Jan. 11, 2023

CAPTURE IT! The Value of Email Capture as a Vacation Rental Marketing Solution, with Arthur Colker


SUCCESS IN THE VACATION RENTAL SPACE ISN’T ALWAYS INTENTIONAL

and Arthur Colker is proof of that. Arthur is the CEO and founder of StayFi, and in this episode, discusses how he accidentally fell into the short-term rental and vacation rental space. He talks about how he helped a friend develop an independent brand, and how he saw the value in controlling and owning guests’ data. 

Arthur built a solution that helps managers and operators capture guest data and then monetize it through tools like email marketing and text marketing, which helps with upsells and remarketing for booking.

Find out more about Arthur and his business in this latest episode of ALEX & ANNIE: The Real Women of Vacation Rentals.

“REAL” TALK

ARTHUR: CAPTURING DATA IS JUST THE BEGINNING

“Big focus of our product is building the end-to-end marketing solution. So we started with data capture, so obviously capturing the data is just the beginning, and then it's how do you monetize that information.”

ALEX: VENDORS FORMING MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL PARTNERSHIPS

“There's been a lot that's changed in the vendor world in the last year or two, and it seems like a lot of vendors are working together better than ever, and realizing that it makes sense to form those, mutually beneficial partnerships so that you can have a more robust offering that's going to serve the needs of property managers.”

This episode is brought to you by Wheelhouse: The Ultimate Revenue Driving Machine. 

Wheelhouse is a proud member of Alex & Annie's List, presented by Rev & Research

Connect with Arthur and learn more about him and StayFi:

Connect with Alex and Annie and get more real vacation rental goodness:

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Transcript

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the Real Women of Vacation Rentals. I'm Alex.

[00:00:43] And I'm Annie. And we are here today with Arthur Colker, who is the c e o and founder of Stayi and a guest we have been excited to have on the show for a while now. Finally got him on here, but Arthur, welcome to the show. Awesome. Been looking forward to this for a while. It's so great. We could make it happen.

[00:01:02] Absolutely, absolutely. We apologize about the delay in trying to get you on, but we have been wanting to have you on for several, several months, so appreciate you guys are in demand. So I guess , yeah. Demand and crazy calendars. But, um, for anybody that doesn't know you, why don't you tell us a little bit about you and stay fi and kind of how you came to develop it?

[00:01:22] Yeah, so I kinda fell into the short-term rental and vacation rental. Accidentally, um, I was doing kind of running a small marketing consulting business and one of my friends just happened to operate 150 home vacation rental company called Heirloom, uh, out of Boston where they operating a few markets.

[00:01:45] Um, and he came to me to develop an independent brand because like a lot of short term rental operators, they're pretty dependent. OTAs like Airbnb and vr, R B O. Mm-hmm. . And he wanted to develop his own loyal following of guests that would book them again and again. Um, so that's why they approached me. Um, and when I came in to start developing their strategy, the biggest area where I saw they could, you know, create a lot of value is if they actually controlled and own their guest data.

[00:02:12] Um, and unfortunately up to that point, they had collected almost no guest data. They didn't know who were staying with them. They didn't know how to, uh, drive repeat bookings and. I thought of all different ways to collect that data. And the number one way that came to me was, why don't we just install what people use in hotels, coffee shops, airports, where when every guest logs into the wifi, we capture their information.

[00:02:35] Um, because it's like seamless part of the hospitality experience that people are already used to doing. You're not making people go to a special form, download an app, go to a special landing. Which is part of the normal flow of staying in a vacation rental. So initially I just wanted to go purchase a solution for them.

[00:02:51] So I talked to the companies that do these captive wifi portals for hotels, coffee shops, airports, and those products just didn't work in short-term rentals for a lot of different reasons. So I thought. You know, I think I could develop a very simple product that does this and that's kinda where the whole idea for safe I started.

[00:03:08] And then of course I discovered the entire world of short-term rental managers. Um, and the fact that there are thousands of, tens of thousands of them that also weren't developed independent brands and, uh, drive more direct booking. So that's kind where started and then just grew. That's really interesting.

[00:03:25] So yeah, I didn't realize that you had a, a marketing background prior to getting into this, but that makes sense of course, because a lot of what you talk about is how this technology actually really helps managers build their own book, direct brand, which when I first heard about Stai, I, I didn't know that that was the route, um, or, uh, of, of what the main offering was.

[00:03:44] But uh, it certainly makes sense and. Definitely something that is an issue for all of us, especially if you have large accommodations that can sleep, you know, 10, 12, 20 people and you're only getting one email address. Uh, that's, that's a problem. If that, if that same guest doesn't rebook next year, you've lost all those people.

[00:04:02] So it's, it's great what you've built. Yeah, I'd say, you know, I just view the technology as a means to an end, you know, um, you know, big focus of our product is. The end-to-end marketing solution. So, you know, we started. Data capture. So obviously capturing the data is just the beginning and then it's how do you monetize that information?

[00:04:23] And so we subsequently built tools like email marketing, text marketing, all within our platform so that you can take the data you're capturing and make the most of it to do both upsells and remarketing for booking, cuz those are both areas that we see a lot of managers and operators focus. They want to drive that incremental both during this day and then obviously capture, repeat booking as opposed to those guests going back through.

[00:04:47] Mm-hmm. . So when you started this, I remember, well, I say I don't remember when I started, but I remember I talked to you, uh, maybe a year and a half ago, two years ago, I think, when you were first starting out, and, um, seemed like, gosh, like no-brainer, like why hasn't somebody done this before? But I know one thing that Alex and I talk about with a lot of other technology partners is the vacation rental industry had been.

