US: STRz speaks to Vince Breslin, co-founder of Uplisting, a self-service property management system for vacation rental owners, operators and managers, about growing a company without traditional VC funding, the current landscape in terms of tech innovation, and how guest expectations will evolve in 2022.
- Please introduce yourself, your company and the services you provide in the short-term rental industry.
I’m Vince [or Vinny!], one of the founders of Uplisting. Uplisting is a property and channel management software solution that helps short-term rental property managers grow their businesses. But we are so much more than a software solution. Our business is about people and connections. We work closely with our members to help them achieve their goals.
- Uplisting is built with software engineering at its core. Why is this so important to property and channel management?
Our background is primarily in software development. My co-founders and I met at HouseTrip, an Airbnb competitor back in the day. I ran a company similar to Uplisting within Housetrip, both companies were sold to TripAdvisor a few years ago.
Although we have a few very well run competitors, the short-term rental industry is littered with unreliable and bloated software. We know this as the vast majority of our members come to us because another software solution has failed them.
Software solutions often come with a tagline: ‘built by hosts for hosts’. It’s a common story – a property manager cannot find software that suits their needs so they build their own. They realise they have something others may want and decide to spin it out and offer their solution to others.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. What works on a small scale does not always work on a large scale. With channel management in particular requiring incredibly robust engineering, monitoring and fail-safes, poorly built software ends up costing property managers huge amounts of money due to double bookings, incorrect rates and incorrect availability.
Uplisting, on the other hand, is built by software developers specifically for property management companies. We build our software with quality in mind and work closely with our members to ensure what we build provides value.
- The short-term rental market is booming. And there are many new players entering the marketplace. Your story is slightly different though. You have grown your vacation rental business from within, without traditional VC funding. What is the rationale behind this? And what does it mean for your business? Any advice for new entrepreneurs in this space?
My co-founders and I have all raised traditional VC funding in the past and we have seen first-hand reasons not to follow that path, at least initially. From the beginning, we were very clear we did not want to raise any money until we had reached the point where we had the upper hand in any negotiation. Like many of our members, our goal was to build a sustainable business that fits into our lifestyle and what we want out of it, rather than being forced to chase a huge exit.
We are competing with a few very well funded companies, and we hold our own. More money does not always result in a well run business. HouseTrip for example was at one point reportedly spending over $1 million a month on Google Ads. Totally unsustainable.
We realise we are lucky. Between the three founders, we had a perfect team to get started with $0 upfront. My two co-founders are incredibly brilliant engineers. I am a generalist – from UX and UI to marketing, sales, and everything in between. This allowed us to grow Uplisting in a sustainable way. For the first two years, we all had contracting gigs and Uplisting was our side hustle. A journey I think we share with a lot of our members.
Growing sustainably also means our product is incredibly focused. This means we do not build bloated and unnecessarily complex software. Because we cannot afford to! Every product decision we make is crucial.
My advice for others in this space is that it is your journey. If you do not have the technical expertise, start with no-code solutions. Test the water with real life customers. Get initial traction without spending any money. Solve a real pain point in a large market. Talk to customers every day. And just get started – today!
- Partnerships are central to your business. Both in terms of your integrations and the relationship you have with your customers. Tell us more.
In our industry, we are blessed with many fantastic software and service solutions which help property managers run, operate and grow their businesses. Working with, and learning from, our partners is one of the most enjoyable parts of running Uplisting. In the past couple of weeks, I have talked to Wheelhouse, Operto, DACK, TurnoverBnB, PriceLabs and a few more. We all exist to help our members succeed and are all equally as keen to work together to realise that goal.
In terms of our members, I talk to at least one of our members every single working day. Whether it be on WhatsApp with a few of our largest members, via our customer support portal, on the phone, within our product feedback portal or via our community. We do not rely on long-term contracts to keep our business alive, we have to listen to our members and make improvements to our platform every single day.
We recently opened up an investment opportunity to our members as we want to be both community driven and at least partially community owned. Many of our members are extremely generous with their time and providing feedback and insight. Their efforts help our business grow and we feel strongly that we would like them to be rewarded by owning a part of our business.
We have set it up so that every Uplisting member, new or old, has the opportunity to invest in the business at any time. The largest investment from one of our members was $100,000.
- Why should property owners and managers use Uplisting as a partner for their vacation rental business operations? How can Uplisting help them manage their business sustainably and profitably?
Firstly, as I mentioned before, Uplisting is built with reliability at its core. You will not spend your time checking prices and whether availability has synced correctly, or dealing with double bookings.
Secondly, we offer many automation features which streamline entire flows. For example, we automate the guest pre-arrival flow. Everything your guest needs to do before being allowed to check in can be done directly on Uplisting and in a guest-friendly way. Security deposit collection, guest identity verification, eSign rental agreements and email collection are all built into Uplisting. Your guest can perform all of these tasks in one go. And if they have not, you can block your automated check-in message from sending.
Thirdly, we work closely with our members. Our entire roadmap is driven by what growing companies require to increase revenue, streamline operations, increase their portfolio of properties and reach five star levels of guest satisfaction.
- You are particularly focused on growth. You say you are at your best when partnering with property managers / property management companies looking to grow. How do you help them build their business?
By offering an incredibly reliable platform that streamlines your operations and constantly adds additional value, our property management partners and their teams can focus on growing their business.
- 2021 was a phenomenal year in terms of tech innovation in the industry. What developments do you expect to see in 2022?
I think Vrbo is on the cusp of making a much bigger impact on the global vacation rental stage in 2022. They have spent the last few years integrating into the Expedia framework, an enormous undertaking to merge so many different brands into one. I can see how much their backend is improving. Once they get their infrastructure running smoothly under the Expedia Group umbrella, I believe our members will benefit.
- And what about guest expectations? What do you think guests will expect from their vacation rental experience this year? What should property managers be aware of?
With longer stays incorporating both leisure and work, I think guests will be more focused on the amenities that their accommodation has to offer. Property managers must consider wifi speed, workstation comfort and privacy, as well as household amenities [good laundry facilities/ smart HVAC systems etc] required to deliver a vacation-standard stay over a longer period of time. Smart home tech solutions are out there to help property managers up their game and meet these guest expectations. At Uplisting, a feature we are very interested in providing is ‘Reputation management’ – a way for property managers to analyse reviews and identify areas to improve to help meet these higher guest standards.
- Finally, what is next for Uplisting?
We are entering 2022 on the back of a very successful 2021 for Uplisting, thankfully. We have increased the size of our team and look forward to wrapping up a few key features such as analytics, reporting, and accounting.
We are also now partnered with Google, which we are very excited about. In 2020, when we released our direct booking engine we processed $2.8 million in direct bookings for our members, and in 2021, we did five times that with $14 million. I cannot wait to see the impact of our partnership with Google and on direct bookings for our members through our integration with Google Vacation Rentals.
Uplisting, an Airbnb Preferred Partner, is a property and channel management software built specifically for growing short-term rental businesses. Property managers can manage short-term rentals & bookings, automate tasks, message guests and take payment in one platform.