Airbnb, VRBO and Homeaway are familiar names to savvy travelers, who are flocking to sites that allow them to book stays in private residences, often at lower prices than the cost of a hotel.
Now, the sharing economy is creating a side industry: companies that help home owners wishing to participate, but who want someone else to do the work. One such company is Pillow, the brainchild of co-founder and CEO Sean Conway.
His fledgling company, previously called Airenvy, specializes in on-demand property management. “I loved what Airbnb was doing, allowing people to live in different areas and cultures,” he told me. “It allows people to have new experiences. I wanted to help facilitate that by creating supplemental income for people and help make travel more affordable.”
There are more than 300 million primary and 7 million secondary homes in the United States, with 1 million being rented now, said Conway. “Our goal is to get six million of these homes online and make it hassle free,” he said.
Pillow began with rentals in the San Francisco area, as well as Los Angeles and other parts of California.The company hopes to expand to 10 cities in the next year.
A Pillow representative meets with a homeowner to document the home, said Conway. “We spend an hour getting it online into our central database, then broadcast it out to rental sites like Airbnb,” he explained. “From there, we facilitate the reservation, from booking to 24/7 service and make sure it’s clean for the next guest. We want to make short-term rentals hands free for clients.”
Pillow has created technology that allows homeowners to synch up with potential renters, said Conway. “The customer has a central calendar and says `I’ll be gone for a week.’ The sooner we know the better, because we can get you the best rate possible,” he said. “You have full control of your calendar. We get you the most exposure possible.”
Currently, Pillow can synch its calendar with that of VRBO. It does not yet have a partnership with Airbnb, but it is exploring that idea, he said.
In January, the San Francisco Business Times reported that Pillow had raised $2.65 million in fresh funding. Conway said Pillow’s income is derived from a 15 percent commission from each rental. He said other management companies take a 30 to 50 percent commission, which leaves homeowners wondering whether they will make any money from renting out their homes.
Airbnb has done great job of making this a mainstream way to travel and to help people supplement their income, said Conway. “We’ll become more popular. People find us through different means, but mostly by word of mouth,” he said. “If owners were to do this themselves, it’s like a part-time job. If we can do this and allow people to go on with their daily lives, we’ve done our job.”