MyVR brings bespoke website design and seamless marketing to independent property owners
One of the biggest challenges for vacation rental owners is marketing their property in an attractive, consistent way across channels.
From a property-specific website to vacation rental aggregators to social media, vacation rental marketing startup MyVR aims to facilitate managing these various touchpoints for vacation rental owners.
Created by a team of actual vacation rental owners looking to more effectively manage their homes, MyVR aims to streamline many of the headaches involved with owning a vacation rental: maintaining a consistent listing across multiple rental booking websites, connecting to social media, and providing an elegant website to present the property to potential guests.
The team includes seven full-timers, and was co-founded by Jonathan Murray, Mike Stachowiak, and Markus Nordvik. All three founders are repeat entrepreneurs with extensive experience in marketing and lead generation. Prior to MyVR, Jonathan and Mike founded a lead generation company called Lift Media, which was acquired in 2008. In 2004, Mike and Markus started 4INFO, one of the largest mobile advertising networks
The online marketing software is different than a WordpRess or Weebly site, as it allows owners and operators to launch a bespoke rental website and then market that website across the various vacation rental marketing channels by uploading their property once and then opting into the desired marketing channels. The service is offered via a SaaS model, with monthly subscriptions ranging from $12 for simple property website to $99 for the full service promotional option.
Q&A with CEO Jonathan Murray:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
Most startups we have seen in the vacation rental industry are trying to create another ‘vertical’, taking on listing sites like VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey, Airbnb, etc. We’re the first and only company we’ve seen that has aimed to be a ‘horizontal’ – completely focused on the owner/operator and bringing them everywhere they should be marketing with one centralized place to manage it all. Because we’re the hub of an owner’s marketing, there is no longer a need to update multiple calendars, rates, photos, etc. across numerous sites. We consolidate it all and keep every piece of marketing up-to-date and in sync.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
For starters, most vacation rental owners don’t have their own website, but – like any other local business – they should. Having your own online presence helps a vacation rental owner better showcase their home and stand out from other properties.
In addition, MyVR’s promotional tools take the hassle out of vacation rental marketing and help owners generate more bookings with a lot less work. Our centralized tools make sure everything is automatically up-to-date and in sync, which can be a huge time saver. But, don’t take our word for it.
Here are what a few of our customers had to say:
“MyVR provides me with professional-style marketing for my rental home. I feel like I have my own marketing team working for my property. They have helped leverage excellent additional marketing like social media that translates into more rented nights. That’s money in the bank for me.” – Lynn Berardo, Modern Lake Tahoe
“MyVR is the perfect complement to what I was already been doing. They’ve given me an awesome looking website, Facebook page, and Craigslist ads which have helped me reach and convert additional renters with hardly any effort. MyVR paid for itself within the first few weeks!” – Brad & Tracy, Discover Costa Rica
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Wait… OTHER than those things? Uh oh…. Ok, ok, we do have a few other things that have helped potential customers find us…
In addition to paid acquisition channels, we are HUGE fans of content marketing. That is, we are focused on providing really awesome content, filled with tons of free tips and advice for the entire vacation rental community. We believe that if we can excel at that, the community will look for us to not only tell them what to do, but to help them do it, as well.
Along these lines, we publish articles regularly to our blog, have started writing more in-depth guides (like the Vacation Rental Owner’s Guide to Facebook Marketing), and actively participate in a number of community-run forums. Additionally, we are active on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. We are also starting to provide guest content on other sites, as well. For example, Erin Colbert, who heads up our marketing, will be hosting a webinar sponsored by HomeAway later this month.
Lastly, we have been piloting a reseller program that we’re really excited about. MyVR is working with a number of photographers in areas with a high concentration of vacation rentals (and perhaps someday relators and web developers). We provide them with another service that they can offer existing or prospective clients after they complete a photo shoot – a beautiful website for their vacation rental. It’s a win-win… in addition to helping MyVR attract new customers; we’re able to help photographers supplement their income, which then helps vacation rental owners make more money downstream, too. With the economy in the shape it’s in, we feel great about that aspect of our business.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We are disciples of ‘the lean startup’ approach (we make all new employees read the book), and our participation in the Y Combinator incubator program really made that a way of life for us. The lean startup approach – in theory – means that we should have a decent sense of what vacation rental owners want because we talked to them endlessly as we develop our product and solicit their feedback along the way.
In addition, we’re vacation rental owners ourselves, so hopefully we’re in tune with the pain points and how we can address them. That said, this isn’t our first startup, so we know from experience that even when you try to mitigate as much risk as you can, things don’t always play out exactly how you anticipate they will.
