IGNITING THE SPARK with Henry Bennett, Founder of ‘Your Welcome’
“Talking to clients, is the part of my day I most look forward to. The thing you never want to get stuck in as a business is getting a great product, taking it to market and realising there isn’t a market fit for it.” - Henry Bennett, YourWelcome
‘YourWelcome’ is a disruptive software as a service business, designed to bring professional hospitality to those who let out their homes and rooms via popular websites such as Airbnb.
Their innovative software enables hosts to pre-record welcome videos, instruction guides for their homes and text instructions for their guests. They can add tips and recommendations for the local area and turn rental stays into guest experiences at the click of a button.
The moment that ignited the spark in me was…
The business was started by myself and my business partner Paul Loram. We had previously set up and sold a mobile app agency in October 2014, so we were looking for our next project.
At the time, I was living in an old house on the South Bank, where they filmed a lot of period dramas, which was the main appeal. I decided to rent the house out, yet despite the appeal of the property, guests were often frustrated by the old-fashioned amenities.
I was inundated with phone calls for all sorts like, ‘how do you light an open fire?’ and ‘how do the back doors work?’ So I recorded a series of videos on my tablet, to show how things worked and to answer most of the questions I would normally receive.
When I got back and looked at the tablet, guests had been using it to search for places to eat breakfast, go for dinner etc. This was interesting, as most people have their own smart devices, but they still used my tablet because I’d left it there for them.
This is where the idea began: a device placed in rental properties as a communication tool, which sells a series of services underneath it.
In the traditional model, hotels make up to 40% of their money from anything other than selling rooms; room service, bar tabs, gym sessions. This is completely different to the Airbnb model, where 100% of the revenue is selling rooms.
YourWelcome went live on 1st May 2016, giving hosts the ability to sell services or money saving offers to their guests, as an added value service.
We’re helping to turn host recommendations in to guest experiences, rather than the guest doing all the work to find out where they want to go and how to get there.
Our model works in synergy with companies such as Airbnb, and it’s a huge market. But there is also a lot of short term let properties that aren’t Airbnb.
The thing that’s most surprised me since we started our business is…
The halo of Airbnb. Because of the association with Airbnb, our business has a glow and it’s made it a more exciting prospect for people, as it connects the two ideas together.
The toughest challenge I’ve faced is…
Going from two of us to nine of us in the team in six weeks has been fairly tough!
London is a hard place to recruit because there is a lot of quite interesting tech companies and start ups, so the competition for talent is high. We’re quite lucky because we are based in Second Home (a creative accelerator). It’s a ‘silicon valley-esque’ tech hub – attractive because it’s what people think that working for a start-up should look like.
An even more exciting challenge - we’re about to launch in Paris!
I think in this type of business capitalises upon the momentum of the moment. Airbnb is hot, people are making money from it and there is a lot of buzz of how you can monetise your home as an asset rather than just living in it. For this reason, our timing is great.
The reality of this type of business is that first to market is pretty much everything. If anyone else comes to market, hosts won’t get the same thing again.
My biggest success has been…
We signed a global serviced apartment company, which has 100,500 apartments, and signing a company so large pre sign up is great!
It’s a lot of pressure but I think it’s good for a small company to work with clients that range in size and expectation. Our bigger clients will require extras, so we get to expand what we do.
I’m very good at…
I’m good at communicating our product to our customers. Although my role is showcasing my product, it’s different from a sales pitch. The way we put our message across is strong, the proposition is framed as something that everyone can understand quite quickly.
We split our roles out to ensure we are doing what we are most skilled at. My business partner Paul manages the team, product development and processes and I do the business development, design and fundraising, which is a really good mix.
The type of person I look to recruit into my organisation is…
It’s a case of looking at what’s more important – a person who buys in to the vision and who will work hard and is good at their job, or someone who won’t buy in to the vision but is unbelievable at their job.
You’ve got to find someone who is a good fit, but also who is going to help you drive the business.
All of our staff are prepared to see and think in the same way as we do.
Working for a start-up can be difficult for people, so unless they believe in you as a founder they’re not going to enjoy it. On the other side, if you’re working in a company growing rapidly, you feel like you are part of that. It’s hard to make an impact if there are layers and layers of managers.
The part of my day that I most look forward to is…
Talking to clients, is the part of my day I most look forward to. The thing you never want to get stuck in as a business is getting a great product, taking it to market and realising there isn’t a market fit.
So we put it in to properties within four weeks of development because we wanted to get that feedback early. We’re pretty big advocates of talking to customers early as we can.
We have two types of clients; the hosts and their guests. They both have the same vision “I want to have an enhanced stay.” So we try and talk to both sets. A serviced apartment company will have a different set of criteria to an individual, but for both customer service is absolutely paramount, they want to ensure everything is smooth for their customers as soon as they arrive.
If I could give my 18-year old self a piece of advice, it would be…
Relax a little more, you’ve got a long time to get old!!
Finding a work life balance is quite important early on. It’s something that Britain struggles with as a culture. They’re not as young as 18, but the younger members of our staff are stricter than I ever was. They are a lot more focused.
Outside of work, you can be found…
I have three kids, so I’m normally found spending time with them and my wife.
My philosophy on life is…
‘Doing is important.’
If we have an idea we try and act to a level on it, we want to see if it will work. If in a week or so we haven’t got time for it, or find it doesn’t fit our vision, then we leave it. Action is a good way of eliminating what isn’t going to work.
If I was asking the questions of other entrepreneurs I would want to know…
How concerned is everyone else with the fundraising market over the next year?
When we raised our first investment we had a lot of options, though people are starting to think that might change very shortly. I’m not too concerned as we’re about to do another fundraising round now.
I’d also like to know where you can get an office in London that’s nice but not massively expensive!!
What do you like about working with Ignition?
Their impressive turn-around time in getting things done. As a start-up, everything is very last minute – so having lawyers that respond to that and get things done in the time-frame is great!