[00:05:07] Prior to Covid, pretty slow to adopt technology, but then through Covid, people had the time to sort of breathe and understand and, and really dig in. And probably a good, a good time for you to be able to connect with these, um, you know, with all of the operators that are out there. Cuz like you said, there's just, there's so many.

[00:05:23] Of them in the space. When you first started talking to people about it, did they understand what it was that it was gonna do for them? Or was it just a lot of proof of concept that you really had to go out there and show them multiple times how they could harness these, you know, emails, addresses, and then again build up their marketing database?

[00:05:40] Yeah, I'd say that it was totally a mixture. I'd say that, uh, it's really interesting talking to people, especially starting out, you know, we would approach them with. And they say, well, I already have all the data. And I said, oh, you have collect data from all 10 guests that you have. And you're like, oh wait, there's other people in the rental property.

[00:05:58] Like it didn't even occur to people that the data outside of the booker might be valuable or that they might even be missing the book First Data. Right. Um, and then you reach, you know, if you've been working with a management company and they already have been running successful email marketing, I'd say more than traditional players that existed before.

[00:06:17] Internet booking even existed who had a huge direct booking business, you know, back in the nineties, even before then. Mm-hmm. for those folks, uh, the value was more obvious. Cause yeah, if you already have a successful e email marketing program, it's easy to know, well, if I'm just adding 10 times more emails to this program, it's gonna develop, you know, push a ton of roi.

[00:06:36] So there's, you know, very many different flavors of managers, newer people in this. Maybe started with the idea of they're operating an Airbnb business. Yeah. And then having them slowly shift their mindset to being, we're actually like, Should be not only distributing on every channel, but we should develop our own brand.

[00:06:53] You're approaching that user or that operator from a different angle of selling them with direct booking. So, uh, I'd say with Covid, a lot of people realized why being dependent on OTAs have a lot of, has a lot of risk. And I think that also helped us kind of open people's mind to the concept. But definitely we're.

[00:07:10] We're meeting operators all the way from their 99% book direct already, and they just wanna amplify it or they're at 0%. So we find people all along the spectrum that, uh, wanna work withi and start building up that independent brand. Yeah. Yeah. And it was interesting when we were at vma, you were on a panel about how to build a brand that differe.

[00:07:31] You from your competition and, you know, being in the Myrtle Beach market for 14 years here, you know, email marketing and direct marketing has always been a big part of my life. And just our competitors here too. That's, that's just something we've always done. But a lot of us that are in the position, like, like I am as a C M O or director of marketing, Came from a marketing background like you did too, right?

[00:07:54] So, mm-hmm. , most of these people that are, have started these Airbnb businesses, they might not have any sort of a marketing background at all. Yeah. I mean, they, they bought a property or they bought a business, and now they're trying to learn not only the, the operations of short-term rentals, but now all this other stuff that book Direct is, is very new to them.

[00:08:11] And, you know, sometimes it, it takes me like I have. Consciously remember that because it's it here, I feel like we're all kind of the same, but that, that crowd at your panel, I think you asked how many, uh, were even doing any sort of email marketing and very few raised their hands , and it was not a lot.

[00:08:29] Yeah. Wow. Wow. Yeah. So that's, that's, that's surprising and it, it is such a, a huge, huge way to grow your brand and your business. But what would you, for somebody new starting out in the industry, what would be, uh, your advice to them to start. Email marketing program besides you to get email addresses?

[00:08:47] Yeah. That would be number one. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I don't even, like when people come to us and they don't even have a website or they don't use a PS yet, and I've met manager companies with 50 homes, they don't have a PMs. I mean, just kinda, you know, when you meet people that don't, don't attend conferences aren't in this like LinkedIn.

[00:09:05] Uh, you know, you might meet people that aren't even aware of these tools and how they exist, right? So I'm always like, start with the website and develop a brand and identity first, and then build on top of that. Um, and so I always tell people, you know, figure out what your brand is. Think about what makes you unique, what makes you local special.

[00:09:26] I think Matt, Matt Lando has a lot of great advice around, you know, if you're running a local business that differentiates you from national players already, right? Family run or whatever that angle is, right? Yeah. It's very appealing to guests and pro and homeowners. Um, and then from there I say automate first.

[00:09:42] So it's very easy with our tool or other email marketing tools to set up very simple automations Whenever you collect emails. Whatever source, uh, you send people a series of standard emails over a course of several months. We call that a drip campaign or an email marketing automation, and then you kind of layer in content.

[00:10:01] Uh, that's, you know, one off. So once you feel comfortable with your brand election strategy, then you say, I'll set an automation and then maybe you wanna start doing a monthly newsletter about what's happening, discounts events in your area. There's kind a natural progress we see as people go from being new to more sophisticated with their email marketing and.

[00:10:24] And so are you guys. So if I'm a new manager, I've got 10 units, I wanna build up my database, I come to you. Obviously we set up the wifi capture in, in our rooms, our units. But are you helping them on the back end? Like, you know, after they capture this data, are you helping them put together and formulate that marketing plan so they have an ongoing sort of structure and strategy?

[00:10:45] Or is it they just, or I mean, I guess could they do it on their own if they wanted to, but do you have a, like a program that. With them on to set them up for success down the road. Yeah, so we support both ways. The, you can be totally self-service where you can use our email marketing tool, which is built on campaign monitor, which is, if you maybe familiar with Blue Tent, that's what they use as well.

