Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs and actually have a team now. It started out as just me recording interviews, and then we started hiring editors, producers. In fact, today’s guest was pre-interviewed by one of our producers, and from time to time what I want to do is get together with my team in person to make sure that we all get to know each other, to work together to plan for the future.
And we’re not the kind of people who can go and get a hotel. I feel like having everyone in their own hotel rooms feels a little too impersonal. And then we all get to meet in the lobby from time to time. And then we have a conference room. It just doesn’t feel like us. It feels too much like, I was going to say my dad, but my dad wasn’t like that. It feels like, I don’t know, corporate America. And we’re the anti-corporate America.
So what we do is we go online and we look for a shared home, and it takes a long time to find a shared home because I want a place that’s going to feel elevating. That’s the word I always use with my team. Make us feel elevated, so when we’re there, we feel greatness that we could live up to.
It’s one of the reasons why I try not to work at coffee shops. I think the coffee shops feel the opposite of elevating. You’re kind of stuffed in with a bunch of people sitting on your laptop, begging for a little bit of space. I’ve said this before, I go to luxury hotels. There is a Hyatt here, not too far from me. I’d rather go buy coffee at a Hyatt, have that lap of luxury environment to sit and work and connect my laptop to than sit in a stuffy, coffee shop.
Anyway, so we work a long time to try to find a nice place, and then we work a long time to make sure that we get food delivered and we look at all these different services that will get us breakfast and snacks and so on. And then we spend some time trying to find an activity to do so that we can feel like we’re bonding, not just working together and find a restaurant. And that means when we were in Austin, we contacted people who we worked with in Austin. Do you know of a good restaurant? Do you know of a good place? What’s the food that you’d like?
Anyway, I say all this because the entrepreneur you about to meet, his name is Parker Stanberry. He runs a company called Oasis, which is everything that I just described. Instead of looking for the cheapest place or the nicest place on one of these cheap sites for home sharing, he has a highly curated marketplace for short-term rentals. That means everything looks posh. They actually will do excursion booking for you. They will fully stock your fridge. They will find your local restaurant, the whole thing, and so companies are using them and high net worth individuals are using them and the company’s growing.
It’s very similar. I probably should’ve said Airbnb earlier to kind of like let you guys know what the context is. It’s very similar to them, but they started before and they are higher and that’s their goal and I’m curious to see how well they’re doing considering what’s happening in this space.
All right, this interview with Parker, the founder of Oasis is sponsored by two great companies. It’s called, the first is HostGator, which will host your website right. The second is Toptal for hiring developers. Parker, good to see you.
Parker: Nice to see you too. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: You know, when I saw startup, the podcast take off, I thought, “What’s going on? I got to do better.” When you saw Airbnb come in afterward and you saw them grab headlines, did you do the same thing? Go, “I came up with this idea first?”
Parker: Sure. I think it’s, yes, it’s kind of a combination of feelings and responses. I think one is, what you just described, like damn, like how, you know, these guys are grabbing headlines and gaining incredible traction based on something that all respect I consider to be an inferior experience, right? That means if you’re a company, it’s probably a lot better company, but by definition just because they’ve been able to scale, but an inferior kind of product and experience. So pardon me, of course, had that sort of frustration.
The other part as an entrepreneur and also someone who’s, you know, has to be somewhat practical. Says, okay good, now someone is coming and giving me sort of some validation that there’s a market here and giving me something to kind of play off. As in before, you’re trying to explain this whole concept of home sharing and now I can just explain it as you did. You know, about the concept of home sharing? Here’s how we do it differently, here’s how we do it better. So it’s kind of those mixed emotions.
Andrew: I get it. I see here, according to Wikipedia, their 2017 revenues were $2.6 billion.
Parker: It’s a lot.
Andrew: I just thought you swallow a little bit and do . . . What’s your revenue? 2017?
Parker: We don’t quote that. What I’ll sort of give you a little bit of background about our size and scale is that I started the company in Buenos Aires. It’s definitely not kind of a Silicon Valley funded startup. I started it, you know, bootstrapped out of my apartment. Me and a couple of guys threw in 10,000 bucks, a true kind of bootstrapped startup story and that was about nine years ago and sort of scaled from Buenos Aries and to Sao Paulo.
Andrew: Give me just a sense of size? Is it over 10 million? It clearly is.
