The Big Idea Behind the 'Airbnb for Entrepreneurs'
Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a $240 million owner and operator of boutique hotels, once shared his method for giving each of his hotels a distinct identity. "Every single time we've created a hotel, it's been based upon a magazine and five words," he said at an Inc event few years ago. "Because magazine publishing and boutique hotels have something in common: They're both niche- and lifestyle-oriented."
The concept is to connect with people not just demographically, but psychographically. For example, at the Hotel Avante in Mountain View, California, which Joie de Vivre built in 2000, Conley's psychographic idea was based on Wired and these five words: creative, techie, visionary, iconoclastic, and smart. The Avante was a smash with Google, which at the time was a young company. Today, Google gives this hotel 10,000 room-nights a year--not bad, for a 91-room hotel.
All of which is instructive--if you're in the hotel business. The thing is, it's 2014. The so-called sharing economy is in full effect. How do you apply Conley's wisdom in an era where more travelers are turning to services like Airbnb, in lieu of traditional hotels?
A family in Fort Collins, Colorado, is hoping to do just that.
A B&B for Entrepreneurs
Conley's branding concepts come to mind when you read about Launch Haus Manor, the name that the Chris and Brianne Snook have given to the beta version of their B&B startup, which opened this month. Here's Adrian D. Garcia's superb profile in The Coloradoan:
Chris and his wife, Brianne, are already offering guests access to their kitchen, wireless Internet and community pool at a rate of $79 per night ($10 for each additional person), but the main draw is that their B&B allows entrepreneurs to stay somewhere where everyone shares a common interest, Chris Snook said. "What makes it uniquely different is (that) who's going to be staying here is going to be like you (if you work with a startup)," he said. "The common thread isn't that they need a place to crash that night while they're in town; the common thread is they're in town driving a business--or interested in building one--and want to be around other people like that."
The Snooks' idea is fascinating on several levels. For one thing, as Garcia points out, Fort Collins has a national reputation as an innovation and technology hub. Last month, Galvanize, a community workspace specializing in hosting entrepreneurs and startups, announced that it would be opening in Fort Collins next year. (Galvanize's Denver offices are currently home to Hyprloco, whose founder, Nic Gray, Inc recently profiled.)
In addition, the opening of Launch Haus Manor invokes a larger question about what's next for the sharing economy: Is it ripe for segmentation? For example, right now, Airbnb and Lyft and Uber serve broad swaths of the consumer population. If you have the money, you can use them. But is it possible a next generation of companies will come along, to target specific segments of the consumer population? (To some extent, this has already happened in the crowdfunding space.)
For example, right now, if you wanted to couch-surf, you'd probably go to Airbnb or one of its competitors. But if you're an entrepreneur in Fort Collins, might it be preferable to crash at Launch Haus Manor? The Snooks' beta B&B nails a sweet spot: It's still cheaper than a hotel, yet you get to network with other business travelers--just as you would if you stayed in a hotel.
Selling More Than Sleep
Of course, Airbnb remains a great option if, as a traveler, what you're mostly looking for is a place to crash.
But in the same way that it's vital to define your company by its capabilities rather than its products, you need to consider what a hotel really brings to the table. Sure, for some customers, it's just a room to sleep in. But for others--such as the business travelers the Snooks are targeting, or the Google guests that the Hotel Avante has accommodated--a hotel is selling more than that. It's selling networking. It's selling the chance to meet someone who can help your company grow.
Consider the experience of the Snooks' first guest. As Garcia reports, his name is Fynn Glover, founder of the outdoor recreation website RootsRated.com. "It was different because you had somebody who understands startup people and wants to help," Glover told Garcia.
Yes, it's arguable that most business travelers will still prefer conventional hotels. But Launch Haus Manor makes you wonder what's possible if a sub-niche of the sharing economy opens up, providing entrepreneurs with both discount rates and the networking perks of the hotel experience.
Conley has always been aware that hotels sell more than sleep. "What I started to see is, if we were getting it right, we weren't just creating a lodging experience," he observed. "We weren't just 'selling sleep,' which is something Bill Kimpton used to say.
"We were instead creating an experience that actually was somehow embracing people's aspirations for how they saw themselves."