[00:11:06] So it's like a very commonly white labeled email marketing solution, which we use, which has all the features that you'd want in an email marketing tool. Some people are familiar with MailChimp and we just have integrations with all those tools. MailChimp, active campaign, constant Contact, so all the data can be sent to whatever tool you wanna use.

[00:11:24] Um, but if you're looking for more assistance, we have a partnership with an agency called Switchback email. Which is an email marketing agency for vacation rentals. And within the state I tool you can purchase one time service from them or ongoing email marketing services. So you can set up a call with them where they'll do an hour training, uh, build you some templates, set you on your way to start doing it yourself, or they can manage your email marketing and ongoing basis.

[00:11:50] So we try to offer, uh, whatever our customers are looking for, all the way from self-service. You know, outsourcing it completely to an agency, we have all those options within. Gotcha. Yeah. Well that, that makes sense. And that's, that's nice that you have options for the customers there. Cause I think a lot of the technology products that they might be trying to do something that is supportive of building a book direct strategy, but they fall short on now what's the next part?

[00:12:17] And Annie and I talk about this often, that I feel like. There's been a lot that's changed in the vendor world in the last year or two. I mean really last year, that it seems like a lot of the vendors are working together better than ever and realizing that it makes sense to form those, you know, mutually beneficial partnerships so that you can have a more robust offering that's gonna serve, serve the needs of property managers.

[00:12:41] So that's great to hear. Yeah. So within Fry, not just do we have that partnership, we actually have a partnership section with offers that are only available tofi customers. So we have four or five website building companies, you know Brucely. Yeah. To um, uh, Beyond's product signal. Right. So we have like a two different ones there.

[00:13:05] Yeah. And then we have, uh, guidebook partnerships because when you log into the captive portal, you can redirect guests to a guidebook or you can text, even with our tool text, message them a link to a digital guidebook. We have partnership with this Touch Day and host Fully and Folio. Um, so we have, I'd say, All the other pieces of building a great bookstore business.

[00:13:24] We have those partners in place so we can refer you to, you know, whatever it is that you're looking for in terms of enhancing that strategy. Great. That's, that's our, yeah. Look, one, one thing that I've always kind of looked at for the marketing, for the companies I'm with, and also even just for Annie and I on this podcast, is really taking like a hub and spoke approach to how you develop content and starting that with Okay.

[00:13:48] If, for us, I mean the, the Hub is definitely the podcast. It's the audio. The videos off of that, but how you can repurpose that content and that's, that's, you know, a great way to look at email marketing that you might have. Um, whether it's a video that you've done for a property or, um, a blog, uh, a blog article or different content.

[00:14:08] How can you repurpose that in multiple ways to get the most benefit from it? And when you put that type of content within your email marketing campaigns, That builds loyalty for guests to wanna go back and continue to open them when they get those emails from you. So I think. I, I don't wanna see our industry go to people trying to jump on this so quickly.

[00:14:28] Like they jump on Airbnb and everything else and then all of a sudden now we're just inundating guests with a bunch of offers and spam and not paying attention to the rules and everything else can spam and all those things. Um, but, you know, just really kind of taking a, a higher level approach to looking at what it is that you're producing, where it makes sense to distribute it out.

[00:14:47] And email marketing is, Part of that, but, um, uh, what, what do you do, uh, for on the, like the can spam type things, I mean, to make sure that you're following the rules. How does that work for guests? Yes. And yep. Yeah, so we obviously, when you set up state, which we can also talk more about kind of the nuts and bolts of how that process works, which people are probably curious.

[00:15:11] You create what we call splash pages. Okay? So you can think of it as when you join the wifi network, this is the page that will automatically load on the guest device where they enter their information and you can select different fields that you wanna collect. We always click name and email, and then we have a variety of ways to do the opt-in.

[00:15:30] Like you mentioned, uh, to opt in for email marketing, uh, so you can have that in the US we had a little more flexibility than in Europe or Canada. So in the US we allowed people to pre-check that box. Uh, so guests are, have to opt out before they hit the connect button. So there's different ways to also then customize that.

[00:15:50] So you can have guests agree to additional terms of using the wifi when they log in. And then we have just kind of standard terms. Every guest has to agree to, uh, things like don't do illegal things on the internet. You know, don't download, you know, nefarious things. So yeah, uh, there's all sorts of additional protections that guests are agreeing to when they log into the internet.

[00:16:10] Um, and then we also have a tool called Zero Bounce that we partner with that validates emails are real. Cause you might be wondering. People just enter in garbage, right? Um, if somebody enters in like, you know, 1 2 3 gmail.com, it'll actually reject the email. So like you have to enter a valid email to proceed.

[00:16:28] Okay. If you wanna have that. So that's also an optional thing you can toggle on or off. And that way every email we collect, um, will be opt in, uh, you know, or email marketing if, you know, if the guest selects that. And also will be a real email that doesn't bounce. Mm-hmm. , which is super important. Cause if you have a tool that's collecting emails and you.

[00:16:47] 5% even that are fake. Uh, when you start using a tool like Campaign Monitor or MailChimp, they will see that you have a lot of soft bounces, what they usually call penalize. And they'll say like, we're shutting your account down, or you get, uh, you know, marked as non-compliant, or you're getting a lot of unsubscribed.

[00:17:04] And so we put all those protections in place so our customers don't have to worry about those issues and we kinda handle it all for. Is there a way to tie it back? The guest who gave you their email address to the unit that they're staying in also, or the property. Yeah, so we, when do you, so I'll kinda give two steps to this answer.

