Jan. 19, 2022

Flipping the Switch with Steve Trover, CEO of Better Talent


Steve Trover is a 25-year vacation rental industry veteran whose career took off in the 1990's when he founded All Star Vacation Homes (ASVH), a property management company in Orlando that he expanded to include several different business models in 4 total markets. Steve designed, developed, and/or built hundreds of vacation homes during this time, and served as President and Vice President of the Vacation Rental Manager Association (VRMA) over a 5-year period. Steve's deep understanding of the business and entrepreneurial prowess led him to develop his own property management software, which later became LiveRez.

In 2017, the vacation rental industry was stunned when ASVH permanently closed their doors. In this candid interview, Steve shares the challenges his company faced during this time and the missteps that left him no choice but to close the business. He also shares the story of "The Switch", an initiative led by VRMA during his tenure as President (2010) to protect the brands of professionally managed vacation rental companies from losing control to the OTAs and streamline distribution. While this initiative was ultimately derailed, it put a necessary spotlight on many of the challenges that we are still dealing with today.   

If there's one word to describe Steve, it would be resilient. He understands that while there is great satisfaction in recalling how much has been accomplished, the richness of the memories and lessons learned come from recalling the WHOLE STORY - the lows as well as the highs. Steve shares his successes with humbleness and his failures with humility, which reveals how truly passionate he is about the industry and helping those around him navigate their own paths. 

Today, Steve is CEO and Founder of Better Talent, where he helps companies with their single most important task: Building and developing a cohesive team.

Watch episode on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/XP-HVp_R5kI

CONTACT STEVE TROVER
LinkedIn | Better Talent

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
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Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Podcast Sponsored by Condo-World and Lexicon Travel

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex. And I'm Annie. And we are so excited to be joined today by Steve trover, CEO of better talent and a true industry veteran with so many awesome stories and interesting stories to tell. Steve, welcome to the podcast.

Steve Trover:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Annie Holcombe:

Steve, why don't you tell us about your history? What got you to this moment in your life?

Steve Trover:

Yeah, certainly. So I'm kind of at the serial entrepreneur started my first business when I was 17 years old. But in back in 1997, started a vacation rental company here in Central Florida, and ran that for about 20 years had 350 properties at peak and about 100 employees on the team also had a management or I'm sorry, a development company. So we would design spec and build purpose built vacation homes, it was called purpose built. And we had an interior design company. So we would furnish those properties and furnish about 500 homes over about a 17 year period of that company. And also got into the technology side of the business, developing a proprietary software platform for a company, which ultimately became libraries. And I was the Chief Strategy Officer for that company for a while and then got real involved with the trade associations. And for five years, I was vice president and president of vrma. So just kind of lots of different components of the industry, more recently launched better talent. And we're really focused on the people side of the business today and helping primarily short term rental or vacation rental companies hire people for their team. In a nutshell, how much have you seen the industry change since those early days, I mean, both from your perspective as an operator and a vrma. Member? Well, it was interesting 97 We started really as a marketing company more so than a management company. And we we were essentially people's web presence, other management companies. So that's how early stage we were, as far as the development of the industry, the Internet was hardly a thing, right. And so in fact, Google didn't even really exist in 1997, just to give an idea of how early that was. So So much has changed. And you know, back then it went from literally classified advertising and magazine advertising all the way to everything we see today. So tectonic shifts in the entire industry, and every component of it, from operations, to marketing to product, I mean, every piece of it early on, our biggest challenge really was just awareness, people not necessarily thinking about staying in a vacation as a top of mind option. And that's obviously not the case to that. If so, that's, that's gone. So that's an exciting change. And there's been just a tremendous amount of really great changes over the years.

Alex Husner:

Interesting. And you touched on newspaper ads and traditional marketing. I started in condo world in 2008. And when I was brought on our CEO, Roy who passed away recently, he had been doing all the marketing for the company. And that was, you know, that's what they used to do back in the day. I mean, his job as as CEO slash marketing director was literally writing newspaper ad copy. And the most involved part of it was probably, you know, picking up pictures for the brochure, which we still do a brochure but you know, there was there was no digital components or channel management or distribution or any of the crazy things that we do these days. But it's funny when you talk to people that are new to the industry because it's like that it just seems like the dark ages but it really wasn't that long ago.

Annie Holcombe:

I remember the days of just sitting down and going through like every you know winter What was your next brochure gonna look like for the following year? Like what was the cover gonna be what you know what, how are you going to feature different properties and I was on there our chamber, kind of similar to what you're doing out Alex and we handled the visitors guide for the market and the visitors guide was just the Bible to the destination. And again, it was not nothing was digital, everything was print. So it took six, seven months to get this all put together to sell the ads get everybody's advertising and have photoshoots and do all these things and it just seems like now we can throw it out there. In the ether, and you know, same day, so it's definitely the industry is has evolved. Steve, I wanted to ask you, so you said you started out with your, your management company in Orlando. And I think you had some really interesting experiences there. And I think Orlando was kind of it for me living in Florida, Orlando was like the first big market that sort of blew up now vacation rentals had been, I'm in Panama City Beach, they had been here for a long time, you know, smaller aspects of it. But Orlando really, really blew up kind of when you were there. And so maybe you could take us back to how that sort of all transpired and how your business evolved. And related into that.

