HostButlers - Taking the hassle out of Airbnb rentals
Gary Fox’s start-up aims to make life easier for Airbnb hosts and their guests
Gary Fox: “I have a very clear vision as to where I want to take HostButlers and, for now, I’m happy to go it alone.”
When Gary Fox travelled across the US to attend a wedding last summer using Airbnb, he never thought it would lead to him quitting his job as a consultant at Brand Solutions and setting up his own Airbnb spin-off company back in Dublin. Yet Fox saw first-hand the problems Airbnb hosts were encountering and came up with a business idea to make their lives easier.
“We used Airbnb in New York, Washington, DC and all along the East Coast, and the experience with hosts varied hugely. I realised how time-consuming it was for hosts to meet guests, check them in and deal with their queries. I had been following the Airbnb growth story and realised there was a huge opportunity to solve this problem for hosts.”
Once Fox returned home to Ireland, he set up HostButlers, Ireland’s first professional property management service for Airbnb hosts, catering for every need a host may require.
“We take care of property listing, guest communication, check-in, property cleaning, and anything else a host may request. Our mission for hosts is to make Airbnb hassle-free while our goal is to increase bookings, boost property occupancy rates and make the host experience as seamless as possible.”
Fox, who founded his first start-up VideoScamp straight from college, says timing has been key to a successful product launch this time round, choosing the week of the Web Summit in Dublin to introduce his service.
“I wanted to test the market before launching the business fully. I built a website and started testing with highly targeted Facebook advertising. I also started targeting hosts to gauge their interest and my first customer actually found me on Twitter within just seven days of launching.”
Busy seasonBy rolling out the service in the quieter winter months, HostButlers has been able to hone their product offering and prepare for the busy season which starts from St Patrick’s Day onwards.
“The growth rate of the business has surpassed all expectations so far. I believe Airbnb is at the beginning of its journey as a company and HostButlers is perfectly positioned to grow with it,” says Fox.
What makes HostButlers stand out from other property management services currently on offer in Ireland? A hybrid between a property management service and a concierge service, HostButlers will not only clean your apartment and take care of the laundry but they will also meet your early-morning arrivals with freshly baked croissants and a map of Dublin. This defining feature is what Fox hopes will distinguish his product from the rest.
“We don’t just manage the nuts and bolts of the property, we focus on the guest experience and ensure each guest has an incredible trip. With Airbnb, you live and die by the strength of your reviews so we set standards high and exceed guest expectations. For example, one of the key factors in a positive Airbnb review is cleanliness, so this is an area where we accept nothing less than perfection.
“We have a strict policy in terms of what we look for in a team member and they must have hospitality experience in a hotel environment or have been an Airbnb host. Each staff member is given a concise checklist that must be followed for each property.”
With over 1,000 Airbnb listings in Dublin and hundreds more around Ireland, Fox believes the potential for a service like this is huge.
While HostButlers is the first of its kind to launch in Ireland, similar companies are already operating in Paris, London, New York and San Francisco. London startup Hostmaker raised €1.8 million in venture capital funding last November to help grow their property management service while US counterpart Pillow raised €2.2 million in January of this year.
Right fitThe company has been “100 per cent bootstrapped” by Fox so far despite offers of investment and partnership proposals from interested parties. Fox is determined to hold out, however, until the right fit comes along.
“I previously had a start-up that I spun out from my Masters thesis in DCU and I made every single predictable mistake that an entrepreneur can make. We received investment at a very early stage and at the time we thought it was a blessing, but it turned out to be a curse. I have a very clear vision as to where I want to take HostButlers and, for now, I’m happy to go it alone.”
One of the biggest challenges in this line of business, says Fox, is gaining people’s trust.
“It is a big decision to trust a company with your home and property but I believe I have the critical first-mover advantage in the market and I’m developing deep relationships with landlords. My early hosts are so happy with the service that they have become my best form of advertising, which is something I’m incredibly proud of.”
So, what does the future hold for HostButlers? With expansion plans for both Cork and Galway already under way, Fox hope to attract Airbnb hosts from around the country later this year.
“We are also working on exciting plans for guest services. Each guest coming to Dublin has money to spend and the same questions. Where should I go, what should I do, and where are the best bars and restaurants? The next evolution of our product offering will cater to this captive audience.”
With Airbnb generating more than €220 million per year for the Irish economy, the future for HostButlers and other Airbnb spin-offs looks positive.