[00:17:24] Ok. One is, we're in the process of integrating with all the major PMs systems, which then not only are we tying them to a property, we can tie them to a reservation. And the properties will be synced from your pmms so that the names will match and each one will be tied and they can change the name and your PMs will change in our system.

[00:17:42] And so we'll all work together magically and wonderfully. Um, otherwise in theory, right? ? Yes. All, all. If you're not an integrated PMs right now, um, every access point, so these are the wifi devices we sell. It's tied to a. And then every guest that logged through that access point is tied to that property.

[00:18:01] So, okay. And then when you send the data to MailChimp, our own tool, you can include a property field. So you can segment your campaigns by properties. And we also have something we called Property Group, which is more like a market or a building. So you can have your Scottsdale guests here and then your Flagstaff guests, you know, in this group.

[00:18:19] So you would not only know the property, you would know the area, so you can segment on the area. Cause typically people are not gonna segment on the property level unless. Very high end or they have like super specific campaigns for those homes. Um, yeah, so there's kind of different ways that we handle.

[00:18:35] Just depending on what somebody wants to do. And then you can also have unique splash pages for each property, or one for a group, or one for all. So, you know, we have a customer in the Poconos, and he has a unique splash page for every property because he wants to have that extra customization that when the guest gets there, they get a picture of their home and it welcomes them to that property.

[00:18:55] So all those options in terms of how, uh, custom down to the home do you wanna be? Or do you just want something more generic? You can run it either. Yeah. So, so let's go back. You did bring up that we, and that was actually a question I was gonna ask. So I come to you, I'm interested in the product. How does the process work?

[00:19:12] You, you have to put a router in the room. Like you, you have to maintain a lot of routers and all this equipment, correct? Or do you have, source it from somebody and it gets delivered like, you know, from a warehouse? How does that all work? Yeah, I'd say there's. Technical difference. That's an important one that I think some people get lost, is we sell something called an access point, which is not a router.

[00:19:34] And I'll tell you why that's important in a second. Oh, okay. Um, because when we install an access point in a property, um, uh, it broadcast a new wifi network that guests join, but we don't disturb the homeowner's internet. So you can think of it as the original router stays there. It's broadcasting home 1, 2, 3.

[00:19:54] And if TV. Door lock systems, cameras, thermostats are on the original wifi. They can just stay there and then when you plug our device in, it'll broadcast a guest network. That guest network is the same in every property, so you move to having one set of instructions for all homes, which could be brand guest network.

[00:20:13] So you tell all guests, join brand Guest network to get the splash page to log in. Oh wow. Homeowner stuff. Stay. The way it's, and if you could imagine from an installation standpoint, if you had to replace the router, then you have to go and take every connected device and re-put it back on the internet, which is actually a huge nightmare.

[00:20:32] So we wanna make it literally, you plug it in. Change the guest instructions and you can leave and you don't have to worry about, you know, how the rest of the connect stuff is connected And you don't even have to tell homeowners if you don't wanna, cause they can continue to use the network they've always used.

[00:20:47] Um, and no one will ever call you. Like how do you, what's the password? Cause that's also optional. I say the access points we sell are from a company called Ubiquity, unify access. And what's also cool is in our system, you can manage all these devices remotely so you can see the status of all your access points.

[00:21:07] You get alerted if they go offline. You get alerted also if there's too many guests in the property. So we have occupancy alerting that's even tied to the, uh, maximum occupancy in your PMs. So based on the reservation, if it's one of our integrated PMSs, if this reservation for four and we, there's eight people there that are unique, we will alert you.

[00:21:27] And also if they go offline, so you can see the status of all your devices, the speed of them, who's on the wifi, so you have this real time view of your internet performance across all your properties in your portfolio. Um, so we really also help a lot in this wifi management space, which is not what we emphasize.

[00:21:46] We talk more about book direct, but I think that's another key piece that yeah, makes people's lives a lot easier when it comes to managing all these different internet networks across all the different properties. Um, so you purchase these devices from us. They range between like a hundred and $200. We have a little guide of which device to purchase based on the home size, so we have some different models.

[00:22:07] And then for really, really big homes, our devices also mesh. So you may need two devices and like an eight bedroom home, or one plugs into the router, one plugs into power and they form a match. So that's kind of the general process, is you create an account, decide how many devices you wanna buy, um, purchase them from us, create your splash pages, plug them in, change the guest instructions, and you're good to go and you'll start collecting data.

[00:22:32] Uh, so we wanna make the onboarding process as simple as possible because we know property managers are busy. It should only take five minutes in each home. Like we don't want a product where you're gonna have to spend two hours on the property to make it happen. Cause then we know, uh, there's gonna be a lot more resistance from people's staff in terms of rolling it out.

[00:22:49] Cause they're all, uh, super busy as well. Mm-hmm. . Yeah, I think, I mean, just having the wifi or the wifi instructions. Be the same for all the properties. That's huge. Cuz that's the number one question that we get calls on. Exactly. You've gotta go into the PMs to see what the instructions are for that unit.

[00:23:05] Um, I mean it does, it sounds like it's a no-brainer to have that have something that's across the board, but So they have to have the router though, right? So I mean, like that, I know they don't take it out, but that, that stays. So if a new homeowner comes onto the program, they have that owner sign up with the regular cable service and then the co, the company I would imagine in most cases is paying this.

[00:23:26] They. Pushing that expense off to the homeowner. Right. Cause this doesn't help, I say it's mixture. Some people pass the hardware costs to homeowners cause they, there's a lot of benefits for homeowners as well. Main ones being, most frequent pattern is people The same property the same, yeah. Even though you, yeah.

