Today we interview Chema González, CEO of Alterkeys. Founded in London, the start-up was recently awarded the Spanish shuttle acceleration programme, Lanzadera. Alterkeys connects owners of properties and rooms with travellers who wish to rent accommodation for short periods of time.
In this interview, Chema will share his reasons for leaving his job in one of the largest banks in London, to become an entrepreneur who works over 80 hours a week without a salary.
What is Alterkeys and what problem does it solve?
Alterkeys is an online platform for short-term private home rentals. It is a new alternative to hotels. The platform makes it possible for travellers to book and rent any type of short-term accommodation with features to make them feel at home wherever they go. This way, travellers get to experience the city from a completely different perspective.
Despite launching just over a year ago, Alterkeys now has significant passenger traffic and over 50,000 properties listed all over Europe, a number that is growing every week. From a room in Barcelona for the night or a flat in London for the summer holidays, to a tree house or a castle in Scotland, you will have a totally unique accommodation experience.
Why do you think you are causing so much excitement within the Collaborative Consumption movement in Europe?
Simply because the tastes and needs of consumers are changing. In this day and age, it makes no sense to leave a house empty for most of the year or even leave your room empty while you travel. Leaving a property or room unoccupied involves many costs; meanwhile there is a high demand of people willing to stay in these vacant homes and rooms. With security guaranteed, this new concept allows both parties to generate a substantial income – travellers avoid paying high hotel prices and hosts gain extra income from renting their extra space.
Alterkeys was created to help people and this is what we will continue to do. Besides offering free advertisement for every home on the site, we guarantee 100% satisfaction with the accommodation you book or your full payment will be refunded. The payment is not transferred until 24 hours after the arrival of the guest, this way they get a chance to check that the property is as it was advertised.
What does the Lanzadera project mean to you?
This shuttle programme is the most complete programme in Spain at the moment and one of the best of its kind in Europe, so the fact that we won this opportunity over 4,000 other companies that applied, gives us encouragement to keep going. Private initiatives like this one are a great help and we are grateful that Juan Roig chose us without asking anything in return. Both the economic support and the strong accelerator programme we have committed to for the next twelve months will take Alterkeys to the next level.
How did the idea for Alterkeys come about?
The idea came to us in late 2011 when Joan and I, two of the founding members, decided to rent out our rooms in our London flat during the Christmas period that year. After spending a long time searching on the Internet, we couldn’t find a way for us to rent our rooms that met all of our expectations. The options would either not allow us to rent out a single room for a short period of time or they did not offer any certainty about who would be the tenant and how our payments would be managed etc. We had both lived in a hotel in London for over a year, so we knew how much it cost to book rooms in this city. We were also particularly aware of the demand for them, because no matter how expensive the hotels were, they were almost always full.
Then we started to think of a way travellers could enjoy accommodation at a more competitive price and have a more realistic experience of the city they were visiting. On the other hand, we wanted a way for the owners of these accommodations to make a profit from their otherwise unused space. The solution would give us a winning formula. It was then that, without knowing what we were looking for, we began to study the market. We searched for weeks and still, none of the options that we found fit exactly what we wanted, so we thought: It would be amazing to be able to rent out your own room every time you travel away and use the profit to either pay for your trip or pay part of the rent, wouldn’t it? We realised that, if we have this need, many other people must also have it and so we should be the first ones to offer it to the world! Hence, we began to work on the project.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
There were all kinds of difficulties, but it was particularly difficult to get people to understand the new concept we were bringing to society, especially because when traveling, there are several alternatives to hotels – yet they’re often still more successful in the end. Fortunately, the European mentality is changing and we are being received very well. No doubt our partnership with Zurich Insurance helped us a lot in terms of getting users to trust us at first and gradually we started to become leaders of this niche in the travel industry.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
There are several highlights that we could mention! Securing the partnership with Zurich Insurance Group was definitely a highlight, as it helped us gain a strong position in the market. Thanks to the partnership, we are now seen as a reliable and trustworthy platform for both property owners and travellers to use. Another great moment was reaching the mark of 50,000 properties listed on our website from all over Europe! We are very impressed to have gained that many homes to offer to our travellers in such a short period of time! Furthermore, we cannot forget being selected from over 4,200 companies from all over the world to be part of the accelerator “Lanzadera”. This has been the icing on the cake for us and we hope to enjoy many more highlights with Lanzadera as the programme begins to speed up our development and enable us to expand to other destinations.
What should we be expecting from Alterkeys in the coming months?
We have grown fast in the recent months and our number of employees has also been increased. We started off as 3 people working from the couch in my house and now we are a team of 19 people and we are currently conducting interviews for new positions. At present, we have offices in London, Madrid and Valencia. In late November, we plan to cross the pond and make our way to the U.S. and Asia, although we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Persistence, passion and work.
To firmly believe in what you stand for. If you really believe in something, pursue that dream. No matter what the obstacles are, even if the market or other people say you're crazy. If you hold on to those three factors, you could be behind something huge, do not let it die without knowing what could have happened.