How this Travel Startup Survived and Flourished during Covid-19
Feb 3, 2021
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? Fortunately, we’re all well. I’m working from home, and the kids are remote learning, so we’ve limited our exposure to the virus. Hopefully, the vaccine will be about soon, so we can get out again. Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Syncbnb. Alexander Caravitis: I started in the mid-’90s as a web designer/developer and gradually moved up to more managerial roles in various tech companies in Greece. In 2005 I joined Viva Group as a founding partner and stayed there for 10 years, helping to grow the company from 12 people to 200. I left in 2016, and one year later, I founded Syncbnb with my co-founder and CTO, Petros Ziogas. I started Syncbnb out of the necessity to solve my own problem, trying to synchronize calendars across multiple Short-term rental channels like Airbnb, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Vrbo, Expedia, and others. I tried many solutions what whatever was available was either too expensive or not reliable enough. That’s how Syncbnb was created. How does Syncbnb innovate? Alexander Caravitis: We are the only channel manager in the world that can synchronize ANY vacation rental channel, even the ones we’ve never heard about before. We have built a very sophisticated platform that allows us to plug into any channel in less than 48 hours and start syncing it in real-time, even if they don’t have an API. Because of this innovation, we were able to introduce an industry-first “Zero Double Booking Guarantee” that has earned us an impressive NPS score of 75 (last 12m average). We are also one of the very few channel managers that offer 24/7 fanatical customer support all year round. How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping? Alexander Caravitis: We took a substantial hit in March and April but had been growing steadily since. I expect we will reach February 2020 numbers in a few months. This is much better than what I feared back in March. There are 3 main reasons for that: 1) We are a low-cost subscription business, so most customers chose to keep it running just in case they get the odd booking here or there 2) Our customer base is spread across 80+ countries so even if one country was in lockdown we doubled down on the others and 3) The USA, our no1 market, grew even faster during the pandemic than what it did last year! The reason is simple: There was no country-wide lockdown, and people chose to travel to nearby places to ride out the local lockdowns, preferring Airbnbs over Hotels for obvious safety reasons. Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned? Alexander Caravitis: All founders have to make difficult decisions every once in a while. However, we were fortunate enough to have enough revenue to not have to let anyone go, so our whole team is onboard, preparing for a strong 2021. We have doubled training hours and have introduced new products during the pandemic that have increased our revenue and allowed us to invest in new people in all our departments to make sure we’re one step ahead of the competition when the market rebounds. How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Syncbnb in the future? Alexander Caravitis: Both my co-founder and myself have many years of experience in the fast-paced tech industry, which has allowed us to keep our composure during these rough times. Having gone through various rough spots in the past has helped us prepare for this storm too. Since we survived this as well as we did, I can only expect the next years to see us back to the explosive growth we had in 2019.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game? Alexander Caravitis: There are multiple companies in our space, but it’s a large enough market to fit us all. There are more than 10 million homes listed online, and this number is growing steadily, and less than 1/5 is using software to aid its operations, which means there is still a lot of room for us and our competitors to grow. Our strategy to win over the market is to keep doing what we do best: Offer the best possible experience and much-needed peace of mind to our customers. Paul Graham of Y Combinator famously said to the Airbnb founders, “It’s better to have 100 people that love you than a million people that just sort of like you”. We follow this mantra religiously. It’s paying off big time, with current customers bringing in new ones via word of mouth, allowing us to reduce marketing costs and invest heavily in the product. Your final thoughts? Alexander Caravitis: Like all storms, this one too shall pass. Those that manage to turn the crisis into an opportunity and invest in employee training and product improvement will come out of this stronger than ever. The recent huge success of the Airbnb IPO has shown that the STR industry is not only here to stay but will very soon surpass the $570Bn hotel industry because homes are not just much safer than hotels, but also more convenient and, in most cases, cheaper. Your website?