Going on holiday may be relaxing, but the organisation and planning behind it are far from. Next to multiple internet tabs comparing hotel prices and endless Google Maps print-outs, finding a great place to stay is integral to the success of your getaway. Not to mention the near-impossible task of finding a hotel that doesn’t feel too impersonal. But, asked founder of HouseTrip Arnaud Bertrand, what if there was an easy way to just holiday in someone else’s home?
And so HouseTrip, a private home rental platform that connects holiday makers to hosts, was born. We spoke to Arnaud about starting up a business with your spouse, the pulls of Silicon Roundabout and what it takes to hack it as an entrepreneur.
Tell me a little bit about your background in business before you launched HouseTrip. Is HouseTrip your first venture?
HouseTrip is indeed my first business venture, which I founded with my wife Junjun. I come from a hospitality background and started the company in 2009 after graduating from L’Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, Switzerland. The fact that neither of us have a tech background is unusual for a web start-up. But, I feel our hospitality experience translates into better knowledge about customer needs and satisfaction.
I understand that HouseTrip actually originated in Switzerland. Why did you choose to open an office in London?
London is a great hub for entrepreneurs and the start-up community. It’s big, it’s dynamic, it has a lot of people – both potential employees and customers, a strong economy and it’s one of only two or three genuinely global cities.
What I particularly love is that it’s always changing and businesses will always find different areas work for them. Silicon Roundabout is a cool hub for tech companies right now, but there are communities of start-up businesses all over London. We’re headquartered near Soho, and it’s a great place to be.
Based on your experience working in London, would you say it’s particularly difficult to start a business there?
In most ways, London is no more challenging than other major European cities. In fact, it has lots of advantages. It has strong leadership and a great infrastructure. We’ve also seen a lot of government backing for tech start-ups in London over recent years.
Of course, there are challenges. For example, the tech ‘ecosystem’ (companies, universities, organisations) is arguably weaker in London than, say, San Francisco or New York.
In addition, most of the great tech networking events tend to happen in the US, so it's a bit of a luxury for a start-up to stay involved in them. However, London (and Europe in general) is beginning to see more of these events, though they are mostly the Europe / EMEA version of a larger conference.
Why do you think HouseTrip has been so successful?
I do think it's our hospitality background that has helped us to succeed. Everything has always been about creating the best guest experience possible. We have a customer hotline which is manned 24/7 by a multilingual team to answer any queries, and we promise to rehouse anyone who isn't satisfied with their booking. It’s things like that which make us stand out.
Where did the initial inspiration behind HouseTrip come from?
We founded the company after a holiday in Edinburgh where we rented an apartment rather than a hotel. We loved the experience and the freedom but hated the process of booking the home. With our experience in the hospitality sector, we immediately saw that there was a commercial opportunity to bring a proposition that had existed for a long time – private holiday home rental – into the 21st century, and to put in place a smooth web-based experience for finding and booking quality homes for holidays in locations around the world.
What do you think is the most important trait in a successful entrepreneur?
A successful entrepreneur primarily needs a great vision in order to create a great business, and does so with a great team and great funding. We have all of those things. Our business is doing brilliantly well – we’re doubling in size every year. Our executive team has unrivalled experience – they’ve come from big, successful companies like Expedia, Google, Twitter and P&G. Our funding is strong and unique – we’re the only business to be backed by Europe’s three largest VC firms.
You co-founded HouseTrip with your wife, Junjun, and have managed to keep both the company and your marriage afloat. Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs looking to go into business with their partner?
We have a set of rules that we make sure we adhere to in order to make sure we are able to separate work and our private life. For example, we don't talk about work past a certain time in the evening and we make sure that we never have a public disagreement at work – if we have anything we need to discuss in more detail, we do it in private!
Feeling inspired to map out your start-up plans and take on Tech City? Whilst you don’t necessarily have to start-up your business with your spouse, it might be a good idea to take a look at some business start-up courses to get things into gear.