Humans of CEMS: Creating global significance rather than being a “local hero”
In this interview, Christian shares his experience in launching his business in multiple countries simultaneously.
1. What is GuestReady?
GuestReady is two things: 1) one of the largest operators of short-lets globally with thousands of units under management, 2) the developer of RentalReady, an industry-leading software that automates many of the processes required to run short-term rentals successfully.
I have co-founded GuestReady in 2016 together with Alexander Limpert and Patrick Degen, both of whom I know from back at the University of St.Gallen (my CEMS home school). We set out with the ambition to become a dominant player in the fast-expanding niche of “professional Airbnb management”, and so far we’ve grown faster than any other company in our industry. Even though we have a decent size already, we are still at the very beginning of our journey and still have a significant market to conquer.
2. Why did you decide to enter 6 countries simultaneously and why did you pick countries in different regions?
Before GuestReady, I co-founded HotelQuickly, which turned into the leading last-minute hotel booking app in Asia-Pacific by the time we exited it in 2017. HotelQuickly we have also launched in multiple countries and then scaled it to 16 countries over the course of 4 years.
Before that, I was a co-founder and Global COO at Rocket Internet’s “Foodpanda”, which now is part of Delivery Hero and listed on the German Stock Exchange. We have launched Foodpanda in 5 countries and subsequently scaled it to 28 countries within 12 months.
Given this experience, we felt ready to replicate a similar strategy with GuestReady. Airbnb has set a global industry standard for operations and so we have a fairly homogeneous market, which is a prerequisite for global success. We all only have 24h in our days. We thought we rather invest our waking hours into building something of global significance than creating a “local hero”.
3. What were the biggest challenges of launching in different regions?
Thanks to my previous experience and personal network we have managed to navigate the launch period fairly easily. We have superb country managers and city managers in our markets that run their local operations and teams with lots of entrepreneurial creativity. What differentiates us from competitors, however, is what’s under the hood: From early on in our journey we have invested into tech and built a powerful property management system in-house. This allows us to manage most of our online processes from central offices in Kuala Lumpur and Porto, where we have two excellent teams that facilitate the operations in the ca. 20 cities where we currently manage properties.
Our tech team is continuously rolling out features that no other PMS in the market offers. Since 2019 we are offering our PMS under the product name RentalReady to vacation rental companies, which has seen a good early success. We will invest into scaling up this part of the business over the coming 1-2 years.
4. How do you select which markets to enter and do you have plans to enter new markets in the next year?
The selection of markets was a mix of different factors. 60% of the world’s alternative accommodations are in Europe, so it makes sense for us to have a strong presence throughout Europe. However, due to counter-seasonality in Europe, we are also building our presence in the Middle East, where Dubai is already a strong market for GuestReady. We are operating 24/7, hence time zones are not a concern for us. What restricts us more are languages (we cover English, French, and Portuguese at this point) and currencies due to technical limitations.
We expect to cover at least the top 15 Airbnb countries over the coming few years as we scale beyond 10,000 properties under management.
5. Has COVID-19 caused you to scale back your operations or delay entering a market?
We have indeed been impacted by COVID, particularly early on when the first wave hit Europe. In April we had a drop of ca. 80% compared to last year. However, we’ve recovered in a V-shape from the initial shock and had a very good summer, in fact in August, we’ve managed to be EBITDA positive for the first time in company history.
We expect the 2nd half of 2021 to show a significant rebound of travel activity. In order to be ready to capture the upswing, we have invested into further automation and operational efficiency this year and we are adding additional capital to our balance sheet. In December, we concluded a campaign on Seedrs, which turned into one of the largest equity crowdfunding campaigns of 2020 with more than 800 investors participating and investing more than EUR 2.4M in total.
6. What shifts do you expect to see in the tourism industry as a result of COVID-19?
Already before the pandemic we could identify certain fundamental shifts: Airbnb gained a lot of traction everywhere, there is a shift from buying to renting and within renting from unfurnished to furnished apartments. Within alternative accommodations, due to increased regulation, we saw an increased level of professionalization with companies offering a significantly better service than part-time hosts.
The pandemic has not stopped these trends but added more factors, why alternative accommodations will be hugely successful going forward:
a) Travelers prefer a socially distant accommodation and prefer the privacy and safety of their own remote home over crowded business hotels.
b) COVID has forced many companies to finally adopt a work-from-home policy and enable their workforce to stay productive even outside the office. Employees have realized that they can work-from-anywhere and I expect more corporate digital nomads to book our properties for a few weeks at a time while staying productive.
c) The economic stimulus packages in most countries will continue to fuel investments into real estate. A larger percentage of investment properties will be made available on Airbnb and Booking.com in order to increase the return on investment. These units will have to be professionally managed, which is where GuestReady comes in.
Overall I can say that we are incredibly optimistic about what the future holds for GuestReady. While 2020 was a tough year for anyone in the travel industry, we believe the pandemic has aligned the stars and will allow us to grow even faster than before COVID-19.
Learn more about our current job offerings on jobs.guestready.com.