Steve Trover:

Yeah, Orlando is a really unique market, when you look at all of the markets in the sense that it was really started by the British and I caught British invasion 2.0, right. So they, they came and they would buy what they would call a holiday home, in Orlando, and back in the 80s, and 90s, they were buying them up in droves for $100,000 for a house with a pool, right, which was a basically a broom closet in London back then. So it seemed like they could get something really inexpensively, they then would need a management company. And so they would identify somebody to take care of and maintain the property. And that happens so much to the tune of 20,000 plus units of inventory that were bought and put into short term rentals that a lot of companies started to evolve. And a lot of the British people that owned vacation homes would come over and start a small management company because they wanted to live here. And so consequently, there's probably an excess of 500 management companies in the Central Florida market alone. So it's one of the more competitive markets as it pertains to just sheer number of companies. What it makes it unique is that they don't generally sell because most of those companies are owned by people on an E two visa, which requires them to maintain that company to keep their visa status. And there's no green card, a pathway to a green card. So it's a really strange market from that perspective. When I started and my first kind of office that I got in a commercial center, we actually had seven vacation rental companies and one commercial Plaza. And one two doors to my left and one two doors to my right. And so you want to talk about competition that was pretty crazy in that respect. That said, not very many of them scaled. So they a lot of them would have like 2535 45 properties, that type of thing. And we did. And so we were able to do things that the other companies weren't able to do from a service perspective from a marketing perspective and really excel. So but it was a it was a tough place to kind of cut your teeth, if you will.

Alex Husner:

there's so much competition there too, not just on the vacation rental side, but you're competing with the timeshares and you know the biggest ones down there and the traditional resorts and hotels. So that's Orlando is definitely one of the more complicated markets to get into, as far as I can tell.

Steve Trover:

There's 120,000 hotel rooms and more timeshare inventory than anywhere else on the planet. So yeah, the collective is there's more lodging here than anywhere.

Alex Husner:

I'd like to unpack your proprietary tech a little bit. I think that's super interesting. And how that turned into live Rez? did you How did that start? I mean, did you guys start with a different software, and then you realize the need for something that was more specific,

Steve Trover:

what was even more fundamental than that we didn't have software we because again, it was so early stage, that we really just built a website first. And we built that with a development company out of Idaho that had a listing site. And so we developed the CMS content management system. And then pretty quickly thereafter, right around 2000 ish, started looking at the idea of having a booking engine so developed a an online booking engine. And from there, it was like Okay, now that we're managing properties, we need all the other components. So let's get a you know, housekeeping management component and maintenance and all the different pieces. And it really was we literally didn't even have a name for it. We called it admin system for us, right. And, and then one day, we looked up and it was a software platform. And so that was launched it was based in Boise, Idaho, and still is today and so on by an Abbott IQ obviously but but that was kind of the start of live Rez was just us kind of building this thing knowing that we wanted something to run the business and back then there wasn't nowadays everything is a SaaS platform, then there wasn't it was all installed software on your computer and you paid a large sum of money per year to maintain that software. And so this was really one of if not the first SaaS platforms truly SAS platforms in the vacation rental space. And the reason why we went that direction was really just kind of out of ignorance, not knowing any better but also looking at the software that was was out there and just not being real impressed with it at the time. So, because we really wanted to be an internet based company, and those software platforms just didn't allow for it. So I gotta give you

Alex Husner:

credit and also a blog to live for as we recently did a demo. And, you know, you can tell the software that has been built with the fundamentals of being built by somebody that knows what the software is supposed to do, and actual use cases of it. That's probably one of the, you know, the biggest things we noticed walking around the vendor Hall at vrma. And there's a lot of great software that's out there, but it might be new and shiny, but it doesn't really answer or speak to the use cases have the operators that are using it, and not just the property managers, the reservation agents. And I think that's such a different thing for, you know, a lot of these startup companies, they don't have reservation agents that are answering phones, and they're doing everything just through email communication for VRBO, and Airbnb, and, you know, our market where we are in North Myrtle Beach. And same with Annie and Panama City. We're in very established markets that companies have been around for 2535 45 years. And it's, it's there's a different need and a different understanding, I think somewhere in the middle is probably where we all need to be in terms of having the most up to date tech, but that it's also built on that still foundation of you know, where the industry really finds that sweet spot.

