February 20th, 2019 / Published in: Interviews
Tom Powers is the Founder and CEO of Abodeca, a great alternative search site for Vacation Rentals. Some other great site affiliated with Abodeca are FindRentals and Vacaryx. You can also find a lot of great alternative search on FindIt. The main take away is that with a little knowledge and effort you can directly connect with companies and save on the expensive situation that has evolved in standard search.
Tom possesses a broad Direct Sales experience with a proven track record of success at goal oriented, performance based positions. He is also an experienced Team Leader and Sales Trainer covering design of process, actual training and ongoing management of team, as well as new channel development covering vertical identification, process development and prospecting. If you are interested in learning more, you can contact Tom directly here.
Carlos: Hello everyone, welcome to another DojoLive interview connecting experts like you, and of course us ever joining me from Los Angeles California we have Tullio Siragusa my fellow teammate and Nearsoftian, Tullio it’s good to have you here again, thank you.
Tullio: I’m good thanks, good to be here.
Carlos: Likewise, and it’s good to have you, all right, so joining us today our guest today is Mr. Tom Powers, the founder and CEO of Abodeca, Abodeca is well essentially well he’s going to be telling us what it is specifically, I don’t want to elaborate too much on that because he’s the experts and but the topic that we’re gonna be sharing today with you is emerging search and content sharing platforms, Tom welcome to the show it’s a pleasure to have you hare and an honor.
Tom: Well thank you very much, thanks for setting this up and for what you guys do, the guys bring a lot to the community so definitely happy to be on the show thanks.
Carlos: Absolutely it’s our pleasure Tom, all right well Tom I would like to star today’s conversation, are you asking you just a couple of things and then we’ll move on the chosen topic, tell us about, tell us about you Tom, tell us about your background and then of course Abodeca, what Abodeca is about, and then let’s talk about the topic.
Tom: Thanks, I am from South Carolina from Charleston and that’s where I currently am at as well although a little bit more nomadic these days especially Abodeca is a vacation rental marketplace website and you might imagine to that a travel a fair amount as well with that buy I’ve got a background myself really in a lot of sales and sales when I was a little bit younger and then more into true marketing with you know, designing sales processes things of that nature, actually fell backwards into the real estate business is from investing myself in real estate over the years and turning those into some rental properties and been investing in more or less vacation type rental properties and before you knew it, before I knew it I was sittin in a real estate class, getting a real estate license to you know, because we kind of grew myself and some other people grew a business out of nowhere and now we’ve got a property management company, all of a sudden renting beach houses and things of this nature this was about seven or eight years ago and so just in a quick summary that has spearheaded me to take some sales and marketing experience that I’ve got as well with a little bit of just development over the, over the years and some SEO experience as well and content writing and see some problems and needs in the marketplace in the vacation rental market space that we are making a run it the you know, trying to get a piece of that market and to try to help correct that market a little bit.
Carlos: Thank you so much Tom for elaborated on that, so that’s was about Abodeca and was about you, now I understand Tom that for today’s conversation you choose the topic of emerging search and content sharing platforms or in other words how travel software platform can help viewers with alternative search options for vacation rentals that’s right?
Carlos: Tell us about that, so why did you choose this particular topic Tom?
Tom: Well certainly the vacation rentals, the sector that we work in and you guys are probably aware it might surprise a lot of people that even a lot of people that are very savvy and in this industry but let me ask you, do you what do you think, booking.com is spending this year with Google for pay-per-click.
Tullio: They’re one of the big, I don’t actually got the stat on one thing, something like close to half a billion, it’s no that or some ridiculous number.
Tom: It’s wild, I think I think you right, I think it’s a little over half a billion.
