In this episode, we talk to Pedro Gancho, founder of a company called Inlife, and learn how he managed to spot an opportunity in the market and develop an innovative platform for mid-term rentals. We learn how he manually validated the idea with paying customers before investing in technology that has enabled his business to scale and automate.
Hi. My name is Matthew Todd, and welcome to Inside the ScaleUp. This is the podcast for founders, and executives in tech, looking to make an impact and learn from their peers within the tech business, we lift the lid on tech businesses, interviewing leaders and following their journey from startup to scale-up and beyond covering everything from developing product market fit, funding and fundraising models to value proposition structure and growth marketing.
We learn from their journey so that you can understand how they really work, the failures, the successes, and the lessons along the way so that you can take their learnings and apply them within your own startup or scale up and join the ever-growing list of high growth UK SaaS businesses. Hey, welcome back to the podcast pleased today to be joined by Pedro Gancho, CEO of a company called Inlife. Great to have you on the podcast today.
Hi, Matt. Thanks for having me.
No worries, no worries, great to talk to you today. Looking forward to the conversation and to finding out a bit more about your journey and background. To kick things off, can you give people a brief into who you are, and what it is that you do at Inlife.
So Inlife started back in 2015 from a concept called the Housing Trip. I I was doing my masters, I’m a business guy. So I was doing a master’s in business administration. I was living in Canada at the time. I had this idea. It was a simple concept called the Housing Trip.
So basically, at the time, you had two options, either you would go by yourself, and a lot of people were still doing that. So they would move to the New City find a hotel or like for a few days, and they will try to reach out directly to landlords like through those open websites in these pages to an end to try to make visits and find out about the the properties by themselves or with the help of some like real estate like broker like traditional agencies in the spot.
The other side, which was getting started but are already like more famous was like you could book a flat right away online and pay for it like you pay upfront. And you get on the get the landlord the contact details after the you paying either the first month’s rent plus the booking fee or the whole state. So these were the two the two models at the time.
Housing Trip came in the middle, bringing the best of both worlds. So you would register at a website that I’ve created. At the time, very simple, it was like filling it was a form basically, where he would say, okay, I have an 800 Euro budget, and I want to room with a balcony near this university. This was very focused on international students. It was our main target at in the beginning.
So after this, as soon as you arrived in, it started in Lisbon. So only in Lisbon, Portugal. So they you would come to the city. There was an operator who would take you by car to visit three properties, which were like the most similar to what you’ve presented in previous form generators. So this was obviously logistically very demanding because you were basically coordinating in between three different landlords. Because the operator, I mean, these were sold as a trip.
So in a very short amount of time and with the help of a professional operator, you’d get to visit this these three places on the spot, ask all the questions you want and get all the support. This would become like a social event also, because you would be combined in a group in the same car or several cars with students.
From the multiple students potentially interested in the same property.
Exactly. They would all arrive the same week. That’s also important because according to the university schedule, because specific universities would start like in specific dates, so everybody from that school would arrive that week. So it was pretty easy to manage.
To get them together, you’d pay for this trip to you’d pay at the time 25 euros to get access to the store. And then if you want it if you’re happy with the flats that you one of the flats that you visited, you’d pay like the booking fee to get to get that one. That’s how it started basically.
Sounds pretty tricky. I can see definitely see the need for it, but it certainly doesn’t sound very scalable in terms of logistics or getting people. Also, it sounds very seasonal in terms of focusing on universities when they have their intake.
Yeah 100%. Because like it was happening for the academic calendar, it’s like two semesters, it was starting September and then February. So the intakes for the rest of the year to basically be finding properties. But it is was like no investment concept. So it was basically the only thing I did was a website in weeks. I finished my master’s, and started working for a consulting company that year just to get some money, etc. But I was doing the website after my job. I was there very few times. So I was there for 10 months.
Then I gave my resignation letter right away, because I was having so much interest in the service because I did zero marketing also, so zero investment. I just basically prepared a presentation to send to the schools. To a few business schools in Lisbon, they sent it out to their incoming students.
We started receiving a lot of requests from people and serious requests, like, ‘I arrive on the 31st of August and I come with my two with my parents, can they also join and they come in vehicles’. So I had to design a price for if you would bring someone else that was not looking for accommodation, but was occupying a place in the vehicle. So it basically started then.