[00:23:43] Yeah. So even though you're marketing hundred units, if someone loved Unit A, they're gonna email you back and be like, I wanna stay in unit A next year or next month, or whatever happens to be. Right. And frequency there also. There's some like security advantages to not having all of the guests beyond the same router that the homeowner uses, right?

[00:24:02] And those networks. Uh, you also can't put weird things in the home because, uh, some, the device has to be able to use a captive portal to get online. Um, unless you like override that. . So you can't place like sketchy things in the house that like cameras and things that can't get through the capital portal.

[00:24:20] And then the occupancy alerting also protects the home from like 20 people staying there when they only should be six. So there are a lot of benefits to the homeowners and we see people passing at least at hardware costs, maybe over some periods of months. We see people do that. Um, software costs that we charge between four and $7, depending on number of properties they have with.

[00:24:43] That we see usually managers pick up just cause they're collecting so much valuable marketing data for themselves through using the tool. So sometimes it's split, sometimes they take it all on. Um, and then the other thing that's nice is in this space, when people have professionally installed internet, whether it's in a home or like a small multi-family unit, it's typically UBI unify.

[00:25:06] So I was surprised how often we actually get management companies that already have compatible equipment and then it's actually really easy to connect to our service. So we just had one that we met in. Verma that came over to the table and was like, wait, we have these in all of our properties, like they recognize the gear on our table.

[00:25:23] And I said, fantastic. Like, we can set you up next week. And they were in a ski town where, where you have higher end properties, it's much more likely they've had a professionally installed system. Yeah. Um, so that's, you know, the guy I mentioned in the Poconos, he had ubiquity in all 50 properties. So I'd say in this segment, uh, we have that good alignment where when people do have professional internet, it's typically, uh, the same brand that we work with.

[00:25:49] Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah, it makes a lot of sense. So the, the, oh, go ahead. Go ahead, Amy. No, no, no. I was actually, I was actually on the, kind of, sort of alluded to like managers that don't have wifi and it's still, I'm, I'm amazed at the numbers that are still out there. People that haven't put wifi in their units when that just seems like it's.

[00:26:08] Are there really

[00:26:12] everyone? Yeah, and, and, and really truly, like when you're in condo buildings, it's a lot easier because usually it's mandated by the HOA or they've already installed it or the, the buildings were built that way. But it's usually when you have like individual homes who like, maybe it's an older couple.

[00:26:25] They've owned it forever. They've never thought about it. But you do, you do periodically, and I don't know Arthur if you encounter that, but if you do, do you have like an agreement with. A provider, like a wifi provider, that if somebody wanted to like get at and t or whatever, that you could help get them that service set up.

[00:26:43] So we do have a. Like in a relationship with Spectrum, but it's only for bulk buying, which would be like more than 50 properties. I want to take over purchasing the internet service on like a multi-year contract and then resell it to our homeowners. Let's say it's typically on like super, you know, you wanna take all that responsibility on, which also has some risk because those contracts don't have to.

[00:27:08] Super flexibility, I'd say. Typically what we do is, uh, when we come across people, Are struggling with getting, I'd say in a major market, everybody is internet service. It's more like rural areas, or they have some really old, terrible cell. Connection or old satellite provider, you know, that's when we tell, refer people to like, you need to go get starlink, which is a great option.

[00:27:32] Uh, or some new local ISPs. Um, so that's kind of where we just push people in general. Um, but we're definitely not in the, uh, you know, I'm sure you've talked with Silicon Travel. I mean, they're more in the internet service business. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and that's where I'd say we're super different. Mm-hmm. is that we're just a.

[00:27:49] Leveraging whatever the underlying service is. And of course, we can recommend things or push people in the right direction. Um, but that's just not like the game that we're so much focused in right now. Right. Yeah. Yes. It's not your lane. I get that. I just was curious. Mm-hmm. . Cuz I, like I said, I'm, I'm often shocked.

[00:28:05] It's kind of like the conversation that Alex and I've had with people about the, the groups that still don't provide linens, you know? And, and a lot of it is, you know, we talked to some people that are in, um, like chink, tink, like, um, Elaine and Lance. Like, part of it is just like laundry services on the island.

[00:28:20] Very difficult. So they aren't able to provide certain services that, you know, others could provide. But there, there are those outliers that are out there and, and I think that just speaks to, um, the professionalization of the industry. And so what you're doing is just another aspect of what is, you know, what is deemed professional in terms of the guest services and, and the offerings that people have in their units.

[00:28:43] Yeah, I'd say, you know, I'd say the, the typical manager or property operator that's reaching out Tofa, I'd say is. , you know, they're a little more still tech forward. You know, I still say like in the adoption curve, you know, 99% of properties don't have a service like ours, right? Let's say, you know, in terms of people who are coming tofi, they're still, I'd say, in a little more of an early adopter mindset or tech forward.

[00:29:05] And of course we're having more success, I'd say with more legacy companies now. Um, but I still say super early period of adopting this type of technology in homes, so mm-hmm. , that's typically who we're attracting, right? Yeah. And I think at the end of the day, the main thing that property managers need to be thinking about is how do we bring on all this new tech affordably?

[00:29:26] Because if you're a company that is, you know, considering bringing on, um, keyless locks or, you know, like a Noise Aware or other products like that, that those are gonna be also, um, you know, up there around per. Price similar to what, what you're charging, you can't do everything right. , so, mm-hmm. , that's, that's the challenge is like, how do you, how do you decide which one is most important?