Tom: That was the 2018 they’re on track not anymore in 2019 and if you were to add booking.com, Expedia, which if you’re not to love on the tech side of vacation rental Expedia purchased HomeAway, VRBO.com etc, a couple years ago so the Expedia group is a big one, then you’re got Airbnb of course I want to say I think I think, Airbnb did seven billion in gross rent collection last, the last quarter last year, I can’t quite remember the figure I don’t I misquoted but of course they’re big you know, and then this starts to join then down into like TripAdvisor and their various offshoots like flipkey, and on down the line but between let’s just say these top four groups right, booking inc, Expedia group, Airbnb and TripAdvisor they constitute by far almost just a huge number, forget about the exact number, it’s ig thought, what they comprise of a budget into Google and not only that I guess what I’m doing maybe it first is illustrating the problem that we’re trying to solve if that’s okay, to kind of freestyle it like that, not only do you have all these major sites controlling a lot of this ad revenue and of course controlling the results that are popping up in front of people eyeballs, there’s dozens of subsidiary sites some of them even owned by these bigger companies for I’ll give you a really perfect example in the EU and the European market, a pretty prominent player there’s called Holidu, H O L I D U, Holidu, and all they are is essentially a Meta search site very similar to trivago to Kayak in the vacation rental sector, specifically there’s a, there’s one called Homes to go, a you know, homestogo, tripping.com, there’s a lot, all these sites do is simple redirect you to VRBO or a booking.com listing, now I’m actually wearing two roles myself in this business so I as I was saying before I own a small property management company as well right here it Grandson in Charleston South Carolina, a little place called Folly Beach which is like a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Charleston, it’s a little beach town, so i’m the one as the property manager around some of these properties myself, so you know that piece of property, let’s just call it one, two, three Ocean Avenue right, it’s bad, that the inventory right, that piece of inventory is on booking.com, it’s on Airbnb, it’s on VRBO it’s also on my website with my own brand name and now it’s also on Abodeca, as well it’s also on findit.com it’s also on findrentals.com, and some other sites, so kind of get into that in a minute, but my problem that I have as someone that owns a piece of property and someone that’s managing and trying to market a piece of property is that all of these bigger sites, the big problem behind this and the reason why they have the billions of dollars to spend with Google is because they’ve essentially created, they’ve created a situation where these big four companies are fighting against each other to get that same customer to book and with Airbnb for example it’s anywhere between about six, sometimes about the 17%, you can’t really tell it’s kind of changes with scale that they charge the Expedia group, VRBO home away, stuff like that is 10% booking.com 15%, 15% now think about that for a second when you’re going on your family vacation which the average family vacation is around $2500 and you’re adding another 15% premium top premium on top of that, that’s a lot of grocery money that is a you know, a couple around the Gulf, that is a couple of.
Tullio: That’s the percentage that’s being spent that you’re basically the us consumers or subsidizes is that what you’re saying?
Tom: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah, so you know it doesn’t it’s not a whole lot if you look it Airbnb and you’re renting a room in somebody’s house for $50 a night you know, really the 12% o whatever it is you’re getting hit for doesn’t really seem like a lot of money, ok, and I’ll give it to him like I can go off in a lot of directions here, I do want to say one thing ten years ago when a lot of these sites emerged and came around they helped me build my property management business right, they were the first to the table obviously to leak about a little over ten years ago we had quite a revolution with these things right here right, so ten years ago I did not receive a booking for my vacation rental over this device, okay, and in the the 65 year old grandmother I want to talk about her just a minute this is a good little story that proves this point, she would never have considered renting a ten thousand dollar a week beach house on one of these devices and pressing a button right, so the innovation that’s occurred across our entire consumer culture and just our culture in general with technology, I think it’s really great in a lot of ways I think it’s just obviously it’s creating tons of opportunity it’s made a lot of things easier, it’s made a lot of things faster and it’s put access to things for all of us for, all of mankind it our fingertips which is pretty amazing I mean, while I’m doing this interview with you guys I could sit here off the air and I could book a sailboat to stay in Ibiza, you know I mean and do it and complete the transaction with my thumb, isn’t that amazing right, like it’s just incredible and I would never have had an opportunity to get in touch with that person or even the experiences you experiences is kind of like the next level there, the bad thing about that thought that I thinks bad and I think a lot of other people do too is that ahs started to come and quite a premium to deliver that, and in the beginning when these things are being developed and everything else you know you sure it takes a lot of money and listen, I’m a capitalist as well like I you know, I do like to think that I do things a little bit more for service first and then profits and prosperity will come but at the end of the day everyone’s trying you make a dollar and it’s fair but I think 15% quite have it, and a lot of people [INAUDIBLE]
Tullio: [INAUDIBLE] so you’re saying these company initially a lot of these players they obviously create a competition and service value etc etc, convenience but now it’s become almost like a Quantapolly if you want to call it that right so they’re dominating this space, they only, the eyeballs that are basically controlling who get access to what spending a lot of money and those cost are being passed down to the consumer, so what is the that someone would call it beautiful capitalism it’s fantastic, that’s what makes it’s country great but, what what is it that that’s become a problem that you’re solving with what you’re doing specifically.