Andrew: Right. You’re not profitable. You guys have taken on money.
Parker: Yes. Over 10 and under 100.
Andrew: Okay. And that’s the biggest band. Will you tell me whether it’s closer to 50 than 100?
Parker: Yes. It’s closer to 50 than a hundred. Okay. All right.
Andrew: That gives me a sense of it. You own the majority of the shares still?
Parker: I don’t, no. We’ve raised just over $30 million over, you know, compared to Airbnb’s now raised probably 3 or $4 billion. Right. So I get, it’s a much smaller scale.
Andrew: Not million. They raised over a billion dollars.
Parker: Over a billion dollars yes. Obviously not . . . I think my perspective is the goal of every startup isn’t necessarily maximum scale. Right. And the goal of, you know, our startup or the vision was, it was certainly to create some scale and awareness and be a relevant company and brand, but to do so in a very, you know, on a more kind of get a curated scale and really focusing on, you know, kind of an experience and a brand that we get resonated with us, with me and that we can proud of. And again, I hope that it has grown. I hope it continues to grow, but I don’t think. And the goal of every startup isn’t necessarily let’s raise as much money as we can and become as big as we can as fast as we can.
Andrew: You’ve raised money, but you still have that bootstrap mentality. And at the same time, you want to be more luxury. You don’t want to be McDonald’s. Do you want to be, what’s the restaurant equivalent of non-McDonald’s?
Parker: Yes, we can say you say we don’t want to be, you know, Marriot. We want to be The Standard or the Ace, you know, or which are maybe more obscure hotel brands that folks might not have heard, checking both out. Awesome branding, you know, five, eight properties worldwide, just very focused on sort of lifestyle and brand. So, you know . . .
Andrew: Yes, Ace Hotel there was a record player with actual records in the room. It was pretty cool. All right. You spent about 10 years in finance and acquisition. What? Can you give me an example of something that you did in finance? Just give me a sense of the work that you did before you became an entrepreneur.
Parker: Sure. Only about five years, but by the way, but yes. So the first one is very sort of kind of.
Andrew: Oh, because in between, it was about four years at Miramax, a year before that at Merrill Lynch as an investment banker, then four years at Palermo Capital Group, which you founded?
Parker: Yes. So I think my first job at Merrill Lynch was kind of the classic straight out of college pure finance job, right? Really fast learning curve, you know, boot camp learned a ton, but quickly, in my case 12 months in, realized, you know, this is not what I want to do. It’s not . . .
Andrew: Give me an example of something that made you say, “This is not me.” Did you have to call up high net worth individuals and convince them to talk to a broker?
Parker: No, it wasn’t that. I mean it was more strategic than that, but it was, it just wasn’t quite sort of creative enough. I mean, when you’re working at a big bank or finance institution, it’s just your job is pretty circumscribed, right? So I’m told, this is sort of a deal I’m working on and then told I need to go produce 100-page deck for it and these are the parameters and that . . .
Andrew: Got it. I see, right.
Parker: Spending hours and hours on, “Oh, let’s adjust the font on this sentence.” You know, the work was just too sort of circumscribed, structured, so I wanted something more, more creative. So I took a pretty big leap to work in the film business. It was not, you know, I didn’t become a writer-director. I’m not that creative, but working more on the business side of the film business was a really interesting transition for me because it sort of allowed me to explore.
I’d been on a more sort of study econ, working in finance, a bit more of my sort of right brain track and this kind of inched me more to the kind of creative left brain side. I worked there for four years at Miramax. I kind of considered half creative, half business, basically scouting independent foreign films that we would then buy and release.
Andrew: And you would make a deal for it?
Parker: Yes. So I would do both evaluating . . .
Andrew: Give me an example. This is after the Weinsteins had sold it to Disney. You started working there at 2001 a couple of years after it was sold to Disney. Give me an example of a project you worked on. Give me some of the Hollywood sizzle for my interview.
Parker: Yes, you know, it’s going back a little while now, but we worked on some really, really cool projects that was really kind of proud of working . . .
Andrew: For example.
Parker: For Indian foreign niche of the industry. Very non-Hollywood, right? So we worked on “The Garden State.” The Zach Braff and Natalie Portman movie that I think is awesome. “City of God,” the Brazilian movie that was very award winning about . . .
