When Randy Engler and his wife started renting out their two homes using Airbnb, they soon realized it was hard to provide a high level of hospitality to their guests, especially while away. Engler, who has a background in Internet companies and an enthusiasm for the sharing economy, saw an opportunity: build an online service that takes care of cleaning, key exchange, and other rental logistics. The company he created, Proprly, supports rental markets for Airbnb (which yesterday gained an important regulatory victory on behalf of the sharing economy), HomeAway, and VRBO in NYC and Brooklyn. Techonomy interviewed Engler via email about his startup story.
How does Proprly work?
Proprly is cleaning and key-drop services for Airbnb hosts. Proprly deploys its staff of housekeepers (trained in high-end hotels) to make sure a host’s home is ready for their guests and a team of couriers to ensure guests get a set of keys and arrive safely to the apartment. This includes leaving guest welcome gifts and restocking apartment supplies.
How did you end up starting an ancillary service to Airbnb?
My wife and I had been renting our apartment in the West Village and our second home in Maine on Airbnb and Homeaway for a few years with great success. Eventually the volume of bookings we received through Airbnb far outstripped our ability to efficiently manage logistics around the cleanings and keys.
Even though we had two cleaners on call, more often than not they weren’t available last-minute (which is the nature of Airbnb bookings). Since we were generally out of town, we weren’t able to do the cleaning ourselves. Additionally, we’d leave a set of keys at our local laundromat, or with the Starbucks barista—neither of which were safe, secure, or reliable.
I knew there must be a better way to do this and there must be more people out there like me who needed a service like this. I also knew from my experience managing eBay’s 3rd party platform that there was a huge opportunity in supporting/enabling the ecosystem around a large marketplace like Airbnb or eBay.
I am also like Rain Man when it comes to cleaning. I see dust and dirt where most people don’t. We believe there is no compromising what clean means for guests in someone’s home. Its binary—either it’s clean or it’s not. Same standard as you would have in any nice hotel. I am perfectly suited to the role.
Why do feel so strongly about peer-to-peer digital marketplaces?
The peer-to-peer market offers the consumer a way to “unlock” or free up valuable, idle assets. While there is nothing new about renting one’s home, technology has enabled consumers to access a stream of massive amounts of demand, and offer a broad category of items to other consumers (e.g., homes, cars, boats, tools, etc.) that until now couldn’t be tapped easily and efficiently.
I guess we’ll have to stop calling them consumers. What other goods and services do you think may emerge from the peer-to-peer marketplace movement?
I’m seeing services like ours becoming more and more important. The most interesting companies popping up are the ones that really help the consumer more easily manage the flow of transactions across their portfolio of “shared assets”.
I see opportunities for companies that fill in gaps in the space, much like Paypal did for eBay 15 years ago. One good example of a new company is 1099.is. It launched to help P-to-P consumers understand the tax implications of sharing transactions. There will be more coming I am sure.
Do you see an ecological element in the emerging “sharing economy”—could sharing resources cut down on wasteful production and consumption?
I think that depends on who you talk to. For example RelayRides’ site states that “…every vehicle shared takes 14 vehicles off the road.” If things play out the way they are with Airbnb, I am sure we will start seeing savvy consumers begin to buy extra vehicles just to rent them.
We’ve seen a trend with Airbnb hosts who are picking up multiple properties in NYC, Paris, London, and San Francisco just to rent them. While the green angle is something to consider and track, I’m not convinced the consumption curve changes that much, at least for the next few years.
Do you think that the Internet as a tool tends to spread certain values?
The Internet spreads transparency, which I think is the basis for establishing trust. If we are creating more transparency and trust, then yes, perhaps we are spreading values.
Sharing, trading, borrowing—all of these things happened before the Internet. Is the difference now that it happens on a mass scale?
Yes. Scale and volume are what drive market forces. For example, renting out one’s home isn’t a new concept. People have been “sharing” their space through sites like HomeAway and VRBO for a dozen years, and through classifieds in the paper and town bazaars before that. The Internet has just opened everything up, and for our generation unleashed a kind of consumption hyper-drive.
Talk about reputation’s role in online commerce? Do trust networks function differently than for brick-and-mortar commerce?
Reputation is equally important online and offline. Our world seems to run best when trust, tolerance, and transparency are valued. Pierre Omidyar said it best when asked how he built eBay and the amazing community of buyers and sellers that drove the business. He said his premise was “people are basically good.” It might seem to be a scary notion to build one of the world’s largest marketplaces on, but it’s also a powerful statement about people. It sets the tone for the entire process, and puts the foundation firmly on trust. Trust in our digital community is now powering Airbnb, Lyft, etc. Technology has provided a tool for more transparency.
What’s your craziest Airbnb story?
I wish I had one. It’s been smooth sailing (knock on wood) so far, which is the way it should be I suppose.