I admit it! I was abit jealous, in some ways I find Arnaud and my path a bit similar - I guess in the whole starting a Housetrip kind of website thingy - I actually did start it, this was before I knew anything about raising money and anything like that in university and ask anyone that has started, thinking of starting, ran an holiday rental website just how competitive and expensive it is if you want to compete or create a big business out of.
Before setting up the interview with Arnaud - I sat down on my bed for a minute browsing through the website- Maybe I was too cautious, maybe I just dint see it as a business then but just as a way to travel around the UK renting apartments, maybe I dint tell enough people or just maybe the better man won, these thoughts ran through my head.
It was impossible for me to ignore Housetrips. I saw what Arnaud had done with Housetrip that I was inspired, excited and jealous all at the same time, It brought some good memories and it made me decide to interview with on YHP about his journey so far.
Here is my interview with Arnaud Bertrand - CEO and Founder of HouseTrip
Can you give us some background information about yourself, were you the entrepreneurial type growing up?
I am 27 years old, grew up in France until I was 18 when I left to study at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland. I founded HouseTrip with my wife Junjun straight out of university.
My parents are entrepreneurs and so are Junjun’s. From a very young age, I just could not see being anything else other than my own boss.
Tell me how the idea for Housetrip came about?
I remember exactly when and why I got the idea for HouseTrip. My wife and I were driving from London to Lausanne (Switzerland). The car was completely packed with all the stuff we had accumulated during our seven-month internships in London and I was thinking about an incident that had occurred a few weeks before.
We had been given some time off from our internship to enjoy a brief holiday and we decided on renting a property in Scotland as the idea of a little home overlooking the Lochs really appealed to us. If I knew how long it would take me to secure a booking, I would have thought twice about it!
To find a rental, I did what most modern travellers do: I typed "holiday rental Scotland" in Google. Used to booking hotels online, I naturally tried to find a website where I could do so for rentals. I looked for a long time and just couldn't find one. I was puzzled. I researched a bit further and to my absolute astonishment I found out that there simply was no global website to book holiday rentals online!
Even though some rentals could be found online, it was through classified ads websites; so the actual booking was never done online. Eventually I used a classifieds’ site and called the owners of about 10 rentals until I finally found one that was available for our dates. I had checked availability manually through the phone: so inefficient! I also had to go to a local Western Union agency to send my payment to the host: I lost 2 hours for that when paying for a hotel is of course immediate online. It was also rather dangerous; who was to say that the person who had received my Western Union money was the real owner? Sending money directly to the owner versus using an intermediary (as in the case of hotels) is actually very unsafe. All in all, it had taken me 2 whole days to make an unsafe booking. But - we had found our opportunity!
So we return to the drive from London to Lausanne. As we sat in the car at Dover, waiting to go across the Channel, an idea popped into my head. Why not develop a website for holiday rentals that was safe and easy-to-use? When the idea forming, I remember picturing many images: a map with a lot of properties tagged on it, an online chat between an owner and a tenant, a “book it now” button, and so much more.
Funny how some mental images stay: they are still in my mind today and I often somehow refer to them – to the original HouseTrip vision – when I need to”
What is Housetrip? Tell me how it works?
HouseTrip is Europe's largest holiday apartment website, offering holidaymakers and homeowners a safe and easy-to-use platform to find, book and list holiday apartments, houses and villas securely online. There are currently over 61,000 properties to choose from in thousands of destinations worldwide, with over 1,000 new listings added each week.
Once you know where you want to go, just browse through the list of properties available, enter your dates and put in your requests. As soon as the booking has been accepted by the host, you simply pay online with a credit card. HouseTrip holds on to your payment until 2 days after you check-in to make it safe for you at all times. Before you complete your booking, you can read reviews of past guests and get a taste of their HouseTrip experience.
Tell us about the first few months of running the business? What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?
At the beginning of HouseTrip, our home was our office. Junjun and I were (and still are) working very hard. Free weekends were out of question. We were convinced that HouseTrip would succeed if we were 100% dedicated. We then convinced a few people that HouseTrip could revolutionise the way people travel and found our first angel investor. After that, things really kicked off and here we are today.
How have you been able to fund the business?
We had a couple of Angel investors on board in 2010 which allowed us to create the first version of the website. In April 2011, HouseTrip attracted $2.7m in Series-A venture capital funding from Index Ventures, one of the world’s most renowned Internet investors. Then, last November, we announced a $17 million (15M CHF) Series B funding round. The investor consortium, led by major UK venture capital firm Balderton Capital also includes existing investor Index Ventures who re-invested pro-rata.
How has the business evolved comparing to your first year of running it, the business model? Strategy?
The business model is identical to when we started. The strategy is clear and ties up with our vision “to delight guests with a great travel experience in rentals anywhere in the world and act as the partner of choice for individuals or professionals who want to generate income for their properties”. It hasn’t changed. Of course, many other things have changed since the very beginning (for one thing we now have 80 employees, 3 offices, etc.) but the core, the vision and the business model, have remained very consistent.
Have you ever rented one of the properties on the website before?
Of course! Many times! I’ve booked twice for myself already in 2012.
What is your business model?
HouseTrip is a marketplace for people to book and list holiday rentals. When guests book online, we take a commission typically between 10 to 20%
How many customers do you have?
I can tell you that we recently celebrated our 500,000th night booked through HouseTrip since we first launched in January 2010!
How do you ensure that the properties are safe for customers to book?
We transfer the money to the host two days after the guests have checked in to ensure that the properties match guests’ expectations. We also have a quality control team that checks each new property added on the site and ensures all the profiles are accurate and as detailed as possible. On top of that we have a “Fraudbuster” team whose job is to track anything suspicious that occurs on the site.
There is a lot of noise in this space, What makes you different from other competing startups out there?
We focus on whole properties (i.e. you get the whole apartment for yourself) whereas other companies have a stronger focus on shared spaces
We are the largest in Europe in terms of number of properties we offer
Raising funding can be such a tricky thing to do for startups, especially in Europe - how have you seen that change over the years?
Honestly we’ve been pretty lucky because – apart from the very beginning – we never really had issues raising money. The funding is there and has always been in our lifetime: it’s all about showing the momentum you have with users and how good an investment opportunity your startup is.
As mentioned, you’ve been very successful in raising finance for the company, what advices would you give to startups looking to raise money?
Focus on proving:
That you can grow thanks to the investment (by showing you’ve done it in the past)
Do not be fuzzy: you need to be super analytical in proving the investment rationale
Have a great team: by having people onboard who’ve already proven they can succeed, you reassure investors
Show that making your company succeed is your team’s sole and only focus, show passion
What could you say has been some of the key things you’ve learnt so far as an entrepreneur?
Focus, focus, focus: better to be excellent at one thing for one audience
Be super analytical
You need to attract the best people
Building a great business takes much more money and effort than I ever imagined
What has been your most memorable moment so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
It might sound very trivial but my absolute best moment was when I helped solved some problems our customer care team in Lisbon was having, as they were really thankful for it. No better feeling for me than making a difference in people’s lives.
What trends, startups, technology are you personally looking forward to in 2012?
I am fascinated by any technological advance that has to do with the human brain (i.e. ability to read our thoughts, making blind people see by making their brain read electronic signals, etc.) so it would be very interesting to see some innovations around that.
What are your other plans for Housetrip in 2012?
Our three key goals for the year are:
Improve the Product (through increased functionality of the website)
Increase Inventory (through additional outreach to holiday apartment hosts)
Reach (through marketing and localisation)
What pieces of advices could you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there looking to start their business?
Just do it! It’s like swimming for the first time – the most difficult thing is to jump in the pool.