Digital

The Small Startups Riding on Airbnb’s Big Business Coattails

Mar 07, 2014 7:30 am

Skift Take

As more companies pop up around the sharing economy, we’re likely to see a normalization of the sector and more conformity with regulations.

— Jason Clampet

Free Report: The Changing Business of Extended-Stay Hotels

Urban Belhop

Urban Bellhop provides hotel-like services to Airbnb guests for a cut of the hosts' profits. Urban Belhop


Companies that assist Airbnb hosts are springing up in the Bay Area, piggybacking on the hospitality service’s popularity.

Some assume all the duties of an Airbnb host — from decorating and greeting guests to cleaning — in exchange for a cut of the booking fees. Others offer a la carte services.

“We manage all the hassle,” said Amiad Soto, who founded Superhost with his identical twin brother, Koby Soto, after each separately encountered problems renting out their apartments in Israel.

“Koby was getting urgent messages while he was on the beach in Barcelona; he had to pack his things and run to the nearest Wi-Fi cafe to tell people where stuff was in his apartment,” Soto said.

Most of the new companies are small and just a few months old; almost all were started by people who were Airbnb hosts themselves.

“I kept running into the issue of managing my guests when I wasn’t there,” said Emily Benkert, who started Guesthop in June and said growth has been strong. “There are over 6,000 Airbnb listings in San Francisco so there’s plenty of work here,” she said.

The new ecosystem “is a signal of (Airbnb as) a maturing marketplace,” said Lisa Gansky, founder of consulting firm Mesh Labs, which specializes in the collaborative economy and urban innovation. “We saw this with eBay, for example, as well (with outside companies forming to perform) shipping, photos, insurance, consignment and of course, PayPal.”

Superhost is the most minimalist of the property-management services. The startup oversees all host tasks remotely, which keeps its rates low (3 percent of the net booking). Far-flung contractors provide 24/7 coverage to quickly answer guest inquiries, contact cleaners and solve problems.

Big Potential

Superhost’s business model gives the company potential to scale big, Soto said. “We don’t do anything on the ground; we are passionate about software and automation,” he said.

The brothers moved to San Francisco in December after being accepted into the Y Combinator startup accelerator. Sundays often find them prospecting for customers in Dolores Park by carrying placards that read “Do you host on Airbnb?”

“We go there because the Mission is the most successful Airbnb neighborhood,” Soto said. “People approach us; one time there was even a line waiting to talk to me.”

Superhost currently boasts about 120 customers, about half of them in San Francisco.

Emmie Chang recently hired Superhost to manage Airbnb rentals of the spare room in her two-bedroom Palo Alto apartment. To her surprise, the room is consistently booked.

“It truly makes it turnkey; all I have to do is let the person into my house,” she said. “Superhost already knows my preferences of the kind of person I want and the length of stay. I don’t have to do anything.”

Full Service

At the other end of the spectrum is Beyond Stays, which offers full-service, in-person management.

“We meet every single guest at the door; we think that’s key,” said Andrew Kitchell, co-founder and director of operations for the 5-month-old service. “Airbnb has built a beautiful marketplace, and we look at our role as amplifying great hosts within that marketplace.”

The company manages 50 listings in San Francisco, all on behalf of hosts who rent them out full time. Besides in-person greetings, Beyond Stays offers decorating advice for hosts, photography, guest communications and booking, cleaning and concierge-type assistance. The startup also is experimenting with “surge pricing” — charging more at peak periods of demand.

The company has six full-time employees and raised a small round of seed funding, Kitchell said.

Limor Inbar, a writer and photographer, enjoyed renting out the in-law unit in her Richmond house on Airbnb so much that she wanted to help other people do the same.

“It pays my mortgage, and I love meeting people from all over the country and world,” she said. “I thought, my friends really need to know about this. I knew how many people were struggling to make a living with whatever resources they have.”

With a Realtor friend, she founded Pad Pipers, which helps people convert spaces for Airbnb use and oversees guest relations.

“We do whatever it needs to look fabulous; we know people on vacation want to feel a space is luxurious and their needs are taken care of,” she said.

Franchise Opportunity

For now, Pad Pipers specializes in the East Bay, but the response has been so good that Inbar is considering expanding or even franchising the model.

Similarly at Urban Bellhop, co-founder Kevin Darmody is contemplating expansion into Los Angeles.

“There is definitely demand for our product,” he said. “There’s huge growth in the hosting community in San Francisco and around the world; growth is exponential right now.”

Could Airbnb itself muscle into this market?

CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky has alluded to services as a future growth direction for the San Francisco company. In a January interview with CNBC, he mentioned tours and cooking as possible opportunities. Airbnb is now testing a program in San Francisco to offer cleaning services for hosts.

The company wouldn’t comment directly on management services, but Chesky suggested he wants to continue Airbnb’s core role as a marketplace to help others launch and grow businesses.

“We can create millions of entrepreneurs,” he said.

(c)2014 the San Francisco Chronicle

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