[00:29:51] And especially going into 2023, which we know we are gonna be in a, or we're already in a recession to some extent and probably for at least the next nine months, you know, gonna still see, um, those economic indicators pointing that direction. So how do we go into a new year and make those decisions on what software or what new services we bring on?

[00:30:11] And I, I, you don't have to have an answer for that, but that's, that's just my question for a lot of companies cuz our, our margins aren't getting any bigger , but the technology that we all have to support the needs are definitely getting bigger. So it's like, to me, I feel like revenue management is super important at this point for people to really be looking at how they can.

[00:30:29] Bookings that they're already getting more profitable to help pay for some of these expenditures. Um, and, you know, building a book direct strategy. So that's, that's the good part of where you're, where you come in here, . Yeah. I'd say for our customers that have been collecting data for a year or two years, and they have 40, 50,000 guests in their database and they're getting consistent bookings from them, right.

[00:30:51] We've definitely set them up to be in a good position to where they, you know, if an OTA changes their algorithm and they see bookings go, It doesn't tank everything. Right? Yeah. It's a lifeline, you know, it's like building. I'd say we're a key port of building a more resilient toward mental business. Yeah.

[00:31:07] And I'd say from an operational standpoint, we'll make your life easier and not harder. Mm-hmm. , uh, you know, there's a lot of guests. Engagement solutions out there. I'd say the critique that I hear often is it's a big time suck for our staff to maintain and the ROI is not clear. Right? Our kinda dPoint is of things that you can install or add to your text deck will be the simplest one, and I, you know, definitely.

[00:31:32] Have gotten that feedback again and again, and I hear that from all of our customers. So I'd say from a complexity standpoint, we're gonna be one of the easiest things to do. And then from an ROI standpoint and making your bi business more resilient, we're at the high end because I think the data from all your guests is one of the most valuable assets we see our customers collect, and then many of our customers are engaged in ancillary business.

[00:31:55] Two, just, you know, property management, especially those who do real estate. Mm-hmm. , uh, property guest data is one of the biggest leads when it comes to home sales because people who visit often are the types of people who then convert to be owners and want their properties managed. Um, so if you take that viewpoint of, you know, how do I build a more resilient business, I think plays a key part in a lot of our customer.

[00:32:17] Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. So I, I wanna know a little bit more Arthur too about you. So we, we've talked about the product. I'm sold, it's . I think it's definitely worthwhile for anybody who's on the fence about it. But tell us a little bit more about your journey to that. What got you here? I mean, you're leading this company now, and, and what was, what was your entrepreneurial.

[00:32:36] I know how you got there, but like how, how have you built the business from a leadership standpoint? Yeah. I'd say from my experience prior to stay high, I worked, um, for some VC backed startups. Uh, I ran marketing at a healthcare startup that raise venture money, and I say that really colored my viewpoint on how to start.

[00:32:59] Business of my own and how I wanted to grow it and going down the bootstrap non VC path. Yeah, I think, you know, from a philosophical standpoint, from leading this company, VC investment takes is very risky and I think it pushes people to launch products that don't really have product market fit or are not ready to scale.

[00:33:17] I battle tested as. Solo founder as the only employee, like I grew the company to, I think, uh, 2000 listings as the only employee offi. Ok. And I think people contacted us and thought we had like a team of 10 people or 20 people or something like that. No outside funding. Right? So, You know, I want the company to be as lean and operationally efficient as possible.

[00:33:40] And you know, when it comes to building our team, we're now a team of seven. You know, everyone is very excited to wear multiple hats, get in the trenches with our customers and make sure we're building the best possible experience for them. And I think just from like how we communicate with our customers, how we grow our business, you know, everything has.

[00:33:58] A purpose or a reason why we're doing it. Because when you have been building, when resources are so constrained, um, you have to be really, you know, efficient with all your decision making and make sure everything you're doing is creating value. So we're super customer focused, super bent on creating value for our customers and making sure everyone, whether they have one listing or a thousand, is having a great experience with our tool.

[00:34:20] And that's how we keep building our business through that word of mouth. As managers talk to each. That's really, that's really impressive. And so I think you, you mentioned, um, to a offline, you went to Columbia. Um, what was your, what was your degree and was it in marketing or was it in something else?

[00:34:36] Yeah, so actually, so I got my undergrad degree in economics and, um, Uh, east Asian studies, so I speak mediocre Mandarin. Lived in China for a while where, yeah. Then I worked for a management consulting company called Accenture, which was interesting experience. One of my clients hired me and then after that I went to Columbia for business school and got my mba, which is where I met the Frank Glazer, who is, uh, Team of two brothers that operate Heirloom, which was the first property management company that I worked with doing consulting, uh, which is how I discovered this very awesome industry, which I love so much.

[00:35:14] Um, so definitely kinda a random series events that got me to this point. Um, but I really think working at. These feedback businesses that were struggling to find a product market fit and were trying to grow really fast when they didn't really have all the right pieces in place, really taught me a lot about how I wanted to build this business and take a path where we're, you know, making the right decisions for our customers and not being pressured by investors to make decisions that maybe aren't in the best interest of our customers in the more short term thinking, right?

[00:35:45] So we can have a little bit of a longer view of how we wanna grow the business and build out the product. Yeah. Yeah, totally. Totally agree. And yeah, applaud you for that , and I'm sure you've seen they spend a lot of VC backed businesses in this space that have exploded and flamed out, and you never seen 'em again, right?

