HomeAway, Inc’s recent acquisition of the two year old startup Glad to Have You for some technology entrepreneurs is a Cinderella story, but Glad to Have You’s success wasn’t the result of a magical fairy godmother.
In the vacation rental industry, we have seen several technology startups with promising pedigrees and exciting business models see the opportunity in this high growth marketplace and launch products only to siphon investment capital with minimal market penetration to show for it.
Glad to Have You made several specific, intentional, strategic decisions in their short history which accelerated their success story.
For startup companies looking to enter the vacation rental management industry, here are 9 things Glad to Have You did to fast-track their exit.
1. Identified a Need from a Place of Experience
The company started as the result of a guy with a need partnering with a guy who could meet it. Jason Sprenkle, CEO at vacation rental management company 360 Blue, wanted a mobile app which provided industry-specific functionality. He reached out to mobile app developer and IT business guru Keith Landers, and Glad to Have You (GTHY) was born. As co-founders, Sprenkle and Landers served as co-CEO’s, adding Sprenkle’s long time business partner Patrick McCarthy as COO, until the acquisition was finalized in March 2014.
2. Seriously Invested in Development
Seriously. GTHY’s C suite never collected a paycheck. “If you don’t have strong development in the software industry, you don’t have much,” said Landers. “Often you see many startups undershoot development. 90% of our expenses were in development. We didn’t take a dime.”
Their investment in development paid off. Unlike many tech startups that launch vaporware into the marketplace, the GTHY product worked well, worked consistently and provided vacation rental managers functionality which met their specialized business needs.
3. Hired and Incentivized an Outstanding Sales Team
Sprenkle and Landers recruited and incentivized a recognized, likeable and knowledgeable industry-specific sales team who had substantial sales experience, a unique understanding of the industry and built-in relationships.
4. Committed Fully to the Vacation Rental Industry
To use a football analogy, the GTHY team dressed out and showed up. In 2012, seven 6’+ GTHY execs dressed in blue stole the show at the VRMA Eastern Regional Seminar with their commanding presence, friendly demeanor and obvious commitment to the vacation rental industry.
Their conference presence mirrored their view of the vacation rental management industry. “We had a full-focus, all-in approach,” said Sprenkle. “We committed fully to the VR space.”
5. Sold Face-to-Face
Another example of their commitment to the vacation rental industry was their sales strategy. Through industry experience and a unique understanding of the market, GTHY decided to sell face-to-face. “The vacation rental industry is not made up of corporate followers,” said Sprenkle. “Our customers are the kind of people who want to know who they are doing business with and want to see your face. 90%+ of our sales happened in person or on the road.”
6. Listened to Customers and Reacted Quickly
One of the key reasons for GTHY’s success was that they let customer needs lead product development. “We decided early on to listen to what our customers wanted and build that,” said COO Patrick McCarthy.
With industry knowledge and strong internal communications and between sales, support, operations and development, the GTHY team was able to quickly assess customer needs and rapidly implement new features and functionality which the customers wanted.
7. Proactively Reached out to Customers to Provide Support and Service
GTHY was able to convert new sales into loyal customers by proactively reaching out to their customers. “We called our clients even when they didn’t want us to,” said Sprenkle. GTHY’s service oriented culture along customer-focused development allowed them to build a foundation of happy customers and raving fans.
8. Partnered with Everybody
GTHY was willing and able (due to their investment in product development) to integrate with any technology partners who would allow it. Their relational approach was extremely attractive to property managers who run into integration obstacles on a regular basis.
9. Developed More
GTHY didn’t stop with development of a mobile app. They used the foundational database structure to build a full guest relationship management system with automated communications, data mining, and additional features and functionality which we can expect to see from HomeAway in the near future.
By Amy Hinote