Steve Trover:

Absolutely. i i It's interesting seeing that companies involved today that are the new startups that don't have reservations agents and knowing that, even though Yeah, you can definitely run without it. When you run with it, you actually can convert at a higher clip and more than likely raise rev par and ADR because of it. So, and I think a lot of them push back against it because of the cost obviously associated with his employees. But some people still want to talk to people on the phone, right? Yeah. Oh, yeah. It's amazing. Absolutely.

Annie Holcombe:

So this, so you built the software? And then when I guess when did you transition? Or when did the the purpose built homes come into play?

Steve Trover:

Yeah, so Orlando, another unique thing about Orlando is most of the inventory is production homes. So big box, home builders like lonar, polti. And such, build communities here and there's actually zoning, allowing for it. And so there's short term rental communities, the whole community is a development is a vacation rental community. And what was the that was the great part, right, because you didn't have some of the challenges you have where you have intermingled and with residential homes, and there were resort communities and whatnot. But the the challenge we were having is we wanted bigger homes. And so we wanted, you know, 6789 10 bedroom homes. And so the big box, retail shops would build that for us, but they would just add bedrooms. And so what you had, consequently was a four bedroom floor plan that now is a seven bedroom, but still has the same dining and living space. And it really wasn't optimized at all. And so we can only get them to stretch so far inside their envelope, if you will, from a building perspective. And so right around the time that no one was building anything in 2009, we built the first purpose built vacation home. And so we hired architectural, we designed it from the ground up using an r&d process. And so we looked at all of our data from post day surveys, we actually did focus groups with guests, we did an internal focus groups with our operations team to really design the product from the ground up, specifically focused on being a vacationer. And obviously, this is done in other markets and, and whatnot. But in most cases, in fact, I don't, I've never really saw prior to that anybody really doing a full like r&d process. And if you think about most products, there's an r&d process, but vacation rentals, we take generally speaking, residential homes and kind of convert that into a vacation rental and so it's not optimal. And so that was the the kind of the premise behind purpose built. But then we took it a step further and went to you know, and had been doing interior design for some time. So we really hired draftsman on staff. So we had a draftsman and we had an architect, and we would design them ourselves. And then we continued to build those in a resort called reunion here, we built a 25 from probably about 1.2 to $3 million homes, they're very fairly high end, especially for this market. homes from seven bedroom to 14 bedroom in size. There were big, multi generational travelers, home theater game room, you know, we had all these core attributes that we would pull in and they just performed exceptionally well. They were really designed for that purpose as well just to drive as much revenue as possible for the investor. And so unlike a lot of homes where they're kind of offset of the excess Spence, we really wanted these to be high performance from a, from a cap rate perspective, like you would you know, and with the intent of ultimately creating a new asset class, and we're starting to see that happen. So we held the purpose built. vacation homes trademark for a lot of years. And now I hear people using that term all the time. So it's kind of cool. Airing that out the industry.

Annie Holcombe:

That's really fascinating. And so do you. Did you see? So if people are using that name, do you think are they using that same premise and model to build those homes? Or do you think they're just using the name? And

Steve Trover:

I think the intention is there. And I think some are doing it better than others? And perhaps some are doing better than we did, right. Because everything kind of evolved. So. But you know, I think that when they say that they mean is specifically designed, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't just taking an existing home or floorplan type. And, you know, one of the things that we noticed the biggest was how much floor plans matter. And they really do and having, you know, a bathroom for every bedroom, and you know, enough seating area in the dining room for everybody to sit down at a table and just seemingly small things like that. Things like you don't need big walk in closets in a vacation rental for obvious reasons. But you saw so often see it so we would optimize the footprint to drive the best return possible. But so I see some of that happening. And I noticed, you know, there's specific individuals and we even we do do some consulting on that today with some of our clients. And so I do see some groups that are doing a really good job at it.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, that's, that's really fascinating. And again, Orlando is just a it's an amazing market. I have a couple of partners in the in the Orlando market, and obviously COVID just decimated. Orlando is just an it's still still trying to recover. But I think now that the borders are open, they'll start to see a better, you know, a better growth rate, like the rest of the vacation rental world.

