The professionally managed vacation rental industry has witnessed the fast growth of Streamline Vacation Rental Software over the last few years, and we are currently seeing several of the industry’s largest companies begin to use their software. At VRM Intel, we reached out to Streamline’s founder and CEO Carlos Corzo to learn more about their growth, their development goals, and the direction they are moving in the coming year.
Below, Corzo shared exclusively with VRM Intel, the story of how he got started in the vacation rental technology sector and how Streamline came to be.
The Birth of Streamline Vacation Rental Software
By Carlos Corzo
Everything started in my senior year of college at Arizona State University when I ran into an old high school friend. After reliving our high school years, he suggested that I purchase a condo in Rocky Point, Mexico (Puerto Penasco, Mexico), a location often referred to as Arizona’s beach due to its proximity to the US-Mexico border. At that time, condos were 89 thousand dollars, and the thought of risking my life savings was not an option, but I kept thinking about the possibilities. A few years later, I went back to ASU for my MBA, and after working on a project about real estate investments in Mexico, I felt more comfortable investing and decided to take the leap and buy a condo.
After purchasing the condo, we built a website to try to get bookings. Suddenly, we started to get email requests, and as time went on, we just kept getting more and more. We had so many excess leads that the resort’s property manager allowed us to book other units at the resort for a ten percent commission.
From there, things started to grow exponentially and we were advised to become an official travel agency. This was a scary thought at the time. We pulled the trigger and signed up with a credit card processor, purchased a virtual phone system and eventually added real-time bookings on our site. Rocky Point was well behind the times, allowing us to be one of the pioneers with online bookings. As time went on, we became a travel agent for all of the condos in town—then hotels—and finally homes. I also worked at Motorola at the time, but would also have to send faxes, emails, and field non-stop phone calls to get confirmations in my spare time. Finally, it became too much to handle with a full-time job, so we hired our first part-time employee.
As we continued to grow, we built our first system that helped reduce the number of mistakes made by our phone agents. This was the start of a great adventure. Every few minutes, we would log in to see leads, bookings, nearly everything—it was so exciting!
I became great friends with local property managers, and we would discuss our frustrations as owners, travel agents, housekeepers, maintenance workers, website developers, and property managers. And it soon became clear that it was time to build a larger, more comprehensive vacation rental system. Then, Steve Schwabb, a large area property manager, approached me to build such a system; his vision was ahead of its time—when you speak of pioneers in this industry, Steve is your man.
As times became tougher in Mexico, the competitive market began to get aggressive, and Steve decided to scrap the project. I was about 50 percent of the way through. Suddenly, we got hit by the four-headed monster: the swine flu, media hype of the dangers of travel to Mexico, an economic collapse in the US, and a new requirement for passports to visit Rocky Point.
Times were tough!
Fortunately, I met Loren Worthington, a marketing expert and consultant to a local property manager. He felt that good things were coming for the area and he was looking for a customized software system. Since I already had the foundation of a property management software system and Loren knew exactly what was lacking in the industry, we worked (countless hours) to design the perfect system, which we named ResortPRO. (Little did I know that this would be the launching pad to where we are now.)
After a year of building ResortPRO, Loren started using our software, but as hard times continued and we had more financial difficulty, I began to feel that it was time to close shop and focus on my family and full-time career. At the last minute, Betty Majors at RPR Mexico asked for a demo. She already had a software solution, but had heard through the grapevine that I had built something. I reached out to Brett Parry. He was a young man that I coached in soccer from the age of 11 years old. He had recently graduated college, and I knew he had the personality and perseverance to make things happen. I decided to include Brett on the demo to see if it would generate a spark, passion, or vision in him. On our drive back, Brett begged me to give him the opportunity to keep ResortPRO alive and Betty felt it was time for a change, so we decided to pull the trigger.
Talk about times being tough. I financed everything myself. Life at ResortPRO was month-to-month, but I took a huge leap and decided to hire Brett full time.
At that time, my salary consisted of nothing because Brett and our programmer had to get paid. I even remember getting Brett a job as a soccer coach to help subsidize his income. I wanted to dig into the industry and learn about our competition, so we visited a VRMA conference. I then realized the easiest market to penetrate was private home property management, but we were referring to ourselves as “Resort”PRO. So, after much deliberation, we chose Streamline as our new name.
We continued to improve our system and kept growing. As money became available, we hired more employees. I had to learn more about the property management industry, and through a series of crazy events, I met Jim who would become my business partner in Park City. With his marketing acumen and property management experience and with my knowledge of wholesaling, we quickly grew to over 1,000 properties that were available for online booking—suddenly we were a business.
Now fast forward to 2017—we have continued to grow leaps and bounds over what we were when we began. Our strength lies in our ingenuity and our great relationships with clients. Ground-breaking ideas are constantly being created and adapted to this ever-changing industry. We are even in the process of building a 10,000 square foot facility to accommodate this tremendous growth.
Interview with Carlos Corzo by Amy Hinote
AH: In building out the system over the last several years, what has been your greatest challenge?
CC: Money, money, money. Having surrounded myself with experts in every component of property management, the knowledge was there. It was a matter of money, patience, and time. The stress of payroll took its toll. Once I had people relying on me to care for their families, the pressure was on.
AH: The industry is currently seeing a number of large companies making the decision to change software systems, and many are choosing Streamline. What are the primary reasons large companies are making the decision to switch? Are there any market conditions that are contributing to their decision?
