The Beginning: Airbnb as a Piggybank
Our Airbnb hosting story began as it does for most hosts. We’d started renting our place to earn a bit of extra money whenever we traveled for work. If days overlapped on one end or the other, we’d find a friendly couch. Then, once we saw the money we could make, we started traveling for fun, letting our growing mini-business pick up the tab. We were stunned by how easy it all was, and most guests were wonderful and treated our place like home. We felt like geniuses.
Word of Mouth: We Become Airbnb “Experts”
So the humble-bragging commenced. Unfortunately, we were pretty much being forced to escape to the beach for a few days because the house was rented. Sigh. We were annoying, but our forgiving friends actually wanted to hear more. How does it work? Isn’t it complicated to set up? What do you do about cleaning? Through trial and error, we now had simple answers to most of their questions – and were happy to share – but most friends were too busy or simply too disorganized to consider renting for themselves.
A few, however, asked if we could handle the process for them, and we immediately agreed. We took a small cut for what we imagined would be a minimal time commitment and felt as if we’d been given free money. Soon enough we were running six properties, several of them full-time vacation rentals. We also branched out from Airbnb to other platforms. And almost immediately we realized we had a problem.
24/7: Our Vacation Rental Hobby Becomes a Job
Our days became consumed with email: guest questions and confirmations; repeated attempts to obtain travel itineraries (do people really book flights two days in advance?); messages to cleaners once we finally knew when guests were arriving; arrival instructions; follow-up messages to cleaners (“Is it clean? Please?”); messages to the friend we’d engaged to meet guests with keys, hoping to save now precious time; follow-up messages to our “keyholder” (“Are they in? Hello?”); guest departure time confirmations; departure instructions; review requests; etc., etc. ETC!
Not to mention the accounting (we still get chills just mentioning the accounting). A total nightmare. Importing Airbnb/Homeaway/etc. info into Excel spreadsheets; standardizing all their various formats; how much did the cleaner say she spent on toilet paper at that one place?; how many hours at that other place?; how many guest welcomes did the “keyholder” do this month?; and remember we owe Bob the owner, because Airbnb transfers his earnings to our account, and don’t forget that for him our fee is 20%; but Joe the owner gets paid directly into his account, so he owes us…how much?…and of course with him it’s 15%, and he needs a proper invoice too; right?; maybe?
Once again: a total nightmare. We were making decent money, but there was no time to take those little bonus vacations we’d been so proud of when we’d started renting our place. We were human inboxes, human spreadsheets.
The Software Search: The First Step is Admitting You Need Help
We were no longer enjoying ourselves. Worse, the organization of our short-term rental mini-“empire” had become so complex that we occasionally dropped the ball: left guests waiting, failed to get places cleaned on time, double-booked. We were also realizing, as any host who uses Airbnb regularly does, that the platform weirdly lacks some of the most basic management tools. Surely there had to be some app to simplify our hosting lives, right? Right?
We looked everywhere. We tested everything. And yes, there were a few. Sort of. One of them could more or less automate messaging. Another seemed as if it could track cleaner tasks (assuming your cleaners all carried iPhones). A couple had multi-listing calendars (with limited functionality). None handled expenses, not to mention accounting. All of them seemed to have been designed by programmers who’d never hosted much more than a server. And although at that point we probably would have given up one of our five stars for an Airbnb management app that did everything we needed, these apps were all priced about as high as an actual 24-carat gold star (seriously, though: are they kidding?!). Once again, we were stuck.
The Monster Spreadsheet: Geeking Way Out
Whether we liked it or not, we’d become minor Excel experts while developing our property spreadsheets over the months, so we decided our only choice was to develop them further. We figured out how to make them talk to one another. Using nifty little automation tools like IFTTT and Zapier, we managed to link bookings in spreadsheets to calendars, and then powered those calendars to automatically trigger emails and SMS messages to guests and team members. We gave each of our team members their own spreadsheet to track hours, expenses, and payments, and these all fed into our accounting spreadsheets, which we developed to automatically do all the complex calculations, including final manager and owner profits.
The whole process took the better part of a year. We actually learned to code in Java, once we realized that wasn’t just the Indonesian island we’d always wanted to visit. Eventually we had a package of spreadsheets that was basically running our business for us. Airbnb was a hobby again! We were ecstatic. So we went on another ski trip.
The Eureka Moment: Suzy the Short-Term Rental Assistant
We were proud of what we’d built, but we’d built it for ourselves. Somehow it had never occurred to us to share our wildly competent little “personal assistant” with others. But other hosts we knew asked, so we started sharing “Suzy”, as we called “her” at the time. And everyone who tried it was blown away. We got deliveries of flowers as thanks, a bottle of champagne left in the mailbox (seriously). “Suzy” became a favorite topic of conversation. One friend did a certain aspect of accounting differently. Another communicated with his owners differently. We needed a few more options. So we tested and tested, adding more options, while remaining committed to keeping our spreadsheets every-user-friendly. And after several more months, “Suzy” did everything that everyone needed (with a smile!).
The Creation of Airstreamed, the Airbnb Management Software That Does Everything
So we had these amazing spreadsheets, but as we shared them with more people, we were reminded of the limitations of spreadsheets. Critical data could be deleted or misplaced. The links between spreadsheets occasionally needed to be refreshed. Complex scripts buried within menus occasionally needed to be re-run. All that was fine for our group of enthusiastic experimenters, but if we wanted to share Suzy with others, we knew we’d have to translate those spreadsheets into something more user-friendly.
And that’s how Airstreamed was born. We took out a loan, hired world-class developers, and walked them through our spreadsheets step-by-step-by-step, explaining our thinking behind every little detail, communicating exactly what vacation rental hosts need (as well as what they don’t need, which can be just as important). The whole process took about eighteen months. And then we tested some more, back with our initial group of hosts, all so proud of Suzy, now all grown up, with a college degree.
We had created exactly what we’d been looking for from the beginning: an app that did everything a savvy vacation rental host needed, at a price we would have been more than willing to pay ourselves.
Would other hosts be interested? We figured they would. But even if they weren’t, we figured that over the next year or two, the time we saved using our own app would be well worth the investment we’d made in it. So: win win. Book another ski trip.
But now we know that there are thousands of Airbnb hosts out there just like us.
And we built Airstreamed for them. Because we built it for ourselves.