Steve Trover:

Yeah, I mean, Florida as a whole has done really well through COVID. But Orlando struggled, because obviously the theme parks are the driver here. So that's the kind of the the thing that drives visitation, and they were restricting and still, to some degree, restrict visitation. As far as the numbers, we're not at full capacity as of yet. But I've talked to several people in the market, they're doing really well now. So but it did take longer. You know, Hawaii, and Orlando probably got hit the worst relative to everybody else.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And as a destination that relies so heavily on tourism, you know, that's we're constantly in our area, trying to diversify our economy for that reason. There's just, there's a lot of challenges when you're really focused on one entity like that, and a lot of great things and a lot of growth and, you know, very strong economy, but at the same time COVID Definitely flipped everybody on this switch on everybody to show how dangerous that can be. But it can be difficult to diversify a very, you know, tourists driven economy, because it's just, you know, the area just doesn't cater to outside companies that would, you know, make business home there. What happened next? Now, I know at some point you started going into other markets. But did you also have How did the recession hurt the business? Was that an issue? Yeah,

Steve Trover:

it really amazingly, was not, you know, we did have a real estate company and like everybody else, real estate certainly slowed down. But that's when we shifted to more purpose built with investors and, and so we were selling a lot of real estate from that perspective, that you know, the real estate that we're building, so that wasn't too big of a challenge. 2009 was a slightly soft gear for us. But relative to my builder and real estate focus friends, we did quite well, because a lot of them went out of business, obviously, when everything cratered like it did, but 10 2010 on record year, so 1011 12 I mean, we just crushed it through the recession. Because, you know, and I don't know if you're familiar with a guy named Peter Yes, which buddy, USA Today, I'll bring him in to talk about travel as an example. But he always said that Americans consider travel a birthright, no matter what's happening in the economy. We'll still go we might put it on a credit card, we might change our, you know, the type of trip that we take, and that's what we saw through the recession. So is that travel still happened and people still went to Disney World and, and all that, well, simultaneous to all that we were going into other markets. So we went into Captiva Island, Florida, just because so many of our guests would come year after year, and then the kids would get to a certain age where they didn't want to come to Disney anymore anymore. So we started asking them more where they wanted to go. And they want to go to the beach, obviously. And so we picked Captiva because it was kind of a high end vacation rental Island. And then we ended up acquiring a company out in Southern California and the San Diego market so we were there as well. And then we started picking up some homes in the Sun Valley market night as well. So we were in four different markets and no it was we stretched quite a bit to be able to do that. California was a big stretch, obviously, just from a logistics perspective, we were centralizing like a lot do kind of reservations, marketing and counting some components of guest services. So most of our boots on the ground in those locations are just housekeeping and maintenance related activities. So

Annie Holcombe:

after that, I believe one of the things that you were telling us about was you had a big vision for what you thought could be in the market, how that came to be, and then didn't come to be? Could you share that with us?

Steve Trover:

Yeah, certainly. So, you know, we, like I said, we're building a number of homes. And we really looked at those homes as kind of our MVP, right, we were trying to develop out of product. And the intent was to create a new asset class where investors, institutional investors would invest in vacations as opposed to individuals so that we could scale. And we put together a private equity fund, we did one deal where we bought some land from, from Disney. And unfortunately, the contractor and the land partner got into a legal fight. And that didn't work out. Then we went into contract on another parcel. And simultaneous to all this, I had been bringing Disney out and meeting with Disney executives, to kind of look at what we were doing, because I always wanted them to build on Disney property, right. And so we were developing out a big parcels 210 acres on the west side of Disney. And Disney came to us and said, Hey, we're interested in doing this now. And I went to our investors, let him know about it. And then Disney six months later changed their mind. And so I was so excited to let everybody know about it. And then investment group, they were kind of focused on that. And so we ended up not doing the big project that we were going to do. And because of that, I ended up having to sell the companies. And so I sold all four groups, you know, of the companies, the management company and development company, real estate company, and the interior design company, had that had a new partner in there for about a year. And then they departed and actually had to wind down those companies and sell off all the inventory. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. But it was a lesson learned in the sense that I got really, really aggressive, and growth. And so now when I talk to a lot of people I consult with we kind of staged the growth and are more careful. And I tried to help educate them on kind of the potholes, if you will, in business that I that I saw. But we did some really great things, I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish. And I use it today to help others.

Alex Husner:

It was, unfortunately, that ending came down the way that it did. But at the same time, it was companies like yours that got the industry to where we are now. So you know that experience that you learn that is now what's helping new companies be able to grow and like you said, learn from those mistakes. But it's amazing, amazing story, Andy and I, when we started this podcast, that was one thing that we wanted to make sure we had an emphasis on was that we don't just want to tell the stories about what worked, we want to tell the stories of what didn't work, because right now, especially, you know, and I'd love to get your thoughts on this. I mean, the the current m&a and investment environment and vacation rentals is just so outrageous, nothing anybody ever thought it would get to this point that it is but you know, there is a bubble and there is certainly you know, at some point you have to be profitable. And you know, like you said cash is king. And if you don't have it, the king is lost the throne. So it's I think it's important to tell those stories, I really think it is I think we can learn a lot. And we you know, and I respect you so much for being open to tell that story because I'm sure there's a lot of heartache and distress among you and your family and staff and I know you worked you did everything possible to keep that going for as long as you could. So we appreciate you being open to tell the story.