I started prospecting and then I needed the properties. So at first, I had zero properties, then I had a lot of registration. So I basically stopped, I gave my resignation letter, then started finding the properties to lease for these types of students. Because there had to be furnished flats, had to be well connected to transportation.
That’s really interesting. How many were curious, and we mentioned that model wasn’t terribly scalable. But it sounds like there was some pretty decent numbers behind it still to allow you to quit your job and how many viewings, how many students, how many trips were you running at the peak?
We were running each trip up to 20 students per trip. So it was like, four to five cars a week. So I was basically asking friends or colleagues to help me with this because I also didn’t expect it like to grow so much. So I was having a lot of people there. Every day, we would run two or three housing trips.
So some days, we could have like 40 to 50 people joining the Housing Groups. Obviously, it was very seasonal. Let’s say five weeks of peak, then it immediately started decreasing. We even stopped doing that. So we would close registrations because then we started doing other stuff. It was only me, it was myself alone. Then I had the help of other people. But it was very interesting, because it opened doors for one of my businesses today, which is the property management business.
Most of my days, when when it was not like Housing Trip season, were best for talking to brokers like real estate agencies, landlords, big property, or portfolio managers and property owners. So I got access to several interesting properties and launched the different model like long-term leases, which we covered the rent for them to furnish the flats. But with time, the beginning was there because I found the need. I discovered this pain point.
Because a lot of people didn’t have the time to manage these flats, they had these big units like 200 square meters, 250 square meters, which is very common in Lisbon, that becomes an eight-bedroom co-living flat nine-bedroom, 10-bedroom, 11-bedroom.
It requires some expertise and some degree of knowledge to manage it. It was a line of business that we developed. That allowed us to fund the tech company that we’re actually here to talk about.
Sounds like quite a journey then. So you ended up you know, finding a problem that you could solve, with that quite manual thing that then opened up the network and the opportunities to a property business that is now funding the tech. Sounds like quite a complimentary kind of building set of businesses and opportunities and business skills as well I guess.
Yeah, so basically, the dots started connecting until what the model is today. What allowed us to scale was basically shifting this housing trip model to a live video call model. It was obviously very hard to scale, right? You need a lot of people, you need a lot of cars. We even started doing it in two other cities in Portugal. So we had people in Porto, people in Coimbra. I always knew this was not a scalable model. At that moment I decided, okay, I want to make this like an international company international business. I need to shift the model here and find a way to make it work for everybody anywhere else in the world.
But the challenge here is like, we don’t want to become like any other platform that they just present pictures, descriptions, or recorded videos, and then you need to pay for the fat. So that way, you’re just creating a platform, like a few others that were already in the market.
So, how do you stop sending people to the flats and making the visit yourself and make it a scalable model without losing this personalized touch that raised so much interest in from the beginning. So basically, we shifted to not recorded calls with live video calls.
At the first moment, they were paid video calls. So we could develop the first versionof our tech platform where you could pay online, send booking requests. You always had two actions that you could make on the platform. To send sent booking requests, or send visit requests. So each property would have these two because for some people, they were happy enough with the pictures, they just wanted to get it straight away. So we also didn’t want to put a constraint for those guys. So we had these two services. So you could ask for a visitor to book it right away.
In the first version, you would pay for a video call. We would send someone there with the phone for cloud quality assurance. But obviously, the landlord had to go there to open the door for our agents, etc. So this was like a transition period until we reached what we actually wanted, which was a totally open model, where the landlord and tenant are all talking inside our platform.
So it became like it’s free. Nowadays, you can request a live video call for free. We made it a powerful sales tool for the landlords too. So every landlord or property manager can present their properties like in a webinar, so you’d basically choose a visit calendar.
Then you have this Co-living building, these residents in six-bedroom shared flats, and you have a few units to sell. In 10 to 15 minutes, you can show the property to a lot of people, one that’s in Japan and another one in Brazil, and another one in the US. So it becomes a very powerful sales tool for the landlords and calls, everything happens inside our platform and calls are recorded.
