Perhaps you've been there. You answer a Craigslist ad for an impossibly cheap beach house rental, and after the owner finally gets back to you, you pay in advance only to arrive at a towel-free house,that hasn't looked like its pictures in over a decade.
Or you finally scrimp together the scratch for a rental house in Portland only to find out you're spending all your spare time scrubbing floors and talking to college kids with a taste for Miller High Life.
After Portlander Eric Breon took over duties managing a relative's vacation home, he realized that there was a need for a company that could take a lot of the troubles off his hands. So in 2009, he started one.
Vacasa.com is a house vacation rental service that not only matches up would-be vacation rental owners with wannabe weekenders, but manages the whole process, from cleaning to towels to rental insurance.
By any standards, the rise of Vacasa has been meteoric. From its start in 2009 with just 2 employees, Vacasa now employs nearly 1,400, with nearly 100% growth every year for six years. It also just scored $35 million in investment last April—the largest funding round for any Portland company in two years—and followed it up with another $5 million in November.
Breon, Vacasa's co-founder and CEO, will offer insights into his company's success at Portland's upcoming TechfestNW conference, a gathering of leading thinkers, startups and established companies that has showcased the the Pacific Northwest's talent and innovation for the past five years. The biggest such conference in Portland, it'll be held at the Portland Art Museum on March 23-24.
Breon plans to talk about the difference between traditional peer-to-peer companies like Airbnb and eBay—which mostly facilitate connections between sellers and buyers—and becoming a professional company that takes on responsibility for the goods and services it sells. He'll also talk about the differences between hiring employees and hiring contractors.
We asked Mr. Breon a few questions in advance of his appearance at TechfestNW.
WW: What were the most unexpected difficulties you had in starting Vacasa?
Eric Breon: Initially, we planned to be a booking service, where we would take bookings for homeowners that managed their own homes. We quickly realized that even if we weren't contractually obligated for the quality of the experience, we were still on the hook for the customer's experience. If the home wasn't clean, we'd get the call, even though it wasn't our responsibility. For this reason, we quickly moved into full-service management, where we're responsible for everything.
Were there any key moments that led to Vacasa's success?
Our growth has been steady from the beginning. As we offer homeowners great service along with more than they could earn from any other service, the primary limiting factor on our growth has been how quickly we scale our team and launch new markets.
What would you tell people who say you're just like Airbnb?
Airbnb is like eBay, Vacasa is like Amazon. The peer-to-peer approach is preferred by a certain subset of the population, but most people prefer a professional experience.
Back before Amazon was strong, I used to buy things from eBay. It's not that I was seeking the peer-to-peer experience; they just had what I wanted at a reasonable price. Now that Amazon carries almost anything I need, I much prefer the easy checkout process, reliable delivery, etc., and I never shop on eBay. We believe the same will prove true with vacation rentals.
Airbnb has grown quickly as the logistics of peer-to-peer are simpler, but guests and owners alike generally prefer professional management to ensure that all of the details are taken care of.
TechfestNW will be held at the Portland Art Museum March 23-24, 2017. For information and tickets, go to techfestnw.com.