Marcus Rader, CEO, and Co-Founder of Hostaway tells about holiday rental properties.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marcus Rader: Thank you for asking. We’re in Toronto, which has had one of the longest and hardest lockdowns in North America this winter. Last year was tricky as we live in a small apartment, both work and the childcare facilities were closed for 3 months. But we can’t complain – we’ve both kept our jobs and look forward to being able to meet friends again and maybe even go to a store or a restaurant in the distant future!
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Hostaway.
Marcus Rader: I’ve lived in many places, including Finland, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, and now Canada. While travel is my passion, real estate is my obsession. Airbnb managed to renew the vacation rental industry and was growing globally back in 2015. Airbnb combines the best of both worlds – allowing consumers to travel locally while increasing returns for real estate investors.
How does Hostaway innovate?
Marcus Rader: The world of travel was changing fast even before covid, but the trends that we caught on have only grown stronger. We provide software for companies that manage vacation rentals. While hotels and airlines have stood still during the pandemic, our world has only grown as more and more people choose to rent entire homes rather than small rooms. Workstations and traveling closer to home and staying longer is also a trend that won’t end with the vaccine – and we provide our customers with all the tools they need to monetize this new demand.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Marcus Rader: I’ve always believed in hoping for the best while planning for the worst. When we started Hostaway, we wanted to ensure we were a global solution with a global user base and team. As we quickly found out, the customer demands around the world vary quite a lot, so it was an uphill battle to enter so many markets from the start. But in 2020 it paid off – while our customers in European cities are hibernating, our partners in the US, Australia, and New Zealand have found a passion for traveling in their home country!
That being said, being in the travel industry in 2020 isn’t exactly ideal. We had to make many sacrifices, we had to make a lot of arrangements, but we survived. And what’s even better, we learned to be more humble – when our customers saw millions in bookings disappear overnight, we had to get used to scarcity again. We managed to turn the concept into an asset, and are much better at prioritizing and managing by numbers.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Marcus Rader: Yes. As a CEO you are phased with difficult choices every day, and even if you don’t make a decision others will make it for you. But March and April 2020 were some of the most exciting and terrifying times I’ve yet to experience. I quickly started calling our customers to see how they were doing and got very mixed messages. Doom and gloom in Italy on one hand, and respectable faith and hopefulness in Texas and California. Back then, nobody knew what was going to happen.
We had to cut our costs and shut down parts of our business – and unlike some of the investors, industry experts, and even our own customers at the time, we knew this wasn’t a 14-day glitch. We prepared for the worst, made deep cuts in sales and marketing, and now one year later with new lockdowns still popping up we know we did the right decision. The lesson learned is that making a decision is more important than making the right decision – taking a strong vision when the world was in chaos is what saved our company and kept us motivated.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Marcus Rader: We were mostly remote before, but have since gone fully remote. Slack, google meet, google drive are the core of our culture. We document processes in confluence and have built our own internal tracking and monitoring systems. From a management perspective, it has become very difficult when people are in different locations and situations. Showing empathy and listening has become extremely valuable skills when talking to people, especially since you don’t know what their world looks like today. When the daily routine or even the health of the family can change on a day-to-day basis, you need to have a lot of patience and give some extra slack.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marcus Rader: Right now, there are only a handful of competitors that have technology with similar capabilities. Very early on we invested in ensuring we don’t only have the best product in the market, but also the best support. The software in itself is fun but offers absolutely no value unless there is a user behind it. And we focus on that user and on their business. This has helped us grow and will ensure we stay competitive in the future.
Your final thoughts?
Marcus Rader: Back in 2008, I had just started my career, and I remember my fascination with the credit crisis that spread around the world. I was even jealous of my classmates who had jobs in finance and got to witness it firsthand. I had to read about it in the news, but they got to see and live it every day! Now that I’ve navigated a travel tech startup through a global pandemic, I’ve learned to be more careful with what I wish for. It might just become true!