Steve Trover:

No, absolutely no i i Look at failure as you know fail forward right and so sure there was heartache there was challenges that come up came out of it but you learn along the way and you take that and move forward and try to you know do better yourself but also help others and that's that's always been you know, our focus and our company we used to invite companies from all over the country to tour with us and we call it cross consulting because I would learn from them and they they will learn from us and I really enjoyed that and so we still do some of those things today armed with the knowledge of what we did well and what we didn't do so well right and so everybody fails not everybody likes to talk about it but

Alex Husner:

it's not as easy as it seems. I mean, you know going from one destination to the to another condo world has expanded through partnerships and other areas but even during that, you know, it is it has not been an easy journey. And we're still on that path to get further outside of, you know, our region in this area. But it's it, there's definitely a lot of complexities. And it can seem like it's easier than it is because of technology, but you get into certain markets. And it's like the the dynamics are just, they can really work against you, if you're not from there, if you don't have the connections that are there to lead you down the right path to meet the right people to make the right decisions. It's not as easy as it seems. And I think people look at like Vacasa, and some of these bigger organizations, that they're just popping up new locations everywhere, but the way they're operating is not the way that you know, your business or our businesses could operate on a, you know, trying to grow scale basis. So it's a different, different ballgame. You could say,

Steve Trover:

Yeah, I mean, when we went to Captiva, for example, you know, we were so dominant, and then Orlando, that we kind of felt like we could just roll into town, and, you know, for our shingle up, and yeah, really grow fast. And that wasn't the case, it was a challenge type market. And so we learned through that when we went to San Diego, completely different market, very different market dynamics. And then you know, the product, and getting the product was different than how we were doing in Orlando. So, yeah, I mean, each one of the markets have unique challenges, and you have to understand it and really learn those challenges. And for these aggregators, if you will, so that Picasso's of the world, then being obviously the 100 pound gorilla, it's going to be a challenge. And already is, and we're seeing it, you know, I hope, quite frankly, I hope they figure it out. And why I say that is I, I feel like there's a place for those players, just like there is in the restaurant, business, local restaurants, that we all love to go and find that local restaurant, but sometimes you just get to a chain because you know what to expect and, and I think we're gonna see that in our industry over time as this thing evolves. And whether it's a casa super successful or another player is or multiple, our, I don't think that will necessarily be a bad thing. I think everybody is concerned about them. I if I was still an operator, today, I would not be concerned about what they are doing. Because I would just be the best local restaurant, if you will, in that market. And so that would be my focus is have that local flavor, really show that you know, the market better than anybody else. And I think you'll do really well in those markets. So I but I do think it's important that, you know, even though we've had failed failures in the past, I mean, resortquest obviously, didn't do all as well as they had hoped. And and I think because I think it's important them and others start to become successful, and at least providing a baseline of guest services and other services. That is good for the industry overall. Because you know, again, bad experiences are the worst thing that happens to our industry, no matter who provides that experience. Because if you come and you stay in a vacation rental for the first time, and you hate it, you may just say, You know what, I'm just going to go back to hotels. And so I have always felt that it was really important that all the operators, large and small, do a good job, so that this industry can continue to evolve and Excel.

Annie Holcombe:

And I think that the good thing, again, to your point about the the CASAS of the world is that, you know, people were hesitant about them coming into market, they have kind of rolled into that have they rolled it into the Panhandle with you know, again, where the big Bokassa we're going to take over. We're going to do all this. But I think what it made people do was take a hard look at their, how they were operating their businesses and maybe what their marketing prowess was within the market. And it wasn't as good as they thought it was. So it made everybody who stepped up their game. So it sets a baseline for everybody to kind of operate from that is good. And for that we do need them to be successful. So that it's not a black mark on the industry because we let's face it, going to the you know the point of all the m&a and the money that's in it, we're in a very big spotlight right now. And it's ours to make or break. And if we can unite and have good messaging and, and professionalism within the industry, and that's a hot topic for everybody. It's important for us to route them on and I think that kind of dovetails or spills over into your head of Varma vrma The the Keystone Management Association, the President and Vice President for a couple years in very active and engaged in trying to move the industry forward. And so I think you've got a really interesting story, and it was one I didn't know much about was the switch program that you worked on. Could you share a little bit about that?

