Adrian Chia, Co-founder and CEO of Tiny Away tells us about discovering nature and staying in comfort.
Adrian Chia, Co-founder (pictured third from right), Dave Ng, Co-founder (pictured second from left) and Jeff Yeo, Co-founder (pictured third from left).
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Adrian Chia: Thank you so much for asking.
Despite the uncertainties caused by COVID-19 around the world, I think my family and I are blessed to be doing fine, and we wish the best to everyone as well to hang in there and take care during this tough period.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Tiny Away.
Adrian Chia: My inspiration for Tiny Away came during a holiday to Australia in 2016, where I visited the Surf Coast and Great Ocean Road.
As a Singaporean living in one of the world’s most densely populated cities, I traveled to Australia in search of recuperation and to reconnect with nature.
During my time in Australia, I fell in love with the country’s vast bushland and coastal scenery, and during my farm stay in Victoria, I came to appreciate the challenges faced by many Australian farmers whose livelihoods depend on Mother Nature.
Returning to Singapore, I realized there was a huge opportunity to use the tiny house concept to help landowners by opening their beautiful natural surrounds to a market of city dwellers keen to escape.
With previous experience starting and growing successful systems and technology companies, I lead the business and strategic planning at Big Tiny.
How does Tiny Away innovate?
Adrian Chia: Other than owning the entire ecosystem related to tiny houses, Big Tiny, differentiates itself from the rest of the competition in our business model, which aims to disrupt the current tourism, accommodation, hospitality, and traditional housing space, in an eco-friendly, sustainable and highly efficient manner.
Big Tiny curates the land sites that we deploy our tiny houses on. They are chosen based on a few factors – location, scenery, and activities that guests can do on-site, amenities or attractions nearby, and the landowners (who double up as the host for our guests), amongst other factors.
Once the land site is chosen, regardless of how big or beautiful the land site is, Big Tiny always starts off with deploying only one tiny house on site. The listing is then marketed on all major accommodation booking platforms and via tinyaway.com (Tiny Away is the visitor-facing brand).
We then monitor the occupancy rate of the tiny house in the upcoming months. If the occupancy rate is ideal, we will deploy more tiny houses there; otherwise, because our tiny houses are all built on wheels, we can simply tow it out and move it to another land site until we find the perfect spot.
Big Tiny also mitigates risks by entering into a profit-share arrangement with the land host so that in the scenario that the occupancy rate is not ideal, we do not incur additional costs in the form of land rental (which is the traditional way of doing things. This also motivates the land hosts to go above and beyond when hosting our guests.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Adrian Chia: When the pandemic first got out of control in March 2020, we did not know how the situation would evolve but decided to take the painful option of shuttering our experiential accommodation rentals in the interest of safety and health of our land partners and guests.
It was only in June, when travel restrictions were eased, where we started operations once again, of course, with the necessary safety and sanitization processes in place.
That was when we saw a more than 200% increase in the number of bookings for our tiny house stays. And when we compared the number of bookings pre to post COVID, the numbers showed a 500% increase in the number of bookings.
This increase in numbers can be attributed largely to the boom in domestic travel, as well as our strategy of positioning ourselves as a unique and attainable short-stay travel experience. Travel habits after the lockdowns, and as the pandemic continues, have also seen an increase in people seeking out accommodation that is more private, out in the open, and close to nature.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Adrian Chia: The most difficult decision was to close the business during COVID, resulting in months of zero rental revenue. But it was a necessary path to take as the safety and health of our land partners, and guests are our top priority.
We learnt to pivot quickly and ensure that processes were put in place to properly sanitize our tiny houses and land partners briefed and kept up to date in preparation for the “re-opening.”
Communication to our guests and land partners was also critical as no one knew how the situation was going to pan out, so we made sure that regular communications were put in place to minimize confusion and ease the stress.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Adrian Chia: Guesty for accommodation bookings. Fresh Desk and Mail Chimp for a land partner and guest communication. We also developed an in-house management dashboard to monitor and track and help analyze booking data.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Adrian Chia: The unique point of difference for Big Tiny and Tiny Away is that we have in-house capabilities for building, marketing and selling, and managing our tiny houses.
Other tiny house companies or accommodation providers like Unyoked, In2thewild, Kindled, etc., are typically only involved in either one or at most two of the functions of the entire ecosystem.
We are continuously innovating in each of the functions to make the processes more efficient and cost-effective while improving the quality of our products and service offerings.
Your final thoughts?
Adrian Chia: Companies will need to always stay on their toes. The COVID pandemic came out of nowhere and started to spread out of control all over the world. It has demonstrated that it is essential to be able to make decisions quickly, based on the information available at that point in time, and move quickly. From here, as we start to phase out of the pandemic, it will be all about adapting along the way as the situation changes over time. Only then will companies be able to continue to survive and grow.
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