Nakul founded Airbnb management firm Hostmaker after studying hospitality at university. Four years in, he tells BQ what life is like now.
What is it the company does?
Hostmaker is the largest Airbnb management service in Europe. We manage peoples’ properties for short-term lets to take the stress out of being a short-term letting landlord and homeowner. The service includes everything from changing sheets and dropping off/picking up guests/keys, to helping with interior design, making property profiles more appealing to guests and establishing a pricing model to maximise income for the landlord. Our aim is to bring a five-star, Hilton level hotel experience to Airbnb lets.
What does your role involve?
As the founder, it is very much my responsibility to share our journey from the start with the newbies coming into the business, whether in junior or senior roles. The journey is what makes us unique and helps to set the guiding principles of decision-making within our culture. As CEO, I set the direction of the company and ensure that we maintain focus on the various aspects of the business that keep us not just ahead of our competitors but also ahead of our customers so we are pre-empting their needs and delivering beyond their expectations.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far? - Where did it start, how did it move on?
I graduated from university in 2005 with a degree in Hotel Management. My family were hoping that I might go into engineering but I fell into hospitality by accident and have never looked back. After university, I started a Graduate Management traineeship at Starwood Hotels in London, where I worked in Revenue Management.
I later took on the responsibility of being part of the hotel launch team, opening two hotels for the group in Dubai. Following this, I studied for an MBA in Marketing and Strategy and worked as Director of Commercial Strategy and Planning for the Intercontinental Hotels Group, which is when I co-wrote a paper on Airbnb, shortly before the idea of Hostmaker came to me. I continued to develop the idea, even testing it out on my own home to make sure the concept was viable, and since then I haven’t looked back.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I’m still figuring it out! There certainly isn't a formula to it (after having reading lots of business books). But rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in to solve problems and backing your team to succeed are critical to build trust and credibility.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Overcoming my own self-doubt and having had no experience of entrepreneurship myself or in my family’s past. It was a big risk - my wife and I put £50k of our own money into Hostmaker to get it off the ground and I quit my job at the end of January 2014 to focus solely on the business.
My big break came when only our second customer wrote a glowing one-page review on Airbnb which was seen by the company in San Francisco. Now firmly on their radar, I was invited to speak at their first host conference – which significantly helped funding efforts as a result.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I always aim to not let work define my life. It has, of course, been an integral part of my journey over the last three years, but it is a high-risk venture in the early years so I try and keep a dispassionate view. If it fails, it is not the end of the world. Other than that, I take long walks across Hampstead Heath and Regents park to clear my head.
When you were little, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Growing up, I was always having most fun with a racket in my hand - be it squash, tennis or badminton. I loved Andre Agassi's flamboyance and dreamt of being a tennis pro!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Phones not kept on silent in the workplace! Open plan offices haves their pros and cons. As a start-up, we can’t afford private cabins and quiet spaces. So, while everyone is trying hard to focus and be productive, loud ringing phones can be a major distraction. I am considering a penalty box for the offenders to put a £1 into each time their phone rings…
Where do you seen the company in five years?
We will continue to focus on our customer service delivery which is the fundamental reason why homeowners trust us with the management of their homes. Investing in dynamic pricing technology so that we can maximise earnings for homeowners is an important differentiator for us, as we continue to deliver earnings that are 50% higher-than-average and significantly better than our competitors. We will also be launching in new markets across Europe and beyond.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Focus on hiring and building a credible team around you that takes the business forward without you. Jack Ma from Alibaba has a great quote where he talks about building a business that lasts at least 102 years – a clear long term KPI! We should celebrate the little successes but always aim to create something meaningful that is more than a flash in the pan.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
As a Founder & CEO, there are many different stakeholders to manage on a daily basis - customers, suppliers, employees, and investors. I wish I had learned earlier on, that fundraising and operating a business are poles apart and these stakeholders require very different management abilities. Fundraising requires exciting potential investors about the future and getting them to part with their money to believe in your dreams. Running a business is very much about the here and now and focusing on the nuts and bolts.