Ivan Levchenko, Co-founder and CEO of iGMS tells us about putting one’s vacation rental business on autopilot.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ivan Levchenko: My family adapted to the new reality very quickly and we choose to focus more on the positive aspects. The work-from-home mode significantly increases the time we can spend together and the closing of the borders allowed us to visit dozens of National Parks here in British Columbia. As a matter of fact, never in my life have I spent so much time on sports, outdoor activities, and my kids’ development.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded iGMS.
Ivan Levchenko: Boasting over 17 years of experience in leadership positions, I have built business projects from scratch in B2B and B2C segments while growing companies from 5 to 150 people. Before creating iGMS, my partner and I founded a vacation rental management company in Vancouver, BC which has become a leader in the market over time. We managed to grow our number of listings to a point where we couldn’t handle them manually. In response, we built an internal automation tool to streamline our operations. As soon as we put it to work, we understood that our fellow hosts were also interested in such software. This is how iGMS (formerly AirGMS) was launched and introduced to the real estate market.
How does iGMS innovate?
Ivan Levchenko: Innovation lies at the core of our business. The vacation rental market is developing at such a pace that being innovative is a prerequisite. Having significant property management expertise, we keep our hand on the pulse of current hosts’ needs and build functionality within our software that will meet their needs. One thing we do that others don’t build customized features that our customers are seeking. For example, we have recently launched a unique Guest Communication Assignment functionality that allows you to assign communication to specific agents and also track the productivity of each employee who is responsible for guest communication.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ivan Levchenko: Our success depends on vacation rental hosts and property managers’ success. So, when COVID-19 was categorized as a pandemic and many countries started to impose strict lockdowns, it caused huge losses for the global vacation rental market, including iGMS. Obviously, it affected our previously rapid annual growth rate. Currently, we observe a slow recovery and foresee getting back on track already this summer. From a financial side, the most important thing we do is align our costs with the income to avoid the situation of running out of cash. Then, when the market situation starts picking up, we benefit from that to be a cash flow-positive business.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Ivan Levchenko: As I stated above, the pandemic affected our company’s financial results so we had to adjust our HR strategy. Though unlike other companies in our industry, we didn’t cut jobs. Instead, we just reduced the number of working hours of some team members. So, our employees are at least not stressed about losing their jobs.
I think one of the lessons we learned is that keeping the team inspired and motivated is crucial for businesses, especially during a crisis. We check in with people daily and communicate regularly to support each other and keep the team spirit vibrant. We hold brainstorms at all levels to ensure everyone can contribute and feel involved. Also, we were always a remote-first company (most of our team members have been working remotely from different corners of the world for the last 5 years). So, working from home was not new for us.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ivan Levchenko: That’s a huge topic! We formed the Customer Experience team within our Marketing Department at a very early stage, and it was one of the best decisions, as I reflect on it. Right now, this is one of the main channels of customer insight. We started with just chat support and moved way farther than that.
At the moment, the team handles all the processes related to customer experience, starting from the early steps and onboarding till the end of the customer life cycle and even after that!
I am a firm believer in creating a bond with each customer, and my team shares these values with me. We use a Hubspot CRM system to manage all the customer information and insight to create the most personalized experience for everyone. We are not the type of company that will pass you from one rep to another asking you to repeat the same information multiple times, that’s for sure.
How do we know that our efforts are successful? Our clients admit that our customer service is indeed one of the best in the industry.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ivan Levchenko: Not really. As 90% of our team is located outside of Canada, we didn’t fit government support programs.
Anyway, during my whole career, I’ve never relied on someone’s support. The most reliable way to get money is to grow your customer base. The business has to be adaptive and efficient in ANY market condition. If customers stopped paying for the goods or services the company provides, it means only one thing: this business is not sustainable and any serious crisis will wipe it out. The only way to have a successful business is to build a “must-have”, and not a “nice-to-have”, product or service.
Your final thoughts?
Ivan Levchenko: Automation has become even more essential to businesses during these hard times as it helps to optimize the efficiency of all processes. The world of technology is changing every day. If you don’t embrace these changes, your business is doomed.
Despite the global pandemic, I am optimistic about what the future holds. Several vacation rental industry statistics and surveys show that people have a strong urge to take to the road again. We certainly plan to stay ahead of the curve and will continue to do our best to support vacation rental professionals with their arising needs. I’m excited about developing our software further and equipping it with the best functionality.
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