Steve Trover:

Yeah. So right about the time I joined the vrma on the board. We it was very clear that there was a threat to the industry. And that threat was you know, aggregators destroyed, you know, at that point, Airbnb wasn't even really a big player. It was homeboy and homeless. We had just rolled up all of my favorite listing sites, Seibert, Reynolds great rentals at all. And we were concerned about it because we, we thought that they would do what they frankly did. And that is make it to where you almost have to list with them, depending on the market. That is the case today, right. And so my biggest concern was not just that you'd have to list with them, or how much it was going to cost. It was the brand of the individual local management companies. And I got the opportunity to go to focus right years ago, and Choice Hotels had just pulled their inventory off of Expedia. And so there was this big fight. And they did that because Expedia was wanting last room availability, they were, you know, kind of charging a pretty high margin is 25%. And Choice Hotels said, you know, what, we're gonna pull all our inventory. Well, Expedia had so much power that there was a basically a hotel owner revolt. And, you know, they were really upset because, you know, revenue went way down. And the CEO had to put the inventory back on Expedia. And I saw this happen, and I went, Oh, my gosh, if that can happen, the Choice Hotels, what's what are they going to do to my company, or any of the other members of the vrma. And when this becomes a significant thing, and so we saw HomeAway as becoming the Expedia of the vacation rental industry. Well, ironically, they literally are Expedia today. So that happens, exactly like we used to say that they're going to be like comm just like Expedia. And then they are. And not that I see a view necessarily, you know, OTAs is a bad thing either. But the big concern was, again, the stripping of the brand, you know, re parody, all the things that you know, we know are ultimately going to happen, some of which already have. And so we set out on this project with the BMA to build what we call the vacation rental switch, and we put out an RFP, and we invited technology companies to submit to that RFP, a proposal to build this thing that was essentially like the MLS is in the real estate industry, so that all of the PMs platforms would connect to it. And distribution would happen through that central switch, which exists in some respects, in the, you know, rental cars, airlines, hotels, and so on. And we ended up picking a company called Pegasus, Pegasus actually powers a significant portion of of travel, and other sectors, like the ones I just mentioned. And so and the idea was, we would put some rules in place, right. So if you wanted the inventory that came through it, you would have the brand of that particular company front and center right alongside of the property. There was, you know, different things as far as terms and conditions, and then the way things were described, and so on, and so forth. And it wasn't necessarily it wasn't at all to try and control you know, the whole industry or anything like that. It was really to protect our members, and protect industry players on the on the pm side, from some of these things happening. And so it was a five year long stretch. I was vice president for three years and President for two that we put put a ton of work into traveled all over the country met with all the PMs platforms at the time. During that time. HomeAway ended up buying instance, software and escapia, which made it really challenging. They didn't like the switch too much, for obvious reasons. So from a competitive threat perspective, I think that probably helped push them to do that. And so that became a challenge. And then Pegasus ended up replacing their executive team and the new CEO called me one day and said, We're not going to build it. And essentially, we're just not. And so we ended up ended up killing the project, sadly. But I think the effort was good. And the intentions were good. We did get HomeAway, for example, and then Airbnb to agree to put the brand next to the property. And so we were able to do some of those things that were positives, I think, and, and maybe prolong the concerns that that we had, to some degree, but we're seeing them, you know, what we were concerned about happened? Right. So without a question. So and I know ne used to work for PDS, probably at that time when we were doing so.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah. So it's funny because I'm when I was at Expedia, I come from the management side of things I was in I was in the occasional management. And the one thing that I told them was, there's you know, I always joke that I had this list of 200 plus things that you don't know about vacation rentals. And so the director that hired me at the time, after about a year, she said to me, Well, how are we doing? And I'm like, Well, we're down to about 150 things you still don't know about vacation rentals, and I had a really good fortune to be kind of in in conversations internally about vacation rentals, and I remember Being on a call with dhara when he was president and Expedia. And he was they were saying, well tell us about HomeAway. What is this VRBO? Company? What, you know, what are they doing? I'm like, how could you not know, like, there was just something so tone deaf about the industry. But that, you know, education within Expedia, there was still a lot of that had to go on. But having come from the rental side of things, we were very much a proponent of having our name, our brand within our listings. And so we fought with Expedia about that, because they said, No, you can only list the name of the building. Well, the problem for me was, as a management company, I was in a building that had 15 different management groups, I needed to be able to stand out. So that was something that I think Expedia finally adopted, and I think you were doing the same thing. And so fast forward, you know, in what to 2015, they bought HomeAway. And I remember my internal messaging going crazy that day, when they announced that they're like, did you know that this was happening? I was like, Yeah, dhara and Barry Diller had me up for dinner and asked my opinion, it was like, I didn't know, the greatest thing ever. But it's it's just amazing how you could go from not understanding anything about the industry to buying the biggest part of the industry. That was, again, it was a it was a difficult thing for management groups, because it had decimated management, you know, portfolios, because owners were going direct to the VRBO, listings and things like that, but it was the it was the, you know, the enemy that you had to keep close, you know, you just had to be involved with it. So I applaud that. And I said, I just had no idea about the switch. But again, I was at Expedia, so probably would have been blinded to whatever was going on. With that.