Andrew: So this was already, it was created. And your job was to say this is the kind of movie that fits with the Miramax vision. We’re going to go and acquire it and distribute it.
Parker: Yes. Sometimes we would come on a little bit like during production or pre-production and actually have some role in the creative process. I wouldn’t personally be sort of onset or involved at that level, but sometimes we would come on and actually kind of co-produce a movie or . . .
Andrew: Give a deal that you are especially proud of or excited about. Like if you and I were sitting down and having whiskey, is there a deal that you would tell me that you remember that’s kind of a fun one that indicates what life was like back then?
Parker: Yes, I mean, yes, I would say the “Garden State” was interesting because . . .
Andrew: Tell me about that.
Parker: So, I was at the first screening at Sundance and I was the only Miramax representative there. It wasn’t a super high profile movie. It was going to take the rap was maybe a little too quirky to sort of be successful. So I saw it, I liked it a lot, but I sort of maybe thought that it was a little bit too quirky for mainstream audience. And so it kind of came back with a report of interesting, but you know, we don’t need to like come with an offer tomorrow and then it blew up in terms of like, the reviews were amazing and everyone was talking about doing a deal and you know, Harvey was ultimately like, “Dude, like what the F, like how come you didn’t come back to us and sort of, you know, to start ringing the alarm bell?” And we ended up jumping in and then doing a sort of a co-release deal with Fox Searchlight. So it kind of ended up working out. But that was the sort of pressure of, you know, both because who Harvey Weinstein . . .
Andrew: [inaudible 00:11:22] missed the boat on something that you should have seen.
Andrew: You said Harvey was like . . . Was he angry? Who did he give . . . He was? He screamed at you? Cursed you?
Parker: Many times.
Andrew: When you were being cursed, why didn’t that turn you off? Why didn’t you say, “Hey, you know what? This is not for me.” Did it feel the opposite of that? Did it feel like, “Oh, this guy is like a coach? He’s pushing me to get my best. Is that right?”
Parker: Kind of, yeah. I mean I would say, you know, certainly not to divert too much towards that story, but obviously not a super pleasant sort of boss. But yes, I felt to me, you know, and how I’ve approached the film business or entrepreneurship after is sort of approaching it as being lucky to do something that I love and think is really interesting. So my tolerance for bullshit or abusive is pretty high frankly, right?
Andrew: You’ll put up with a lot of bullshit.
Parker: Yes, I will
Andrew: Because . . .
Parker: The balance. Because I think that you know, that the juice is worth the squeeze, you know, to kind of use that metaphor like to me as someone who never studied film and didn’t really know what I was doing, the opportunity to go into Sundance and screen these movies and it was just an amazing opportunity.
Andrew: Scream at me but I get to make these deals. I get to be at Sundance. I get to actually see people enjoy this movie that I discovered. Got it. That’s what it was. And do you still put up with bullshit now at Oasis or is this done now?
Parker: No, I do.
Andrew: You do?
Parker: Because this is the hospitality
Andrew: Give me an example. Is it an example like an interviewer coming in and talking about your competitor right in the intro. Is that part of the bullshit?
Parker: I’ve had more. No, it’s a lot worse.
Andrew: You’ve had worse. What’s an example at this point?
Parker: So an example of this point is you’re dealing with, you know, you’re dealing with demanding, you know, high-end travelers. So whether that’s a travel manager at an events manager at Nike, a travel manager at a big fortune 500, a boutique travel agency and stuff happens, right? I mean it’s, you know, even if you do a good job, like, you know, your team makes mistakes, you know, a pipe bursts in a house and there’s a problem with the [inaudible 00:13:30]. So obviously I’m not in the day to day of dealing with those issues, but at a high level, you know, when they get escalated and the client’s important enough. Yes, I’ve got to sort of show my face and say, “Yes, we messed up here. I’m sorry, like what can we do to sort of recover the relationship?”
Andrew: And there an expectation of perfection when people go away on vacations. There absolutely is. Even if they’re staying at a Best Western, they expect things to be there because this is their time away and I can imagine at Oasis the expectations are even higher. The brand sets the higher expectations. Okay. I get a sense of it. I get a sense of where you were. The original business idea seemed to me like more of a real estate play than a resort competitor. Am I right?
Andrew: What were you seeing?