What we do on our sales team is basically upon request, if requested we join the call one of our operators for translation purposes. Because we have some landlords in Italy in Spain in Portugal that do not speak good English, they’re not comfortable speaking. So it would be a challenge presenting a property to a guy that’s in Japan or in Australia, or somewhere else. So basically, the thing that that we do is when needed, our operators join, but the landlords have a how-to guide also because we want to keep the quality of the visits. What is very interesting is the verification of the premises or the real estate itself, because it’s an unedited video.
The most important thing is the social part that comes because we’re talking about shared flats, co-living units a lot of times and people actually want to know the community to see like who they’ll be sharing the spaces with. Is it other international students? Is it locals? Are they workers, or interns? It’s very powerful because in 15 minutes or less, you can get a lot of local information on the spot about everything that will happen and you will have like all the information you need to be 100% confident when you go to send a booking request right away after the call.
It’s quite a powerful model. So you’re solving the location problems for the people looking for accommodation, but then from the landlord’s perspective, you are giving them a pretty powerful sales tool that they can do not one-to-one, but in a group setting. So it’s time efficient for them. But I guess there’s also a bit of kind of scarcity mindset as well then for the students booking the accommodation if they can see that they there are other people looking at this property as well that they’re motivated to make a decision, I assume.
Yeah, that’s totally true. It happens. Because if there are only two units available in an apartment, or even one, it’s a studio unit, that’s it. There are four guys in the call, and it definitely raises this sense of okay, as soon as this call ends, I’ll send an instant booking request so they can get accepted right away.
So is that something you see pretty commonly that the actual time from call to making a booking request is pretty short?
Yeah, it’s short. In more than 90% of the cases, it’s the same day it happens. It can work also work in the reverse way. So if the property is not well maintained, imagine that you have great pictures. But those were taken 10 or 8 years ago, and now the premises are actually not looking like they were or the furniture changed. It’s in a poorer condition, let’s say.
So basically, you are attracting potential tenants, they are scheduling, and requesting to visit your property, but then you have a low conversion rate, because actually, they were interested in a different type of decoration, they wanted something modern. So obviously it can work working the reverse way also for the landlord. That’s the goal of our platform – maximum transparency.
You get a real honest perspective of what it looks like because it’s live video. When it came to launching that, and then, growing the number of landlords, as well as people looking for accommodation, how did you approach that? Did you naturally still have more people looking for accommodation than landlords? Did you have to work on both sides to build them up? How did that look like in terms of initial expansion?
Something we found out very early in our business is that this is a business model that works in big cities. So it needs to be cities where there’s a lot of companies a lot of expats, a lot of mobility, a lot of universities, a lot of international students. So this is where our model, our platform is more needed for both sides. Because it’s very small cities for example, landlords feel that they do not need us because the offer is much more fragmented, so you have very small landlords that have like an easy time managing their visits. So they have like very few units. They feel like they don’t need to pay a commission to a professional platform to deal with this. They prefer to do it the old-school way, they’ll do the ad on a free platform or just on Facebook groups, and talking directly to the tenant doesn’t involve a lot of time.
We purposely chose cities where we knew there was a lot of supply because there are two rules for our platform, one on the supply side of the offer, which is furnished flats. So you can only find furnished flats like ready-to-move-in on our platform. The other rule is a minimum stay of one month for tenants. So cities with a lot of tourist activity are not our goal because we are not going for short-term stays, the weekend stays. We can get away with its minimum stay of one month so we always take these two factors into consideration when we choose a new city where we want to open. In the cities we are in usually, the market has typically more demand than supply.
As you know, it’s very hard to find good accommodation or accommodation in the big European cities and capitals. So there are always supply constraints and there’s always a lot of people wanting to move to live in the city center. So most of our sales teams are working with the landlords. So getting the value proposition for property managers and for landlords, because even small landlords in big cities are interested in this service because it’s much harder for them than in a small city to go there for visits. They value their time in a different way.
We work not only with b2b like student residences co-living in the big portfolios of property managers, but also with the small landlord that has like these two-bedroom apartments in the city. So we can work with small bedrooms in shared flats, and premium studios, so we don’t make constraints on the supply side.
The challenge then is, we don’t require exclusivity deals. So the landlord can list at Inlife, and can be listed also on other platforms. Then the challenge is, who sends the booking requests first because most of these landlords are interested in having high occupancy rates, at the best possible prices. So they want to have a lot of visibility, and then they will accept the faster you send them the tenant. So this is also the challenge, we have a very strong value proposition on the tenant side. Because they see the value in it, it’s a unique service in Europe, and it’s a totally different way of approaching it. They see the value, it’s very self-explanatory.
