Breezeway’s Koryn Okey and VRMB Founder Matt Landau had the opportunity to catch up at this year’s Streamline Summit in Scottsdale, AZ. They dove into Koryn’s extensive background in the industry starting back in 2008, as well as her expertise in the vacation rental conference circuit. Want to learn how to make the most of a conference whether you’re a vendor, manager or attendee? Check out Matt and Koryn’s conversation below.
Matt: Let’s dig into your background a bit, how long have you been in the vacation rental space?
Koryn: Since 2008. Prior to joining the industry, I worked in advertising at a magazine for 5 years, and before that I sold paper, you know like Dunder Mifflin? I fell into the industry, I didn’t have any background in the VR space, but 11 years ago that all changed at FlipKey.
Matt: Explain what FlipKey was at the time for those who don't know.
Koryn: At the time, it was a very young start up that was specializing in online guest reviews for the vacation rental space. The founders of the company realized that guests were leaving all this great property information in guest books, but the problem with that is prospective renters didn't have the opportunity to view all of these great reviews ahead of booking. FlipKey provided a platform for managers to share that information digitally.
Matt: You were making the Trip Advisor for vacation rentals.
Koryn: Yeah, we were. Ironically enough Trip Advisor bought FlipKey in 2012.
Koryn: We were generating positive feedback about properties, while helping owners get more intel and visibility into what improvements needed to be made, and in turn making it easier for property managers to actually make those improvements. This led to positive reviews coming down the pipeline, which were closely followed by new guest inquiries. Not only were we covering the online review portion of the business, but we were also a listing site that helped travelers find vacation rentals and have access to reviews.
Matt: I was a member and used FlipKey to generate bookings for my vacation rentals in the early days, we got great results. So eventually you left FlipKey, what was next?
Koryn: I left in 2015. I actually left the vacation rental space for about a year and a half. I thought I was done, but I knew that leaving the industry hadn’t been the right move for me. Serendipitously at that same time, Jeremy (founder of FlipKey) called me, and asked what I was doing October 16th-18th. I looked online because the VRMA International Conference happens around the same time every year, and said I guess I'm going to VRMA - and that’s how this all started.
Matt: For those who don't know, summarize Breezeway from a high-level perspective.
Koryn: We’re an operations software helping folks with the back of house workload. There are so many platforms dedicated to front end logistics like reservations and online distribution. We’re taking it back to the basics by helping managers schedule field staff, coordinate housekeeping, inspections and maintenance, and really managing properties at a deep level. That lends itself completely to ensuring a great guest experience and maintaining the overall quality of properties.
Matt: I think what makes you really unique, is the amount of time that you’ve been in this space. You’ve seen a lot of change since the original FlipKey days.
Koryn: In any young industry there are peaks and valleys, and along with that, a ton of change that occurs. The development of online reviews really played a big part in the growth of the industry. Then Airbnb began, and that was huge. Now we're starting to see a major push to get back to the actual management of properties. Managers are differentiating themselves through services provided to homeowners and guests, and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how that continues to play out.
Matt: There are more products and services available to an independent owner or manager today than there have ever been before in the history of our industry.
Koryn: Absolutely, look at exhibit halls. I think the hall last year at VRMA was 30,000 square feet. We didn't use the entire space, but it was really packed.
Matt: Especially as it relates to conferences, what are some big ways that you think vendors are failing?
Koryn: What’s interesting is some people are not engaging outside of the exhibit booth. Of course, I'm not carrying around an iPad to demo Breezeway at the bar. The exhibit space is a huge opportunity to demonstrate your product, however a lot of business happens outside of that exhibit hall. I want to be very clear, this isn’t only about selling, but to help build relationships, friendships and have conversations.
Matt: I met someone who’s new to the vacation rental industry last night and they were asking “how can I take a shortcut in this whole networking process?” And I don't think there’s a way to do that.
Koryn: So much of this industry is making meaningful connections, and there’s no short cut for that. Don’t get me wrong, it's hard. I do not envy someone coming into the industry. For those in that situation, I would encourage them to keep trying, because it's so worth it and you’re going to build some great relationships.
Matt: Do you think that also makes it difficult for new businesses to enter this industry?
Koryn: Yeah, I think so. Unless you have the exact product fit at the right time, or you’re willing to pay your dues, you’re not going to get business. I think you have to be around and generate some recognition. Whether that means attending conferences (and not exhibiting) because it's a hefty investment to exhibit at these events, but going and getting to hear what managers are experiencing and what their challenges they are, I think that's super important.
Matt: That’s so valuable, being able to see first-hand the way people respond, and how they describe certain aspects of their business that you wouldn't otherwise be able to observe.
Koryn: Absolutely. When people interact with you in person, it piques their interest a little bit more, and increases their engagement.
Matt: As a conference goer, why is it important to attend these events? It's one thing to attend as a vendor. Of course, you want to get in front of all the right people, and potential clients. However, why should attendees invest thousands of dollars to go to these events?
Koryn: Hands down, this is the best opportunity to network with other managers. A perfect example, I was in line last night talking to someone and she happened to be sharing that they were building a laundry facility. The person in front of us turned around and said I'm also considering building a laundry facility, would you be willing to share your experience so far? The same exact instance occurred at a conference last month in Colorado. At the end of the day, everyone is doing the same job, right?
Matt: What is the best way that individuals can actually interact with the vendors? You’re on the other side of the table now, what are the questions you love to hear or the moments that the light bulbs go off for the people you’re working for?
Koryn: Engagement is really important at a conference, or just in conversations you’re having with people about the industry. From a vendor standpoint, there is nothing worse than walking through the product and doing a demo only to have someone staring at you not asking any questions or giving any emotion, that’s really hard.
Matt: So, this is kind of karma that both attendees and vendors can build up over the course of a conference, by striking up conversation and asking questions.
Matt: Do you think that this industry will continue to grow over the next 5 years?
Koryn: I don't think we’re going to see a decrease in vacation rentals any time soon. There are regulatory issues in many markets to consider, so we may see some limitations to where vacation rentals can be, but even so I really believe that we will continue to see the industry evolve and grow. Based on the amount of people who want to get involved in this industry, I think we're going to see a big focus on safety. Some (not all) of these regulation issues stem from concern regarding safety. If we can fight regulation with safety protocols, that’s what will be really helpful. There are good things to come for this industry.
Matt: Last question for you, what is your big wish for the vacation rental space?
Koryn: I would say patience. Whether it’s software, regulation, or growth of your business, things will never be perfect the first time around. Be patient, because like any evolving industry, there are going to be growing pains. Having the ability to wait and see how things play out, without making reactive decisions, will better serve you in the long run.
Matt: I love that. In fact, I think that applies to everyone, not just the vacation rental industry.
Koryn: And also that they all buy Breezeway, is that wrong to say?
Matt: No, that’s permitted, we’ll give you that. What gives patience an additional oomph is that the industry is moving in a great direction. Nobody would ever doubt that the industry’s momentum will continue to mount.
Koryn: People are very ready to make moves and changes, but my advice is to actually think through the decision-making process. The industry isn’t going anywhere.
Matt: Love that.