Tom: So there’s a couple of things from a very much attack perspective that have made a new situation possible right, so one 1 mean one simple thing to understand you know AWS I mean amazing server space speed redundancy and everything’s never been more affordable and scalable more importantly I think than affordability, scalability to come with a new idea to test the pay if it actually starts to work cool let’s just scale up right, that even wasnt that possible 10 or 15 years ago, you know the cost of development today is better but here’s a very interesting dynamic that’s happened in the vacation rental space over the last couple of years so, I don’t, let me just jump into it, so myself as a vacation rental property manager I subscribe to a software cloud-based software called Kego, K E G O, they provide vacation rental software and what’s more important to understand it’s a service included with that called channel management there’s many of these companies that have sprung up over the last five years to really fill this need right, the beautiful part of capitalism let’s say our free of fair market free market, is hey there’s a need let’s innovate towards it and build something so wat co-management does for me as a property manager you know, I’ve got all these properties and I need to have them listed on Airbnb, I need to have it on VRBO, I need to have it on these other marketplace websites to be present in the market or my properties would rent because bottom line whether I like their business tactics or not I’m not only as the consumer been funneled and corralled into this situation where kind of no matter where they go they’re paying somebody this exorbitant fee, I myself in every every other property manager in the world it’s feeling this pain too, what happens if I’ve got, my house the same house, one two three Ocean Boulevard right, or whatever this piece of inventory is, the same house it’s on Airbnb, it’s on VRBO, it’s on all these other websites, what happens when it books on VRBO for the week of the fourth of July in 30 seconds later somebody’s on Airbnb looking it that property thinking about booking it right, so you have to have a way to manage that system in the beginning this was one with like Ical Sharing, and Sloppy api’s that hardly worked it best, that has tremendously changed so much in the last five years which makes it totally awesome so if you were to look it Abodeca right now and I think I was saying before we started, Abodeca just got out of kind of like minimum viable product stage, so when you look at it today just even understand we’re about to drop some new user interface changes, we’re about to add roughly about four thousand more properties, there’s only about 3,000 properties on there now, but there’s a pretty good mix especially if you’re on a desktop and roll down to the map you can even look at Mexico we’ve got some already in Cozumel and Cabo, really starting to get some good listings of Florida, things of that nature some of the major markets in the US, we’ve picked up some listings in the French Alps of in France, some pretty cool stuff there too, what we’ve done from a technology standpoints and it does feed into the topic of these alternative search results every property manager out there that’s managing let’s just say, more than like five or six properties like they’re really running a property management company, you that on average hiring manager companies other typically handling 200 properties, can you imaging trying to keep up with that from an administrative level when this property books making sure that double booking doesn’t occur because the availability is taken down from the other website right, even if you could get iCal to work that way then and imagine from your content management standpoint that’s another big thing that these software do, so when I change the thumbnail picture on my main software it now changes that same picture on Airbnb and VRBO and everything else for me, so it’s a truly invaluable tool I wouldn’t even say it’s not even an option not to have a tool like this you see a lot of startups like this really blowing up lately like guess, lodgify, streamline solutiones as one dominant once in America, Kego the one that I use, very prominent, they’re based out of Barcelona very prominent in the EU