But for the landlords, they just want to get the tenants as fast as possible, with or without a video call. So we try to make it the simplest, in the fastest possible channel. We make it easier to make these video calls because we know it’s time-consuming for them. So we try to shorten the process.
Product-wise, we’ve been developing a lot of new features and reframing the whole experience and journey so that it’s so easy for them. Even the cleaning lady, the current tenant, and anybody with a smartphone can easily join the link and show the property and our guys take care of the other part, explaining and clarifying that.
I can see how on the tenant side, the value is pretty clear and unique. But as you say the landlords aren’t just interested in one thing, which is getting people signed up in the door on a lease, however, they can as quickly as they can. I can see that you need to provide some clear value.
For sure. Lenders, one of the things that they value the most is their time. So if you manage 2000 units, the last thing you want is a process that will require a lot of manual involvement where you need to take a lot of time changing prices and changing availabilities.
Our product teams work every day to simplify this whole experience. Our main concern is their time because obviously, prices will depend on the market. It’s always the landlord’s responsibility to change prices and availabilities, but our major goal is to optimize their time.
When a tenant does sign up with a landlord, what’s the platform’s involvement at that stage? Do you then hand everything over to the landlord? Are you kind of involved during that tenant’s stay at the property and extending leases and those kinds of things as well?
The standard process would be the tenant pays the first month’s rent to Inlife. We transfer this amount to the landlord 24 hours after the moving date. So a 24-hour window to say everything is okay, if they present a complaint that something is wrong, we will hold that payment. It goes to customer support and we start to validate and analyze this. If this is a justified complaint, and the tenant is right, we give a full refund to the tenant and try to replace the property right away. So this is our promise.
After the 24 hour, if everything is okay, we transfer the first month’s rent to the landlord, and then the future payments. So imagine that it’s a 10-month contract. The next security deposit, and the following payments are done directly tp the landlord. What we do is if there’s this problem, we always advise the landlord to protect himself with the security deposit, the last month rent. It’s a very simplified rental process. So no bank grantors.
So this is like the mid-term rentals market, it’s supposed to be if you want it to be quick and fast, we cannot be waiting for the bank to give permission to become like a grantor to gather all the paperwork. Because sometimes that’s the issue because we’re talking about people that come from abroad, they don’t have all the documentation prepared for the traditional lease. Obviously, it raises some concerns on the landlord’s side – what if this guy stops paying rent? So they have these tools to protect themselves. Also on our website, when the booking was accepted and confirmed, the tenant agreed to specific terms and conditions. So the landlord is also protected by those. The service can stop being provided if they are not because it’s a contractor agreement, it’s a service that each landlord deals with according to their preference and legal advice and depending also on the on his structure, but most landlords treat it as the same level, it’s not a rental agreement. So they are providing the service like a hotel, it’s more on this side. So it also falls into different categories like to stop the lease or stop the contract. What we do in those cases also supports both sides. According to the terms and conditions of the platform, everything is very clear.
Yeah, that sounds really good. It certainly sounds like there’s a very high kind of quality mark that you’ve placed on that service. I can see that by focusing on that midterm rental model, it does allow you to put in place those terms or conditions but also the tools that are very tailored to that. So, it’s not like Airbnb where you can stay for a couple of nights if you wanted to. But it’s also it’s not like a multi-year thing as well. But that midterm kind of duration and remote model I guess all combined to what sounds like a pretty compelling package but also something was pretty unique as well.
It’s something that’s growing a lot in the last few years, and there’s a lot more investment and professional investment in these areas for the co-living student residents and providing professional services for midterm states.
Not only for short-term states, and we definitely are here as a prop-tech. We are here to support both sides in making it as transparent as professional and we know this market will tend to grow, for sure, because people want flexibility.
I can see how making it professional is definitely a big game-changer. I can see how the technology can enable that level of professional service. So I guess the question then is what’s next for Inlife? If you’ve proven this model, you’ve got that working pretty well in a few cities. How do you see the expansion going forward? Internationally?