CC: I have learned that these large Vacation Rental Management (VRM) companies are extremely unique. Using outdated software, they ended up building components around their existing software. After getting to know them and sharing my personal struggles in the industry, the synergy has been very powerful. Almost every challenge I have faced over the years resonates with them. I think the most important reason is that we are truly a custom software solution. We have a very powerful core, with the help of our amazing clients, but more importantly, we made our system flexible enough to adapt to the larger companies. By maximizing Amazon web services and a team of extremely talented programmers, we continue to break barriers. Our system is fast, reliable, and rich in features.
The fear in changing software systems is the loss of historical data and existing connections to third-party vendors. With hundreds of API connections available, we have been able to make these transitions easy. I am a big believer in the power behind data. To be successful in this industry, you cannot afford to lose historical information. Everyone always asks how far back to go when importing data. but it never seems to fail that as soon as you don’t keep something, you will need it. At the end of the day, it is your data—so keep it.
AH: What new functionality are you adding to Streamline in 2017?
CC: A lot! We are launching a new and improved skin to make the user experience better. We are also adding a more intelligent marketing methodology and reporting for leads. As we introduced gap logic, I realized it was important to browse through existing warm, cold, or dead leads to see if converting these leads would ever help close gaps in our clients’ availability calendars. Our system will always look to see if an existing lead falls into a certain criteria or revenue opportunity, and if so, the system will automatically send a follow up with new pricing.
We released our first yield management solution in 2016 and are adding advanced yielding and rate management methodologies. These include the ability to yield by channel partner, season of the year, revenue pacing, revenue comparison, and much more. We are even adding intelligence to our logic that will notify you when there are sudden changes in price fluctuation. This often refers to the velocity of your changes in rates. Big jumps up or down indicate something unique is happening.
In addition, we will continue to release great features to our guest mobile app. This quarter, we are launching a tool that gives customers the ability to pay and add activities and offerings directly through the mobile portal.
We are also launching StreamShare, which has generated a lot of excitement among our clients. This feature allows property managers to share inventory at the click of a button. Companies can go from one hundred units in one location to thousands of units in multiple locations. Everything syncs automatically (unit details, pricing, availability, and taxes and fees). It is ahead of its time, but more importantly, it is giving control back to the property manager.
Other developments include international capabilities (multiple currencies and multi-lingual websites), crystal reports integration, and the continued improvement of our phone system that allows clients to see caller info before answering, save all calls, listen in and coach employees, keep accurate tracking information, and route a call to the assigned agent automatically. This system even allows you to manage texts and chats. Our clients will see any lead details, booking information, guest traits, owner details, owner traits, open owner work orders, and owner revenue numbers prior to taking the call. To make life easier, for existing guests, we will be adding the ability to identify a guest who is in-house and route that call to guest services. The same concept works with homeowners.
The list goes on and on, including additional channel partners, a traveler rewards program, a university, cutting edge website technology, the streamline marketplace (clients can add their own creations to share with other property managers), capability for background checks, and much, much more.
AH: Streamline currently has an “Open API” policy that gives VRMs the ability to use any technology supplier they choose for business needs such as websites, lead management, smart home, business intelligence, revenue management, etc. (including VRM Intel’s new competitive reporting). Other software providers have chosen to limit integration options for VRMs. Why did you decide to adopt an Open API policy at Streamline?
CC: We offer an Open API, and we find ourselves constantly building API functionality to support many of our third-party integrations. We share this with our clients to give them maximum flexibility because we know that the data belongs to the client, and our online marketplace is driven by our clients’ ability to access their data to take advantage of any technology they choose. The more successful Streamline’s users become, the more successful Streamline will be, so we have no need to hoard their data.
The most exciting API development has been our advanced import REST API. Larger companies have been able to transfer nearly all of the data from their existing system without a problem. These import APIs allow property managers to enter user info, owner details, owner statements, seasons, pricing, taxes and fees, work orders, reservations, payments—everything!
With yielding becoming a trend, many of these large companies have built their very own yielding systems. We also provide a very simple API that allows them to change pricing for individual nights at any time while using their proprietary techniques.
AH: Looking forward, what technology trends do you see having the largest impact on the way Property Managers (PMs) do business?
CC: I would have to say the trend towards guest retention will have the largest impact. As a property manager, after being victim to the many changes at HomeAway over the past few years, we changed our entire culture in Park City to cater to every need of the guest. My advice is to be unique. Owners and guest are going to expect “cool” technology. A new property manager pops up every day. You will always lose a few owners to empty promises from competitors, but as long as you provide value, owners will not leave, so focus on the owners who stand behind you.
I am also seeing a big shift and demand for API access to data. As the vacation rental industry evolves, companies want the ability to access their data, build proprietary solutions, and have freedom to get creative with their websites. Honesty, I am not sure how property managers can survive under a locked environment without a strong library of APIs.
I would also advise VRMs to test out channel partners. A booking is a booking. If your margins are very low, increase the price that you pass to a channel partner, but don’t avoid advertising and exposure. Don’t think of it as giving away money, look at how much a new booking costs for you marketing wise. Keep that in mind when determining how much commission you are willing to give. In addition, Google is going to continue to chomp down on organic results. Their shift is to promoting big brands to make sure the user experience is good. This leaves the smaller guys on the outside looking in. Focus on Google Local and optimize your AdWords campaign.
Finally, this will be a big year for yield management and rate management. This is a trend that is growing rapidly. Most VRMs have realized that by using predictive occupancy and revenues, you can manage your base price to make more money.