really grown in America as well, so long story short, what we did from a development standpoint, is connect to their api’s fully so when you go on to Abodeca today, that’s being fed all data is being fed over from an API as well as the entire checkout process which is completely connected into their software’s back in to the property managers to their own merchant account, so that their remaining the merchant of record with it, and that’s who the customers is dealing with, so from a lean perspective right, if you were to take like a six sigma type approach which we kind of have done to designing a business model we are able to deliver an instant booking experience to the consumer that the property manager has full control over because it’s ehir content it the end of the day, they are completely handing the price and everything, so if you think about from our aspec where we can run a very lean operation because we’re not the one completing a transaction with the consumer they’re completing it with the property manager who has a perfectly viable website, perfectly viable merchant account, they are the ones you’re renting the house from anyway, they’re the ones that can properly answer the questions you might have about your vacation rental experience, so to get back to the question you asked that’s our ending I can go off on tangents, and I apologize, but how that pertains to emerging search platforms, if you don’t mind we’ll indulge me, let me tell you this story about this 65 year old grandmother, okay, to prove this points, so I still answer the phones at least one day a week and my own vacation rental company just to keep my finger in that business too although pretty much have stepped away from it I still do at least one day a week, and answer the phone recently very nice lady, I assumed she was around 65 years old just assuming, because she was renting a house for her adult children that you got the other grandkids or whatever, they’re actually renting our nicest house which is like a beautiful six bedroom, elevator right on the beach, like 10 grand a week in the summer, like you know, top notch own, top-notch rental and everything else, after just introducing herself she say: Hey would you mind if we booked directly with you, we found this on another website but the booking fee was just outrageous, so now this is her words, so I went online and I searched around for the house name and whatnot, and I found your company and I figured I would just call you directly because you’re, are you the guy that’s really managing it, and I said: yes ma’am no problem of course we would love to do that for you, now first of all, isn’t it kind of sad that she even feels like she has to ask permission not to go through one of these other marketplace websites and cough up it least 10 to 15%, kind of crazy right, so this from a hypothesis or whatever you want to say if a 65 year old grandma can figure out how to search around and find us, well what if we just made an understanding that granted longer chani keyword granted not as high of a search volume but ultra valuable search that person is doing and optimized not only our website but other websites where we share that distribution on like finding.com and even in Facebook, and Twitter feed, and Pinterest, Youtube videos, you name it, anywhere that will get a nice index point, well that’s where we’re driving our bookings at today.
Tullio: Sorry to interrupt, just want to just clarify I want to really clarify make it simple for the audience, so your site your platform aggregates let’s just say, rental properties, right, and I as a consumer can either book through the site or contact directly the listing agent or property manager.
Tom: Correct, but even when you’re booking through our site you’re still booking really directly with them so.
Tullio: So you’re just facilitating access to the inventory directly and bypassing the basic first trailer I mean, the basic search capability or typical big OTA kind of marketplace, so it’s a secondary marketplace that you’re essentially acting as a search engine for consumers, so what’s the so, is this the plan is it your plan to go direct and build the direct consumer strategy or is it to license this technology to property manager or both, where is this going in terms of your product strategy?