That’s a good question, Matt, because we obviously still have some issues to solve, some on a product level, it’s not like at the final stage, I guess it never is. 2023 is still gonna be a very fast end of the year for us in terms of product development, we’ve just launched a new version of the landlord’s app.
Because we like the native apps, and we’ve just launched a few new features. For example, potential tenants, now the landlords are able to go inside their dashboard and check tenants that are looking for flats within the budget in in their cities within their budget and location. They can proactively take action. So in three clicks, they can select the tenant, they want to offer the property to, select the property and send them that so and the tenant is basically receiving a suggestion directly from the landlord. The letter is almost saying, ‘I’m inviting you to come to live here and thank you’. Obviously, they have access to information like occupation, age range, first name, and country of origin and according to that, they can say okay I think this profile is exactly what I’m looking for. I think we’ll make a good fit for this flat that I have. So this is the new stuff that we’re launching, we’re still testing and see how how landlords engaged with this, but several cool features are coming this year.
It’s not that we have the model fully closed, and we’re just replicating it through in new cities, but we’re actively looking for new cities to to open. So next month, we’re opening a few more cities in Spain, like Valencia and Seville and we are now looking for the Central Europe market. Also, the Netherlands Germany, and, and London. London and the US are our next bets, either in 2023 or 2024.
So we have this per-city approach. It’s not a country approach. It’s not like okay, I’m launching in France. Let’s do marketing for France. You choose a city. As I’ve mentioned before, there are these specific criteria, which nowadays we already have a pretty solid idea of what we’re looking for when we decide to go into a city and obviously, it’s always an investment because, in the first month, we are we’re looking for supply where we create the teams to support landlords to enroll new properties we need to bring in the offer.
Then only after a few months, we open the map to the public and you start marketing to the prospective tenants. So there’s always this window that we need to expect to be prepared financially speaking for this, that we will need to have a team working at that country to support landlords there and we are not going to be selling, or in the debt market for the first few months.
Because we always want to open a map with a solid diversity of options. So we want the tenant to go to our platform and to the city and see a bunch of options at different price ranges, bigger and smaller flats, different locations, etc. So we always want to make sure before we start the marketing, and even in the marketing efforts for the tenant site, we want we need to make sure that we have a good portfolio.
Any marketplace business, you need to make sure when people are looking for service, no matter what that service is, if there are no options for them to choose from, that they feel are a good fit, or it’s just a very short set of results. People are gonna come, turn away from it and not use it again, aren’t they?
For sure. There is no second chance for a first for the first impression.
I think that’s super interesting in terms of how you’ve been able to carve out specific kinds of features that suit both the tenants or landlords. Solving a number of those problems and challenges that you saw.
If any other founders listening to this episode, maybe they’re developing a marketplace SaaS platform, or thinking of some kind of marketplace-type platform, what advice would you give them? What lessons from your journey do you think are worth listening to?
One important one is that we always tend to be very optimistic. So it’s rarely going to happen within the timeframe that you expect. Obviously, it depends on the situation of these founders, if they’re still thinking about launching, or if they already have some pre-traction, they want to internationalize so specifically about new markets, launching new markets, like going to a new city, etc. We think that the model is already proven at home. But it’s all it’s always take longer than we expect to prove it like in a new city. It’s not the because you’ve proven the model in your market doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, like right away in the new market. Because it’s a cultural sort of brand awareness.
When we’re talking b2c, as it is in our case, it’s more challenging. I’m always in favor of testing things. Obviously, it’s a question if you want to test like, a space rocket, it’s something expensive to test. I started testing this housing too, because it was very low capital. It allowed me to connect a lot of dots and bring it to what it is today. I’m always in favor of doing something like go for it. Don’t overthink.
Pedro GanchoYou need to create movement. As soon as you start moving, ideas will flow better, perspective will change, and you’ll enlarge your network.
So my main advice would be would be, if you feel it makes sense just start with a very raw version. Talk to people put it out there and then you start connecting the dots. You’ll eventually change everything or some parts you’ll keep, and some parts will change. But you need to create movement, as soon as you start moving, ideas will flow better, perspective will change, and you’ll enlarge your network. So create movement and start doing it ASAP. That’s for the guys that are still thinking about putting it out there.
