STARTUP STAGE: Koala offers timeshare owners a marketplace to rent their properties


Koala

Koala is looking to disrupt the timeshare industry by providing owners with a platform to sign up and offer their units to travelers.

The Brooklyn, New York-based startup has just raised $3.4 million in funding.

Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.

Koala is the first and only secured and specialized marketplace designed completely for timeshare owners. Other timeshare rental platforms allow transactions to occur off the platform enabling fraud and erroneous booking circumstances.

Other vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO are designed for home rentals, not timeshares. We are the first and only fully secured and verified platform, fully specialized for timeshares. 

Location

Brooklyn, New York

Website:

https://go-koala.com

What is your 30-second pitch to investors?

There are more than 22 million timeshare owners globally, more than 60% of which struggle to use their time each year. Koala is a new vacation marketplace that empowers timeshare owners to rent their unused timeshare to vacationers in search of space, certainty, cleanliness and great value. 

Because Koala’s hosts are timeshare owners at popular resorts, we can verify that the listing placed on our platform is legitimate and accurate.

This cannot be done with home rental sites and does not get done for free on our competitors sites. Which means only 20% of the listings on sites like RedWeek are verified. The dates could be wrong, the unit could be wrong, or the listing could be fraudulent. 

Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.

Strengths:

  • 100% listing verification
  • Specialized for timeshares
  • Strong USP (hotel + home)
  • The first and only free listing platform
  • Superior owner-direct inventory
  • Verified listings & hosts
  • Instant bookings
  • Secured payments
  • Specialized for product
  • Proprietary IP

Weaknesses:

  • New Brand/Platform
  • No Trust or Brand Equity
  • No Data Collection
  • Time to build traction

Opportunities:

  • Market to broader travel consumer
  • Instant booking
  • Position for first global timeshare marketplace
  • Superior owner-direct inventory
  • High-demand weeks
  • Best in class customer service

Threats:

  • OTA’s have market leader advantage
  • OTA’s could pivot into timeshare inventory
  • Implement “exclusive” rental relationships with resort developers

What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?

Timeshare owners: millions of owners struggle to use or sell their timeshares for various reasons, yet must still pay hefty annual fees. Rental income easily enables them to pay their fees or go somewhere new. 

Travelers: Koala verifies every listing to ensure it’s a legitimate and accurate reservation.

The vacation rental market is rife with bait and switches and properties or booking that don’t meet expectations or worse, can place renters in precarious or dangerous situations.

As anyone can list any random home, it’s impossible to fully verify this marketplace and its hosts.

Timeshare rentals are uniquely positioned for post-Covid family and group travel. Today’s post-Covid world of travel will emphasize safety and cleanliness above all else.

Our resort partners and listings are all from trusted brands like Hilton, Marriott and Wyndham.

Furthermore, the brands have all released enhanced cleaning protocols clearly detailing how they are cleaning the rooms and the premises that guarantees cleanliness. Private vacation rentals simply cannot offer this level of guarantee and this provides great confidence to the traveler. 

So you’ve got the product, now how will you get lots of customers? 

For the supply: we are solving a huge problem for millions of timeshare owners. The biggest struggle is trust. We are creating content and messaging to alleviate these concerns over time and build trust. 

For the demand: we are also solving a pain point for families and groups that are looking for more certainty and cleanliness than a stranger’s home can provide.

We kick off our marketing campaign for the traveler, starting in August. First, PR then Facebook and Google Ads.

Timeshare rentals are uniquely suited for family travel in a post COVID world. No other vacation rental offers the comforts and space of a home and the professionally cleaned rooms and amenities by your favorite hotel brands.

When you combine owner direct pricing that is well below the resort’s price, you have a unique offering at a great price to build demand. 

Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.

Supply: 10 years of qualitative research in the timeshare space working for The Hilton Club. I (Mike Kennedy, co-founder and CEO) worked closely with owners and thoroughly understood their pain points and their needs.

People buy expensive ownerships and struggle to use them. Exiting or selling a timeshare can be challenging. A rental market will help them offset ongoing costs for a product they are no longer using.  

Demand: travelers want more certainty, especially in the wake of COVID.

Timeshare rentals are a known travel hack for their value, but today’s process for renting one on other sites is antiquated and insecure.

 We’ve done extensive research on the lack of certainty in the vacation rental market. Home rental sites struggle to ensure the product that is listed is real. As a result, there have been numerous ‘bait and switch’ scams or simply disappointed travelers for feeling “vacation catfished” because their expectations were not met. 

How and when will you make money?

Koala already has earned top line and bottom line revenue from bookings.

We earn an 8% percent commission from the owner on each successful transaction and 5% from each booking on the front end (traveler) however, the 3% credit card processing fee comes from this 5%. So we earn roughly 10% of each transaction from day one. 

What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team? 

Mike Kennedy, co-founder and CEO, has 10 years of experience as one of the top salespeople within Hilton Grand Vacations, working at The Hilton Club.

Understanding the pain points of these owners uniquely positions me for founder-market fit with Koala. Owning two successful restaurants in Brooklyn uniquely qualifies me as an entrepreneur with grit. 

James Burbridge, co-founder and COO, has 20 years of experience in the digital space and tech startups, leading multiple projects from the BBC iPlayer to team lead at Saatchi & Saatchi.   

What’s been the most difficult part of founding the business so far? 

Raising the Series A. It was challenging to convince travel investors that this was a market worth tackling, despite its multibillion dollar (and overlooked) market. 

Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact – so why are you going to be one of lucky ones?

Koala is a unique travel startup in that we are using technology to address the pain points of timeshare owners while simultaneously granting access for a global audience of travelers to access pristine, spacious resort suites and amenities at a fraction of the price.

A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?

To have found product-market fit for both supply and demand. We are inching towards it effectively on the supply end, and will begin campaigning the demand end soon. 

What is your end-game? (Going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)

Likely an acquisition. Once we tackle the larger exchange incumbent RCI in our later phase, then going public is a real candidate.

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