Tom: As much as I would say, there’s there somethings that we’re holding in our hat, but on the cert on the surface level we’re our main goal it first for now and for the next you know, even 12, 18 months, is building the inventory right, so doing the development to connect to the API’s of these various vacation rental software solutions will then rapidly allow us to build inventory, for example last week we picked up 220 listing around Daytona Florida you know, in the time it took us to enter the API key right, whereas you know, and keep in mind too, this radical opportunity only exist today and that’s why Airbnb had to build listing basically one it a time 10 years ago because there wasn’t these API’s to connect to if that makes sense so step one is really becoming a property manager focused organization and more of a cooperative some of the other founding members of our company also own property management companies and that’s really who we’re going after is the property management community because they and because that’s who we are to but also because it’s very intense and we can grow listing it a pace never before possible because all of this is just coming together now with the rise wait, the rise of API I think in tech, the rise of API over the next decade is not about even the technology, it’s about the it’s about the opportunity to let ideas rise to the top a lot easier than ever before, we’ve been able to accomplish even what we’ve done so far on such a lean budget but still we’re already, we’re already starting to deliver bookings for people save people money, and give people more access and we’re gonna be able to scale that it a pace you know, in an efficiency level which is so awesome, so to answer the question that, when we have a lot of more density we’re doing very small niche targets today in some social media and a little bit of even paid advertising too, keep in mind Facebook can drop vacation rentals as a subsection and marketplace tomorrow and you know, really shake up the game if you look at it, Instagram is doing with story ads right now, and you could niche and target that and these property managers get a little more savvy with how they might start adding that into market their own properties and things of that nature, I think that I think Instagram is gonna be bigger for the tour guide industry than anything else as a real ad driver, well without getting too off-topic, the, our strategy going to the consumer today our traffic bookings and things like that occur with people are naturally changing their search behavior right, so a big part about what our premises and even my whole philosophy on this stuff is it’s not just emerging search markets it’s the emerging search behavior of your average consumer becoming more and more aware today of like wait a minute, you know a lot to this stuff on page one on Google might not actually be the best deal that I can get it right, and when you can see that is the search behavior and optimize towards that, that’s where I think the secondary market becomes a really valuable thing to go after to grow because it wouldn’t take in my opinion, being relatively we’re going to take much to get some serious viral messaging out there for people in the travel and this is travel in general, this is not just the vacation rental market, you know, you see a lot of people making very direct pushes, American Airlines really interesting stuff recently and travel, there they’re sick of they’re sick of the meta sites in the OTA’s that everybody’s sick of the OTA’s you brought that word up, OTA’s for anyone listening and the parlance of travel tech, OTA stands for online travel agency, what is that, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com etc, in the general travel space specifically in the vacation room space you know booking.com and things of that nature so yeah, the OTA’s wasn’t they’ve had a good run don’t ever feel bad for them you know, they have money stacked up to the ceiling but and that’s what we’re going for it sure to be disruptive in a way we’re not doing it to be disruptive or bad to anybody, I myself as a property manager just want to talk to the customer, the customer just want to talk to me in book and book a rental, that’s all we want to do and all of this stuff that’s gotten in the middle of that that’s also costing both sides of a lot of money, I’ll say one last thing on that point, every day when we’re getting inquiries from people we you know, we’ll get something like this example everyday: Hey our budgets $2000 dollars for the weekend, with all the fees and everything it really comes out for our budget would you mind lowering your nightly price some, now these big OTA’s even tell people to do that, hey asked for a discount a lot of times people will give you one, they don’t give a crap, why don’t you ask Airbnb to lower their fee, see how that goes for you right, so there’s there’s a lot of just built up tension as you might get here in my voice of that frustration points so we’re trying to solve that by helping to promote these alternative search choices so even it.
Tullio: [INAUDIBLE] unfortunately we’re coming up on time only so as I understand it’s pretty straightforward, I’m actually curious one last question I have before we go is why you guys didn’t choose to go the blockchain route because that’s basically what you’re describing is to eliminate the middleman in the process and give direct access for the consumers and also those who have the properties you not have an intermediary that adds all these fees, so the value proposition just to clarify, the value proposition for the consumer is I get access to what I want to get access without having to incur these extra fees and for the property manager I get to sell what I want without having to incur extra fees which could potentially priced me out of the market, is that ultimately the value proposition?
Tom: In a nutshell, absolutely.
Tullio: Ok, well that I mean that’s great I think, I think there’s always a market for a way to go direct right, I’m curious it was did you guys ever consider building this on a blockchain technology and why not if that was a consideration or not.