Steve Trover:

Understandably,

Alex Husner:

yeah, yeah, that was such an unbelievable time. And I actually I do remember that time, that's right about when I got into vacation rentals and started working in a condo world. And the reason I was hired, I kind of rolled was actually for a similar reason as the switch, but it was more, our owner was more concerned about rent by owners becoming a major threat for the industry. And not just for our company here. But he saw it as his kind of moral obligation that he was like, We've got to save vacation rentals, the professionally managed site. And so we put together a website that specifically spoke to why you would rent from a professionally managed company. But I know that when we heard about the switch on there, I forgot the first vrma conference I went to was hosted in Myrtle Beach, and we heard about it, and him and I looked at each other and we're like, Hmm, this sounds like the same premise of where we're going with things. And, you know, the branding part of it totally hit home with us. And then, you know, as we started kind of watching how this went, I mean, Steve, you guys were back, then you are a visionary in my mind, for what you saw as eventually becoming the problem, because when you think about it, you know, an anti you work in channel management. So this is, you know, there's a lot of ways we can unpack this. But there, there still had, there still is no one centralized distribution way for vacation rentals. And that is a major problem. And probably one of the biggest issues we all face is API connectivity. I mean, everybody was at a point where everybody wants to work together, the closed systems, for the most part, have gone away or are going away. But you know, connecting the dots, there is still a major problem for a lot of companies. So, you know, I think you guys saw the writing on the wall there from from a brand perspective, from a rent by owner perspective, and being able to control the inventory. And, you know, to be able to sell the product, you know, when you look at properties that are, I think the switch obviously, must have had some operators on there that were true condo type operators, because Annie, like you said, in Panama City, same way, as in Myrtle Beach, there can be 15 managers in one building. And you can't just put the name of the building on there. I mean, it is super important to have the brand of the company. And ultimately, that was part of how aatma, which is on site, Property Managers Association was formed. That's where Annie and I first met was for that group. And, you know, for that for that same reason that you know, just because you're the onsite resort, but an individual owner at that property is not guaranteed to offer the same level of accommodations as booking through, you know, the on site. So, the same issues are still prevailing, but it's just it's really interesting to hear that you, you you and your team at that point on Verma SATA coming, try your best to make it happen unfortunately, didn't but and same with your other company. I mean, you were a visionary to on the you know, the purpose built homes and where that went. And I think if you had done that now, it would probably be a different outcome. Right. So it's it's interesting to look back on that that decade of change within the industry because it's you know, they like I said, those things had to happen to get all of us to where we are now. I think

Steve Trover:

Amy Hinote always jokes that she's I'm just gonna watch what you're doing now and do it like 10 years. She failed and I'll do it.

Annie Holcombe:

Oh, no.

Alex Husner:

That's a great next question actually do so what would be your I mean, where do you see the future of the industry in 10 years? And what's an idea that you want to do right now that we should wait into? And

Steve Trover:

I'm not telling anybody? Oh, yeah, I mean, well, and obviously, you know, where I've landed. And so, you know, I worked on the product side, or from the distribution side work on the tech side, you know, all of the management. And what I realized more recently, as I looked at it, and I said, Okay, done all these different things, Should I just leave the industry all together? Now? I love it. And I love the people. And, you know, so stuck it out from that perspective, but also said, What is the biggest problem for our industry? Is it, you know, distribution is attack, is it those things, and those are all super important, right. But if you think about, if you had the best technology, and you had the best properties on the market, but you didn't have the best team, you're still not gonna win. So that's why what led me to really focus on what we're focusing on now, which is helping people find the right people for the right seats. And so, and I've done a number of, you know, worked really hard, like we all do to try and figure that piece out. And my businesses, and so today, that's all we do. And so, just really trying to address the piece that I hadn't really dove into other than just hiring for my own companies. And so we're excited about getting better and better at that every single day, and helping the industry in that regard. So

Alex Husner:

it's definitely needed. And we were just on a call earlier with Simon Lehman, he's got a great line about it that before capital comes human capital. And I'm sure you would agree with that. And, you know, we touched on that earlier, too, that a lot of these newer companies, they don't see necessarily the need, or they can't justify the cost of having reservation agents and this and that, when they think that it can all just rely on the technology. And technology helps 100%. And it does allow you to operate on a more lean basis. But at the same time, you know, the people that are behind the brand, and driving the car are ultimately the reason for your success.

Steve Trover:

Unequivocally. And until you know, robot cleaners and robot maintenance people show up, we're gonna have people, you know, yes, we theoretically can operate leaner, because of tech today, and a lot of these, especially the new startups do, but this industry will always have people in it, you know, they just will. And so when I look at the market leaders in any market, anywhere in the world, in this industry, and I look at that the makeup of that company, it's really not the tech stack that gets them to be the leader. It's the people every single time and the best companies in the best markets are in the market. It has the best team, almost always right. It's not just because the leader was a great visionary. You know, certainly that matters, right? But that leader needs to be a great leader, and they need to be somebody who leads a great team of people to success. And so that's, that's why we chose to focus on this today. And I love it, it's, it's probably my favorite thing that I've done in the industry by far.

