Last updated on June 27th, 2019 at 11:38 am
Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, Booking.com, Expedia…there is no shortage of competition in the world of private home rentals.
But those are just online booking intermediaries. Milwaukee startup FrontDesk aims to corner the market on professional home rental management.
“We are the boots on the ground that are actually meeting the guests, cleaning the units, furnishing the units, taking customer phone calls and text messages for customer service,” said Jesse DePinto, co-founder and chief growth officer. “We are the hospitality company.”
The company targets corporate travelers who want to stay in non-touristy, upscale neighborhoods, he said. FrontDesk gives guests an on-site contact they can text for assistance.
FrontDesk partners with property managers to outsource their guest suites, or may rent a floor of an apartment building as short-term corporate housing. And filling units on not just weekends, but also during the week is a key to FrontDesk’s success, said Kyle Weatherly, co-founder and chief executive officer.
Now operating 190 units in eight cities, with seven more cities on the docket this year, FrontDesk has undertaken a rapid expansion strategy. The company focuses on tier 2 U.S. cities, such as Milwaukee, Columbus, Ohio and St. Petersburg, Florida, DePinto said.
For one, tech companies including Facebook, Amazon and Salesforce are starting to locate offices in cities like Columbus and Indianapolis, he said. In addition, rents are lower in tier 2 cities, and FrontDesk’s largest cost is apartment rents.
“It’s helpful from a competitive standpoint. It’s more blue ocean,” he said. “What we are passionate about and what we understand best is the smaller city and especially the Midwestern rust belt type of culture.”
An in-house pricing department uses FrontDesk’s pricing algorithm to adjust rental rates dynamically based on market conditions, including special events happening in town – everything from a Justin Timberlake concert to the Democratic National Convention.
“We spend virtually nothing on marketing,” Weatherly said. “Our challenge to growth is more bringing supply online than it is generating more demand. We feel there’s latent demand for high-quality, well-located homesharing apartments.”
The startup recently launched a new website with updated branding to ramp up its direct-to-consumer marketing and originate more booking traffic, which cuts out the fees it pays to sites like Airbnb, DePinto said.
Leadership: Co-founders Kyle Weatherly, CEO, Jesse DePinto, chief growth officer and Alycia Doxon, chief operations officer
Headquarters: 1240 E. Brady St., Floor 2
What it Does: Corporate apartment rentals
Founded: January 2017
Employees: 60, about 16 of whom are full-time
Next goal: Expand to 15 cities by the end of 2019.
Funding: Raised $1 million seed round in October and $500,000 bridge round in March; Currently raising $3 million Series A.