Q&A with Michael and Handan Kugler, Vacation.Rentals
With the exciting launch of Google’s .APP, and their article describing the virtues of real-word domains (new TLDs) and organic search, we decided to check back in with Michael and Handan Kugler, for a follow-up conversation on the launch of their business, Vacation.Rentals. Here’s what we learned:
Q: Congrats on a terrific several months since your launch. Vacation.Rentals is placing really well on organic search results. We’re guessing that’s doing great things for your website traffic.
A: Thank you. For sure, the amount of traffic we are now seeing to the website is unexpected – and wonderful. Everyone always hopes for a quick launch but it is surprising when it actually happens. Without question, the site took off significantly faster than we were ready for, honestly. Probably the most astonishing part of all was how wide and varied the search terms people were using to find us. Some of them we planned on; others just happened.
Q: What are some of your near-term plans for your business?
A: Honestly, right now our emphasis is on customer service and experience. How easy does the listing “flow”? Does it make sense? Is the information relevant and useful? We have conducted tests for the past two months with varying results for ease of use. There have been times when my coders and I would have discussions on Slack about which method felt most natural and then vote on a winner. Lots of trial to eliminate the errors.
Advertising will soon start through both radio and social media for select markets. We are looking into affiliate marketing, enhanced customer interactions with homeowners and speaking to interested companies who would like to do focused marketing on our site.
Q: Integrated marketing – it makes a ton of sense. Stepping back a bit, tell us about how you formed Vacation.Rentals? What is the business?
A: Vacation.Rentals is the best place online to connect vacation property owners with vacationers. My wife, Handan, and I have been in the resort business for many years, so we understand – firsthand – the challenges that property owners face in using the existing online services, such as VRBO. Property owners and travelers pay a lot of fees without getting a lot of value. We set out to create a site that can best be described as “CraigsList on Steroids.” Unlike the real Craiglist, we’re not free – but we offer so much more, and with a business model that is based on an annual subscription, not on transaction fees.
We knew that property owners deserved a better option, so we decided to create a website that addressed those challenges head-on, by offering owners a better way to market their properties online, and offering vacationers a better way to find their next vacation lodging.
It turns out that my wife and I weren’t the only ones with enthusiasm for this idea. I enlisted my former boss, Marshall Hart, and we formed an LLC called VacaRent. The other partners in VacaRent are: William Whelpley, ITM Investments, Kalus Enterprises, and Jim and Wendy Sherrill. We all think this is a big business idea and Vacation.Rentals is just the beginning.
Q: This sounds exciting. What makes Vacation.Rentals better or different than VRBO, or the other online, entrenched competitors?
A: Property owners need the freedom and flexibility to market their properties to their best advantage. We make that happen with the ability for them to post custom videos, provide links and resources for their own custom website hosting, enable them to chat directly with vacationers, and offer reasonable pricing for all of this to happen.
Our target markets are owners of second homes and professional property owners. The two segments are really quite different, but both are important. Owners of second homes need to be able to list their properties online and customize their offers. That’s because every home really is different – its size, location, amenities – all of those characteristics comprise a unique listing. Professional property owners want a reliable online resource that attracts LOTS of vacationer eyeballs, that’s trusted by consumers, and that’s transparent and fair in its pricing, so we deliver on those needs, too.
Both segments can take advantage of features such as live chat, custom business cards placed inside the properties, custom wordpress templates and much more. Believe it or not, these little touches really matter to property owners and their guests.
Q: Why did you choose the name, Vacation.Rentals?
A: We’ve been in this business for a long time. We know that THE most frequently-searched term on the Internet in our space is “vacation rentals.” With our domain name, it’s inevitable that we place prominently in organic search results and that’s exactly what’s happening. We launched the site in the beginning of 2018 and it’s rapidly climbing to page one of organic search results on all the major search engines.
What’s even better, our organic search rankings will only improve over time. And the term is “evergreen” – it will continue to increase in relevance and placement as more and more people use the search term, “vacation rentals”. What this means is no matter how fierce the competition, we’ll always be able to place in top search rankings. And then it’s all a virtuous circle: if you build a great online place to connect owners with vacationers, then they’re more likely to be enthusiastic references within their own personal networks. If you have a great online name, then you continue to place well in organic search rankings and get discovered by more and more property owners and vacationers. It just keeps getting better.
Q: This all sounds great. Is there anything you worry about?
A: Yes of course! We want to build a great website and we want to deliver on our promises. When you start a business, every single move you make matters a great deal. Handan and I know this, and so we’re trying to move as quickly as we can, but still meet or exceed every expectation. It’s nerve-wracking, but also really exhilarating. As we move into critical mass phase, we intend to layer on the scale to support our growth. That scale is about technical infrastructure, but it’s also about ensuring that every property owner and every prospective lodger has a great experience with us. We take our commitments seriously, so we recognize how important it is for us to deliver consistently great service.
Q: Any words of advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs? What’s next?
A: I’ll start with what’s next. Speech to text will be huge and that’s where our domain name is – again – so terrific. It’s easy to say to Alexa, or Siri or Cortana.
As for advice? Yes, two things! First, do what you love because you’ll need every ounce of enthusiasm and energy that you have, in order to succeed. Second, everything is much harder than you anticipate, but that’s actually okay, since you won’t discover that until it’s too late to quit. And as long as you’re passionate and enthusiastic, you can overcome the rough patches.