I think that’s good advice. The more manual, less scalable way that you started enabled you to do those things right enabling you to validate the problem. But it also enabled you to build a network and an audience and all of those things that you could then leverage with a lot more knowledge when it then came to building the tech.
Even team-wise when I hire for some roles because that’s the beauty in US bootstrapping, and in taking, like the high road, and like slower growth and slower steps. Then you talk about everything in your company with a lot of property. I mean, with a lot of you know, how it’s done, you know what it takes, and then you have, it’s much easier to, to position yourself to ask for KPIs.
Even to have the hard talks, because you’re talking from a different angle in the different parts of writing. I find it very valuable in my journey. I think when you have a lot of capital upfront and huge, a lot of money, like from the early days, you skip a lot of important steps, as a founder or as a founding team. Obviously, you have the opportunity to test a lot of things faster. But when you have a bigger team, there are a lot of subjects that it’s harder for you to have the same perspective as you would have, if you were there, like since forming that team, helping to build that team like, and on the daily journey of the process.
Like you say I think there are pros and cons. But if you do get that investment, undue skip those steps, then you don’t have the personal knowledge and experience that you probably do need in order to best help educate those team members, right? Because they’re all trying to figure it out at the same time as you are and then it’s, there’s a lot more complexity isn’t there added to the mix if you go down that route.
Exactly, exactly. Add to that a huge pressure because everything needs to be accelerated 10x because people have given you a lot of money. There’s always this pressure. So timeframe gets shortened. When everybody gets a different scale of time to measure stuff and to measure results. Because you put in a lot of money, you need to measure everything faster. One of the major problems is that a lot of times you haven’t reached the level of maturity, to be spending so much money.
You would benefit from some more time to be able to spend so much money a lot of times. But I think it will always obviously depend also on the investment thesis on the VCs that are with you on the journey, etc. I don’t have that. So I don’t speak firsthand because I never had this experience of going with a VC and doing so we didn’t get external funding. We so we decided on this path.
It’s very expensive, of course, to develop a platform like this. I was fortunate enough to create a whole different line of business. very profitable business, which has a lot of synergies. It gives us a lot of flexibility in decision-making. So we can still decide on every step of the journey and at our own pace.
Yeah, I can see how businesses support the other businesses supporting, not just financially but in terms of network lessons learned and everything else. I think them giving you that space to actually work out what does work, what doesn’t work, and what’s the best way to address different things in the business. I think that the time element can often be missed sometimes when people are kind of rushing to the endpoint of the journey.
But actually, they do need to sometimes have a bit more patience and be willing to actually especially with the marketplace type of products, I think we’d be willing to invest some time and understanding both parties involved in that marketplace, the different needs the different interactions that they have. I can see how that time factor has actually played into your favor and allowed us to build things to what you have done.
Yeah. 100%. On the landlord side of the marketplace, we are actually like we are able to test everything through. It’s the different companies but like within it’s very we know exactly because we have a company only focused on this mid-term accommodation market. So we know exactly the needs and I think it’s we use it as an advantage because we know it from the inside, we know exactly what a landlord like property management with a property manager with 500 units or with 1000 units needs as a product to help him save time. To help them in getting tenants faster. So we capitalize on that a lot on this. We leverage a lot this strength that we have of having these efforts combined and developing the product, as we feel and as we can test firsthand on this side. So that’s why I also mentioned the synergies.
There’s a lot to be said for being specific as well. Working out what that niche is. It’s not just any kind of rental but it is that specific midterm rental market that you’ve chosen. Because you have made that a conscious decision, that’s going to have a massive impact in terms of the decisions that you make the way that you’ve positioned the products, and everything else.
Thank you for sharing that. I think anyone listening to this, especially if they are in or considering a marketplace-like business will find this really, really interesting. So thank you, for sharing that. I certainly wish you the best of luck in terms of improving those features, taking that upper level, and then expanding to other cities as well. I look forward to seeing Inlife in this country as well.
Matt, it was a pleasure coming here to inside the ScaleUp.
Thank you for joining me on this episode of Inside the ScaleUp. Remember, for the show notes and in-depth resources from today’s guests. You can find these on the website insidethescaleup.com. You can also leave feedback on today’s episode, as well as suggest guests and companies you’d like to hear from. Thank you for listening.