Alex Husner:

That's awesome. That's so great to see that you've moved into this new role. And it sounds like your your team is doing great stuff. So it's very exciting.

Steve Trover:

Early stage, but we're gonna keep running on it. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

We we like to wrap up with a couple of questions. But I think that we kind of probably could answer some of the questions that we have about your passion and where that lies. And so I wanted to kind of ask you with all of the things that you have been through what inspires you the most to keep going? And again, you know, I think I know the answer to this, but you know, what, what keeps you involved in this industry?

Steve Trover:

You know, I asked myself that, you know, I tried to be super objective. And like I said earlier, I even thought at one point, so just go find another industry. And I tell this story. I was once at a vacation rental conference, and I have ADHD, like, really bad, like not even joking. And so I was I was wandering around and I went like, oh, it's lunchtime, and I get in the lunch line. You know, when I start dishing my plate up, and I'm about two thirds away down the line and I look up and I realize I'm not at the right conference it was a big you know, resort hotel or a conference hotel and the multiple conferences and I'm at the wrong one, right? Like, you know, oh, well forget it. I'm just gonna you know, I'm already this my place so I literally go sit down next these people and I don't even remember what industry it was, but I remember thinking these people are boring. Yeah. And so what what keeps me passionate about this industry is the industry. It's the people. It's, it's how passionate the people in this industry are about this industry. That's what keeps me going. So, do I love vacation rentals? Heck, yeah, I've stayed in a hundreds of them with, I have four kids, we can't stay in a hotel. Right. So the, you know, the product, definitely. I love it. I think it's great. I think what it does for families and for friends and connectivity, and all that I'm passionate about that as well. But what keeps me in this industry is that this industry is really exciting. There's really great people that are super passionate about it. And probably the other thing I would say to that is, I still look at it as a big whiteboard. So even though I said, you know, we used to do classified advertising, look at all all that's evolved, I think we're still early stage, we're still making stuff up ever definitely in this industry. And there's so many problems to solve. And, you know, that's what I like to do is company, you know, look for the biggest problem and go try to solve it, right. So I like that challenge. And this industry is full of challenges. So

Alex Husner:

you're definitely somebody whose heart is connected to it. And I think that makes inherently a big difference. And somebody that's just coming into it, because they just see a investment opportunity or money opportunity. I mean, you've you've been there for the highs and the lows. And you know, in our industry, obviously, the the connection just between all of us as industry professionals is really strong. You know, I don't know that this is replicated in all other types of industries. In fact, I know it's not. And that's something that we're, we're lucky to all have together. And I mean, the three of us met in person at vrma. Just recently, and that was, you know, wonderful to connect, and which led to the podcast today. So we appreciate you, Steve, and everything that you do. And truly, just, it was wonderful to have you on with us today as one of our very first guests.

Steve Trover:

It's an absolute honor to be one of your first guests. And I know you guys are going to crush it and just excited to watch that be the case. So thank you so much for having me.

Annie Holcombe:

Thank you so much. And if people are interested in talking with Steve Trevor the man and working with better talent, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Steve Trover:

Yeah, BetterTalent.com is the website, Steve@bettertalent.com is my email address. And you can also find me on LinkedIn, obviously. So any of those ways are great.

Alex Husner:

How long have you had that URL? That's a great domain.

Steve Trover:

Only couple years now. Yeah,

Alex Husner:

guys, you would have thought that somebody would have scooped that up, like oh, they

Steve Trover:

did I paid for it. It wasn't cheap.

Alex Husner:

I mean, that sounds like a major recruiter type of website. Yeah, you've got a great brand. So you definitely have some really strong legs to stand on in this venture. But thank you so much again, Steve. And if anybody wants to connect with Annie and I you can go to Alex and Annie podcast.com And follow us on there from LinkedIn social media, or send us an email everything is a second assessable from the website. So thank you for tuning in. And until the next time, we will chat with you soon. Thanks, everybody.

Steve Trover Profile Photo

Steve Trover

CEO Better Talent

Steve Trover is a 25-year vacation rental industry veteran, having founded and led a four-location property vacation rental management company, designed, developed, and/or built over hundreds of vacation homes, emerged as a technology strategist within the industry, and more.

As the former president of the Vacation Rental Manager Association (VRMA) and vice-president over a five-year period, Steve’s volunteer life includes time on the board of several industry associations.

He currently serves multiple organizations across various aspects of the industry in an advisory capacity. Yet through his company, Better Talent, he helps business leaders be successful by leveraging his industry knowledge and experience to help companies with their single most important task: Building and developing a cohesive team.