Andrew Mercado knows the value of hard work. Now 26, he has grown up helping his parents manage residential properties and operate a cleaning business. He has seen how much effort goes into maintaining a property.
“My parents hold both a full-time job and carry on this business which allowed me to understand the hustle of this line of work.”
He has witnessed the flexibility required, as well as the long hours and sheer grunt work.
So when Mr. Mercado and two other soon-to-be grads of Ryerson University’s DMZ business incubator program – Angela Yang and Miguel Viterbo - decided to create a business that enables Airbnb property owners to take a step back from the slog that renting properties can become, he had a lot of experience to fall back on. Their business, HostTO, manages the rental experience from beginning to end. It is in a pilot stage.
“Through all of our experiences, we definitely saw that opportunity in the industry,” says Ms. Yang, 22, a former co-op student. HostTO’s third co-founder, Mr. Viterbo, 26, has a background in customer service.
Ms. Yang says that an increasing number of people who work full-time want to make additional income off their property — but do not want to put in the time and effort that hosting requires.
“It takes a lot of time managing bookings and communicating,” as well as meeting clients and showing them the ropes at all hours of the day, says Ms. Yang. “That’s where we come in.”
The business will require clients to access HostTO’s website, where they will plug in all of their home information, says Mr. Mercado. Then they will select an agreement that determines what services they will require. HostTO can manage all aspects of clients’ bookings, such as communications, key exchanges, cleaning and space management. “They don’t have to do anything,” says Ms. Yang.
Clients will be charged 20 per cent on every booking, and will be able to access all of their financial information via a secure third-party website.
They will also be able to play a part in the renting process while HostTO manages their property. “You have that full control — you can check in [online] whenever you want to,” says Ms. Yang.
The lead-up to the pilot – the business is set to launch in June — has meant lots of research and 14-hour days at DMZ’s studio on Ryerson’s campus, while HostTO’s founders complete their studies.
“Lots of people go out with their friends,” says Ms. Yang. “We don’t go out.” Instead, the team has spent time doing market research through Google Design, a co-operative effort by designers, writers, and developers at Google that includes creating content and supporting innovators. “We were able to interview prospective customers to build their prototype, says Mr. Mercado.
To date, HostTO has received $5,000 in grants from DMZ. As it moves through the different tiers of grant eligibility, it hopes to obtain $30,000 in total. The money will go toward developing the website, promoting the services and partnering with local services providers, says Ms. Yang.
So far, the trio have found two clients to participate in their pilot. “Right now, we are just focused on Toronto because we want to build a community of hosts,” says Mr. Mercado. But he says the company plans to expand to other Canadian cities, adding new names to the company’s Host moniker. “Eventually we want to be HostMontreal, for example,” he says.
“Eventually, when we get more clients, we want to end up partnering with more businesses and services,” says Mr. Mercado. “We plan to partner with cleaning firms, plumbers, snow removal firms.”
All three recognize the challenges they face as more hosting services enter the market to capitalize on Airbnb’s growth. Airbnb’s valuation is more than US$30-billion.
But the co-founders believe that the business will lead to a profitable career, at a time when many students worry about their employment prospects. “It’s been a long journey — we’re here hoping this will be our career,” says Ms. Yang. “I think this is an option for a lot of students who don’t want to work for someone. They should try this out.”