[00:36:01] Yeah. Because when you take money from VCs, you're saying, I'm gonna build a billion dollar business and go public. And that's not realistic for 99% of businesses. Right? Right. And I don't, and I'm not, and I don't have the ego or I think that that's gonna be me, because that's so, I mean, that. Impossible.

[00:36:18] Right? It's like, yeah, yeah. You know, unicorns, there's only so many, right? And, uh, you know, I just wanted to take a more conservative path where we're just focused on building the right things for our customers. Yeah, so kind of side note to that. But, uh, we just found out today in va CASA's, uh, earnings report.

[00:36:35] Um, just, just really seeing a bl, a bleak picture for where they're going and, and the layoffs that we all heard about when we were at V M A and then Avant Day just laying off a lot of employees too. Um, what do you think the impact of that is going to be on the industry? I know a lot of people are, They, they wanna see, oh, I'd say some people wanna see Picasso fail.

[00:36:54] Some people wanna see them succeed. I think Annie and I wanna see them. We wanna see them succeed. I don't think that it's good for the industry, for any of us if they really epicly fail, but mm-hmm. , what, what do you think is gonna happen and what will the effects be in your, in your, yeah. I would say I, I don't have as much insight into Avantas business model.

[00:37:14] I've kinda heard that they operate in a non-traditional way when it comes to how they acquire homes and how. Hey, Alex's work with homeowners. Like I don't totally understand it, so I can't like, comment really on their business. Yeah. Um, obviously I want all short-term parentals to succeed. You know, when it comes to, you know, we're a big believer in promoting book direct because we want to educate consumers about why booking with property managers is great and doesn't really matter which one Right.

[00:37:39] We just wanna promote that overall. Mm-hmm. . Um, but I think there's something to be said about, you know, there's been many attempts to build national. Uh, brands like Resort Quests, which I remember reading early on, like Amy High notes case study on them. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And how they tried to build a massive brand by acquiring people in the early internet age, and it completely imploded.

[00:38:02] Um, and I think it's just hard because if you're in the, if your business is built on homeowner relationships, that's just art to. Um, and I think a lot of people have that perspective in the industry, and I'm definitely one of them. It doesn't say that it's not possible or that technology can't offer a solution where you're building a more efficient operating model where you can acquire homeowners and build them a service.

[00:38:24] I just think to build a national brand, you may need to have a different type of inventory that's not individually owned. Some other type of relat. , um, where you're not seeing like homeowner churn, things like that. So I'll just be curious to see if, you know, how these businesses try to evolve over time.

[00:38:44] Mm-hmm. to kinda meet these different challenges. Um, but I'm definitely from a, you know, what I think is the best model or what I see our customers who are most successful, they're operating those great local brands where they have, you know, real relationships with their inventory. Right? Which is most of our customers operate.

[00:39:02] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree with you a hundred percent. And quite frankly, that is part of what drew me to my role that I just started with Casa Go actually, because I mean, their model is franchise that allows local operators to stay, uh, fully ownership of their companies, but have access to tools that let them compete at a national level, um, but still, still have that local flare and, and be able to love on their homeowners and their.

[00:39:26] In a different way that if you don't own the company, you're not necessarily gonna look at things that way. Um, but yeah, I'm pretty, I'm pretty bullish on franchises just because if you think about it, you know, we need to, you know, educate and help these business owners use a host of different technology solution.

[00:39:45] Some of which, which may be we have buying power if we're a franchiser and we can, you know, purchase something off the. Or we can develop it ourselves and equip our, uh, different business owners with. And then, um, if we're able to also leverage that brand to attract guests and homeowners as well, that's another great piece of value there.

[00:40:05] But you don't lose that local touch either. So I'm bullish on franchises. I think a lot of franchises probably improve how they operate a lot based on the ones I've talked to. Um, but I think there's just a lot of upside potential in that particular area. Yeah. Yeah. It's a hot topic for sure. We've had that conversation actually for a couple of years, interestingly enough, with Simon Lehman and, um, it, it was something he and I started talking about probably three years ago.

[00:40:30] And then, you know, just funny enough, it was something that Alex had looked at in her previous, you know, like what, how do they explore that model? And so I think that, You know, to your point, there's the economies of scale that margins are tough and people can't adopt the technology cuz it is so expensive to make a, a monumental shift to a large, you know, p m s provider or something like that.

[00:40:49] But going into a franchise, you can access all of this, all of these tools. And so for you, um, with Stai, where do you see Stai in. , you know, five years, like you, you mentioned like the adoption not being as, as high. Like what is, what is your percentage, first of all, your percentage of you think adoption of the overall say US market, and what do you think is realistic for you to get to?

[00:41:11] And then I would assume that you would want to expand globally on this, would you not? Yeah, I mean, so we, we work anywhere in the world. Um, so we actually have customers outside the us, although they're a pretty small percentage of our overall portfolio. I'd say for us, we're laser focused. Additional guest engagement solutions, some of which already don't require the wifi piece.

[00:41:33] So for instance, when you use our Integrated PMs, uh, you know, connection, you can integrate with your PMs, just pull in guest data you have there into our marketing tools and just use email and text marketing within state for the data. You already. And you don't have to add wifi to collect more. So it's gonna look more, I think, as we evolve into being a guest engagement and marketing platform, where wifi is just one input of data, whether it could be your website, your PMs, or another source that we, you know, develop in the future.