Tom: There’s somethings we’re keeping in our half for sure, you know [INAUDIBLE] I think there’s a whole other conversation but yeah, blockchain got a huge future in travel I think.
Tullio: Yeah, well Tom it’s been a pleasure talking with you, it’s amazing [INAUDIBLE] really fast, it’s been very informative, I can sense your passion for this, I thinks there’s always something that you said about entrepreneurs who are passionate about trying to change things for the better and certainly I appreciate them sure our audience does as well, one last question for you in terms of your journey, as an entrepreneur, as building a piece of technology any words of advice that you have for anyone who’s sitting out there, thinking about it or on the fence, any words of wisdom you’d like to share with them.
Tom: Absolutely, with lots of things even with this, there’s a fews things that you know, we go back in time even though we’ve only been going for about 14 months you know right if I had that perfect hindsight could be even 20% more efficient which we just mean I get 20% more capital and resources today I would give one piece of advice is when you think you’re really thought it all out take an extra month, no problem, and think it out again, and other than some common sense type of stuff that some people forget is just to make sure that it fits in with just a happy and balanced lifestyle as well because it is daunting even more so we put together our own by your family seed money to get this started, is even it’s been easier for me in the past to do things all with my own money, I will say when you start to become the steward of others people capital and other people’s aspirations, it’s a big responsibility and you got to very much be ready to take that and I think the best defense and the best armor that you can wear when doing this kind of this kind of venture is to make sure you have really good balance in the other parts of your life’s as well and you know, you gotta work hard but you gotta, you gotta go for a walk on the beach whatever you can to that makes.
Carlos: Walk on the beach Tullio, that’s gonna be easy for you Tullio, you’re right there by beach.
Tullio: It’s been so cold for over a month here in LA I want my money back.
Tullio: [INAUDIBLE] it’s like I want my money back, it’s been raining and cold what happened to the [INAUDIBLE] weather.
Tom: Basically moved to Bogota and he says this is amazing he thinks there’s a lot of future in Bogota the wheaters it’s incredible.
Carlos: I’m based out of Mexico City Tom, people are boiling down to tarcold, because you know it’s way over what 30 degrees Celsius and people are complaining but anyway I mean, that’s a lot for these standards, Mexico City standards, so it is a lot, so anyway, well I need to rip up Tom, before we go, before we go, this is for outward for everyone, here at the audience, just a quick announcement, this is about next week right here on DojoLive, I excuse me, my throat is betraying me, next week, we are gonna e having the presents, we’re gonna be chatting with let’s let’s see our next week’s guests are, actually we’re gonna have a double whammy because it’s we’re gonna be chatting with two guests it the same time, the conversation is going to be with Tasmeen Damen or Damon, and she is the CIO and of a company called Connected Canadians along with Emily Jones, also she is the CEO of Connected Canadians, Connected Canadians is a platform that’s it’s kind of unique, because it’s a platform to whose sole purpose is to connect older adults with technology training and support so Tullio maybe you and I are gonna be first two customers, yeah we are getting there.
Tullio: I gotta hear [INAUDIBLE]
Carlos: Yeah yeah, exactly so the topic is going to be technology as an enabler so, that should be interesting for us all there from older folks out there watching or will be watching, and of course going back to our guest Tom, Tom is there anywhere that if anyone watching right now want to get hold of you where can they do so?
Tom: You can email me directly at Tom@abodeca.com which is A-B-O-D-E-C-A abodeca.com, you can email me there.
Carlos: And of course as a reminder of the information all the contact info for Tom and his company are going to be right there on the DojoLive website, just go look for today’s interview and it’s all gonna be there, and with that being said the only thing left for me to do folks is again as ever send you a big heart felt warm, thank you for having been with us here on one more episode of DojoLive connecting experts like you, thank you our guest Tom Powers and of course as ever Tullio Siragusa from LA, so thank you both thank you everyone and see you next time.