out of the “free” section of Craigslist. It’s been incredible to see how much Vacayo evolved since then.
We've been able to develop technology that complements our mission to make it easier to gain financial freedom from real estate.
Please explain your edge over your competition?
We pioneered the concept of offering landlords fixed monthly income and furnishing for short-term rentals. Since we had the "first mover" advantage, we've been able to develop technology that complements our mission to make it easier to gain financial freedom from real estate. For example, our "Rent Guarantee Tool," allows landlords to receive a quote in real time and understand what their home can earn as a short-term rental.
Another niche differentiator for Vacayo are our amazing Superhosts. They are our "secret sauce" that's allowed us to quickly scale to six cities without sacrificing quality.
What’s something you wish you knew more about?
Politics. I find it fascinating when I do delve into it, but it's rare that I find the time. Just understanding the electoral college can be a challenge! In our current political climate, it feels more important than ever to stay informed.
Why Republic? Why equity crowdfunding?
Republic provided a unique opportunity for us to appear on Meet The Drapers, but we also wanted to launch our campaign with them because of their commitment to diversity and mission.
I love the concept of enabling anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, to be able to own a piece of our company. With the rise of social media and the democratization of news, why shouldn't it extend to investing? People worry that only a select few in Silicon Valley are getting to decide which companies receive funding. Crowdfunding solves this problem, at least at the most crucial, earliest stages of a company. Then there's the added benefit of finding investors who are also landlords or have friends we can help. So, there are many benefits unique to crowdfunding.
What three words describe your leadership style?
Passionate, Collaborative, Hard-charging
Ever experienced a “life-changing moment?”
Becoming a mom and all the challenges and joys that come with it. Through motherhood, I've found myself more motivated than ever to make Vacayo a success. While there are natural constraints on your time, you become more resourceful and determined to become more productive.
Best career advice you ever received?
The best advice came from Angela Duckworth's book, 'Grit,' that outlines how it all boils down to "passion and perseverance" in the startup world. I like to think of this journey where you keep going "until the wheels fall off," because giving up is not an option.
With our technology and innovative model, we've managed to launch in multiple cities before raising any venture capital.
If you were an investor, how would you look at your “company” as an opportunity?
We were the first Vacayo investors! We bootstrapped with a very small amount of savings to get this company off the ground.
We’re founded on drive and grit. There’s also scope to easily scale our model as we continue to grow and learn. With our technology and innovative model, we've managed to launch in multiple cities before raising any venture capital, and who says we can't expand to 100 with the right backing behind us?
Who inspires you?
The Airbnb founders, Brian, Joe, and Nathan. I was one of the first hosts on Airbnb, and I clearly recall going to their very first meetup in Brooklyn and introducing myself to all three of them. At the time, Joe always had a headset on because he was taking customer service calls. Truth and I were asked to help create their first physical Airbnb "House Manual" which they later brought online as the listings' "Guidebook." It's been awe-inspiring to watch their evolution and relentless drive.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why there?
The Philippines. We've built a fantastic remote customer service team there who I'm just dying to meet in person. Our customer service team is so intelligent and hardworking. Some of them have been with us from our earliest days. I've also heard they have beautiful beaches over there, so I'd love to get out and explore such a new place!
Feedback is great, however, when you are just conceiving your product, avoid reacting to it too much.
What one thing would you say founders care too much about that ends up being meaningless to their success?
Founders place a lot of importance on feedback during a company’s earliest days. Feedback is great, however, when you are just conceiving your product, avoid reacting to it too much. Excess outside input, especially if it's from people who aren't in the startup world or who are not your target customer, can be demotivating. In the beginning, we had many people saying that our idea was "crazy" and that "no landlord would lease their property to us.