If we can’t grow quickly enough within vacation rentals, we are thrilled by the interest we’ve had in our website builder platform from other segments. We have been contacted by realtors, hotel owners, and even restaurant owners asking for a version of our site builder for them with a few tweaks – so we are confident that we can grow within other markets. There are also synergies with those businesses because we’re developing relationships with photographers across the globe.
Thus far, the feedback has been phenomenal and it is clear there’s a huge need from what we’re doing. But, if things don’t play out as we hope, it’s good to know we won’t have to ‘pivot’ far from what we’re currently doing.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Continuing on the theme of ‘the lean startup’, another key tenet to that approach is getting customer feedback early on what you’re doing. You don’t need to build the Cadillac before you get your product into users’ hands for feedback. The reason to release before you think you’re ready is that you might be building something that users don’t actually care about, or you might not be building it in the fashion they want it, and if you wait too long to find that out, you’re wasting time and money on things that don’t matter!
In our last business, Lift Media, we were perfectionists and probably waited a month longer to launch than we needed to. We really wanted our reporting and analytics to be robust because we were working with big brands like American Express and Netflix and we thought they wanted that. But the reality is that we overdid it… more than a little bit! Our reporting was awesome – way better than the competition’s – but unfortunately it was even more than our clients needed! That means we could have been making progress in other areas.
At MyVR, we’ve had a phenomenal group of beta testers since the very beginning, which has helped us refine our product since our initial beta launch in March of 2012. As we talked to hundreds of homeowners, they’d give us great feedback on what we were building – and also on what we hadn’t built that they thought was important. This helped prioritize our product road map and make sure we were building things that our customers wanted.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
One problem that really bothers us but is a bit out of scope for us (at least for now) is the process of setting vacation rental rates. Pricing in vacation rentals is generally unsophisticated and far from optimized (for most, but definitely not all owners). Many owners we talk to generally evaluate their pricing based on what the homes around them are charging – but what if everyone has it wrong?
Furthermore, pricing is generally static (based on the time of year) and doesn’t consider current inventory available or how far away the rental period is and the likelihood of getting another renter in that time period. At some point pricing will approach the sophistication that goes into hotel room or airfare pricing.
This doesn’t just include raising rates when there’s a market for it, but lowering rates appropriately for otherwise unused inventory. Given the lack of sophistication in pricing currently, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that better pricing could improve yields in the industry by large amounts… maybe 20-30% or more.
With collaborative consumption on the rise, another potential opportunity may be tackling the trust and security issue that exists in peer-to-peer transactions (including vacation rentals). We have a lot of clients who love promoting their rentals on Craigslist given all the traffic it gets (over 60 million unique visitors a month) but anyone who has every tried to sell something on Craigslist knows that you are constantly on guard given all the possible scams out there.
This isn’t just a Craigslist problem; it’s inherent in peer-to-peer transactions. Perhaps layering on the social graph (as Airbnb does) helps decrease the risk, but not every transaction is going to happen between close connections, and not everyone may feel comfortable sharing their identity in these transactions.
This isn’t an easy one to solve, as you need to figure out how to make it frictionless for the transacting parties and you have to figure out who pays for it. Identity verification doesn’t seem to have progressed as much as it should have, given all these incremental, new ways we have to validate that someone is who they say they are. We’ve played around with this one in the past, so perhaps we’ll tackle that in our next startup!
With estimates ranging from $24 billion in the US to $85 billion worldwide, the vacation rental market is enormous. And as sites like Airbnb continue to grow in popularity with both homeowners and travelers, the demand will most likely continue to rise.
Services like MyVR that facilitate and streamline the vacation rental marketing process will be very well-received, as they eliminate one of the biggest headaches vacation rental owners have: managing the property in a consistent way across multiple marketing channels. Having to update a calendar across multiple sites is a pain, and can become a serious issue if the owner accidentally gets a double-booking.
Another issue is keeping a fresh, elegant web presence for the home, something that portrays the home in the best light and thus encourages more bookings. A “set it and forget it” service will be ideal for homeowners that don’t want any additional stress when it comes to managing the vacation rental.
Potential challenges include one of the larger companies, such as HomeAway, building a similar platform for their customers and simply offering it as part of a promotional package. If MyVR is able to clearly build the best tool, however, this will be a defensible position that larger players like HomeAway could only overcome via partnership, outright acquisition or ceding the market.
The growth potential for the platform into other independent hospitality businesses is also a clear opportunity. Most small business owners have too much on their plate, and easing one of the most difficult tasks – consistent, elegant cross-channel marketing – is a very real opportunity.
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Nick Vivion was a senior reporter for Tnooz from August 2012 to July 2015.