[00:42:07] So when you talk about Hub and Spoke, I really see State as being a marketing guest. And then spokes will be things like wifi, PMs connection, website connection. So we're drawing in all that data. When it comes to penetration, I think it's hard. There's like so many different. Estimates of like how big is this market and how much inventory is professionally managed for owner operated and everything like that.

[00:42:30] Right. You know, but we're still, you know, right now, I'll just giving you scale. Like we have just over 10,000 listings and like 800 property manager. So we're still a very small company. Right? Yeah, yeah. Uh, so you know, the industry is growing faster than we are adding properties, I'm sure to. Portfolio, right?

[00:42:47] So there's plenty of green space to keep growing. Um, and as we mature, I think we see, you know, our ability to sell to people with hundred, 200, 300, 500 properties has just been going up over time. Um, and then, you know, other areas I think are interesting as we recently had a part launch the partnership with links, which is a, you know mm-hmm.

[00:43:08] we talked. Home automation, you know, how can we bundle our service in with all the other in-home tech people wanna purchase? Yeah. So what's great about that is now someone who uses links already or is working with links to get launched with. Store locks or one of their other solutions, they can now just buy Stayi as part of that package.

[00:43:26] Um, and all gets delivered together. So you just plug in Stayi, plug in the hub, and then, you know, install door lock and you're good to go. Uh, so I see, you know, more ways fori to be included in other, in-home tech investments you're making. Cuz if you're gonna go into the property and install things, uh, let's just have you do that one time, right?

[00:43:46] Yeah. And not go, keep going back to install. Products that aren't working and communicating well together and, and bundle it, you know, to my point earlier about Exactly, it's hard to choose which one comes first. But yeah, that, that definitely makes, uh, a a lot of sense and you know, I mean, looking at how many.

[00:44:04] Property managers there are in the us I just had to check my notebook, but from my very first Verma meeting, at, uh, our board of directors meeting, um, a couple weeks ago, found out there's 23,000 property managers in the United States. Um, and Verma has 900 of those as members . So between lot of room to grow us out there, there's, there's still a lot of property managers out there.

[00:44:27] There's a lot of inventory out there. People that don't go to these events like we all do and don't. Aren't, you know, present for these conversations. So I think there's still a huge runway for growth for companies like Stai and, uh, Casa and Homes and Villas, where Marriot, where Annie works now too. All of our businesses.

[00:44:45] Yeah, right. Lot of, lot of potential for growth. So it's exciting time. Exciting. 2023. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think that that's the really great thing about it is, is. We, we talked about what covid, the bad, the bad side of it, but the good side of it was it made, you know, to Alex's earlier point, us a lot more collaborative, a lot more open to discussing the needs, the wants and the wishes of the industry and really kind of, um, Figuring out what is the best solution.

[00:45:14] And so what you've come up with is a really great, again, I hate to use the term no-brainer, but it's like, you know, how could somebody not think of this before? So you, you were at the right place at the right time to come up with it. And Alex and I, that's one of the things that we really try to talk about on the podcast is like, you know, what was that thing that that gave you that spark to do it?

[00:45:31] But it sounds like. Just everything that you did prepared you for where you are now. I mean, getting an economics degree so you understand the, the economics of all of the business that you're doing working with VC funding. So you understood like what you didn't wanna do, what you didn't wanna do. Yeah. I mean, I think that all of these little pieces.

[00:45:47] They were, they were the seeds that you planted along the way that have helped you grow this business. And it's really, really incredible to watch you and your team at work, and you're so passionate about it and, and you're such a great advocate for the industry. And I, I love your energy and, and what you bring to the table every time you, you talk about your business and, and your, you are a very collaborative individual and I think your, your business is just gonna continue to grow and we can't wait to see where it goes from.

[00:46:13] Yeah, super excited. I think, um, areas that I definitely wanna get more involved in are things like rent responsibly, kind of more of these broader initiatives to keep, you know, the space as an industry healthy and vibrant because, you know, like you said before in terms of collaboration around regulation, um, you know, viewing us as you.

[00:46:37] A rising tide lifts all boats. Right? Yeah. Um, and I think, you know, there's so much more areas where we can, you know, keep building that momentum. And obviously Verma is a big part of it too. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Arthur, this was such a pleasure to have you on today and to learn more about not only your journey, but also everything that safe offers.

[00:46:56] So very, very exciting, and we just wish you the best of luck in 2023 and beyond. Uh, if anybody wants, thank you guys as well. Oh, thank you. Any you guys have, so somebody excited things going on. Yeah, it's, we all do. We all do. Yeah. It's a good time to be in the industry for sure. But, um, if anybody wants to get in touch with you, what's the easiest way for them to reach you?

[00:47:17] Yeah, they can email me at arthur com, um, you know, with questions, getting a demo if they wanna learn more about Yeah. Starting a business, anything happy to, you know, be in touch with them. So feel free to. Awesome. Yeah. And thank you for your support of, of the podcast, uh, state Fire as a member of Alex and Nannie's.

[00:47:37] List our preferred list of, uh, we think the best partners in the industry and vendors that are doing great things. So we'll be reaching out next year for more opportunities and things that we're gonna be able to do together to collaborate. So looking forward to it. If anybody wants to contact Annie and I can go to Alex and Annie podcast.com.

[00:47:55] And until next time, thank you everybody. Thank you. Thanks. Thanks, Arthur.

Arthur ColkerProfile Photo

Arthur Colker

Founder & CEO

Arthur is the Founder and CEO of StayFi, the leading WiFi Marketing & Management services for short-term rentals. Prior to StayFi, Arthur ran digital marketing at several growth companies and has a MBA from Columbia University.