Monday 11 November 2019 6:41 am

Floating on Airbnb: We meet the founder who is taking the hassle out of hosting

When James Jenkins-Yates rented out his London home via Airbnb while he went on holiday to Rome, it was a complete disaster. 

“Everything went wrong,” he tells me. “I had three back-to-back bookings over the week and guests were everywhere — I received calls at 3am, one guest couldn’t get in through the gate, cleaners didn’t show up, the keys were left under a plant pot.” In the end, he refunded two of the three guests.

The entrepreneur, who had planned to use the money to pay for a plusher trip, was baffled as to how hosts could provide a stress-free experience for guests when they weren’t nearby to help. “When I looked for a business that could manage this on my behalf, there was nothing — it was quite nascent.”

In order to gauge whether there was any interest in such a proposition, Jenkins-Yates — who had just completed a crash course in coding — created a tester web page featuring the words “hassle-free Airbnb hosting, enter your email address”. It wasn’t long before he received messages from wannabe hosts eager to list their properties on Airbnb while they were away.

Seeing an opportunity, the young founder bit the bullet, and within a month, he had quit his job as a financial analyst to focus on building Airsorted in 2015. It is now the world’s largest short-let property management company, both in terms of geographical locations and the number of homes it looks after. It has raised $12m in funding — not bad for a firm that is just four years old.

Host with the most

If hosts want to use Airsorted’s services, the company charges a minimum of 12 per cent commission on the revenue they make from renting the property. 

For that, Airsorted manages your entire listing for you. That includes the account itself, photos of your home, guest communication, professional cleaning, and the delivery of linen. 

The company also installs a police-approved key safe at each property it looks after so that guests can check-in whenever they want. 

For the cleaners, Airsorted works like Uber taxi drivers, in that individuals sign up and are vetted by the company. It currently has about 500 to 600 cleaners on board in 22 cities around the world, who all interact with the app.

While around 60 per cent of the listings are on Airbnb, the remainder are largely booked through a mixture of, Expedia, and HomeAway. When I ask if this fee risks increasing the prices of short-let sites like Airbnb, the founder says no, pointing out that many of the hosts who decide to use Airsorted have never listed their homes on a platform previously, largely because it was too difficult to manage. “If anything, our service would increase supply of Airbnb places in the market, which you could argue decreases prices,” he says. “But I don’t think that’s the case at all.” 

The linen never lies

Jenkins-Yates adds that Airsorted should improve the experience for those booking through sites like Airbnb, who get a hassle-free stay. 

While his early mishap opened his eyes to the struggles of hosting, the founder is very familiar with the challenges on this side of the equation too, after spending 18 months living in Airbnbs around London — which, for a man who runs a short-let management company, is probably the most valuable market insight you can get.

“I sold my house, and was so busy with work that I couldn’t be bothered to find somewhere else to live, so I got an Airbnb for two weeks and it just became a thing. And it was really useful because I thought ‘oh this is what you do there, or this is where it could be better’ — I learnt from all those hosts and put that insight into the product.”

So what was the biggest lesson he took from this? “The importance of good quality sheets,” he says, grinning. “That was a dealbreaker.”

Cruise control

Airsorted, of course, isn’t the only short-let company on the block, with the likes of Hostmaker, GuestReady, and City Relay to name but a few. So how does this firm compete? 

Jenkins-Yates says that his company sees the hosts as partners. “You have got your own account manager who will build your listing for you, help you set your price, and make sure you don’t make any mistakes.”

One extra quirk of the service is that hosts can set preferences, selecting the level of control to dictate how much freedom they give Airsorted to manage their property. 

“There are some hosts who care about every little detail and want to be sent photos of the property after each clean. But there are others who ask not to be contacted unless it costs over £1,000 to fix something in the property,” he explains. “You can set lots of different preferences, whereas with our competitors, the managing company has all the control.” 

Put to bed

It’s no accident that the design of Airsorted’s website gives the impression of an Airbnb spin-off. However, while the two companies work alongside each other, there isn’t actually an official link between them — though that’s not to say that Jenkins-Yates’ doesn’t want one.

In fact, he sees it as a benefit for guests to know when they are booking a professionally managed property in that it gives them confidence that the experience is going to be a certain standard — or at the very least, provide assurance that a listed property actually exists. 

It’s a matter of time and trust. It took years for Airbnb to establish itself as the trusted brand it is today. And Airsorted is riding on the back of the success of this unicorn.