Parker: So the original take on it. So what I was seeing was then there’s this gap between like these cool boutique hotels that I love but are expensive and the rooms are small so they’re great for a two or three-night stay but you’re not going to go there for a week or a month, right? There’s a gap between that and the sort of wild west of it. At that point it was, you know, Craigslist. Finding an apartment on Craigslist or dealing with a real estate broker to try to find a place for a month or three months or, you know, a boring, horrible like extended stay corporate housing building in a downtown area you don’t want to be in, right? So there was just this big gap in the market and I said, let’s create this sort of like hybrid phrase we still use, “home meets hotel.”
Andrew: I wonder why that? Why didn’t you say what so many other people who happen to be in Argentina where you were said. I should build a hotel here. Why didn’t you say, “I’ll build that middle ground hotel”?
Parker: I actually thought about that and I did. I actually consulted on a hotel project or two, and I love the boutique hotel business but again, it’s still, it’s a different use case. People are doing a great job now with where the industry is moving is making the hotel a bit less boring, staid, corporate, confining, whatever adjective you want to use. But ultimately there is still just a difference in having a big three bedroom apartment for you and your buddies with like an awesome terrace where you can invite people over. That’s just a different experience in the hotel experience or you’re moving to Bogota for three months for a project or to write a book. Like as cool as the hotel might be, you just you don’t want to live in a hotel for three months. So what I wanted to create was different enough from a hotel that I didn’t think I could just kind of take a spin, fresh spin on hotel. Does that make sense?
Andrew: Yeah, I get that. Fair to say though that this stuff existed. bedandbreakfast.com was already . . . Well, they were actually linking people to actual bed and breakfast. There was homeaway.com. There was VRBO at that point. This stuff existed, didn’t it?
Parker: It did. They were all peer to peer marketplaces. They were, you know, it was a do it yourself peer to peer marketplace. Meaning, there was no one that was vetting that the quality, you know. Parker was deciding that Parker wanted to list his home and he was doing the photos and he was giving the sales pitch and so there was no vetting or quality control of the product and there was no service elements. There is, you know, you’re booking from Parker and Parker, maybe a nice dude but like, he’s not in the hospitality business. He’s not going to be, you know, going through a 70 point checklist about cleaning standards and eight plates per plate set, you know. So the level of vetting and hospitality and service on HomeAway or Craigslist or then Airbnb. Any place where you can find a place to stay, just it didn’t have that level of curation and vetting and service.
Andrew: Is it also that you came in from a finance background and said, “Here’s an easy way for us to get into real estate ownership that people are going to pay us rent on an ongoing basis and we’ll end up with a lot of equity and a lot of homes”?
Parker: Sure, yes. The first play, yes. It was dual. It was the first iteration was, “Hey, yes, there’s an interesting real estate opportunity. I’m investing in . . . ”
Andrew: Investing in and we just dropped them. Let’s give it a second. If the connection doesn’t fix, we’ll come back. I’ll call you right back. You were saying there’s an interesting play in buying and renting and we lost the connection.
Parker: Yes, so there’s an interesting play in buying and renting as well as the sort of hospitality piece and sort of catering to that demand universe. So yes. So what we thought was, what I thought was, I’ll raise a small fund, we’ll buy a buy and renovate apartments in this cool up and coming area in Buenos Aries called Palermo, hence the Palermo Capital Group name, and then sort of turn this collection of apartments and homes kind of townhomes spread among this one neighborhood into this sort of deconstructed boutique hotel. Right. So it was the real estate play with the sort of a revenue model being around short-term rentals with hospitality services.
Andrew: How are you going to get people to know that this existed? How are you going to promote it?
Parker: Yes, so I mean, that was the part definitely in the early days, you know, being more focused. That was the challenge. Being more focused on the sort of real estate kind of investment side and the service side. How are we going to promote it? So you know, even though we had a pretty not great website, more institutional website. It was, you know, SEO and AdWords, Google AdWords, drive them to the site. It was a lot of good old-fashioned word of mouth. It was leveraging a couple of local. So local sites, you know, there were kind of local competitors like mom and pops that were doing this and putting those properties on those sites, so it’s early days, it was, you know, 12 or 13 properties, so it wasn’t enough scale.
And then as I kind of did that and learned about what the demand channels and the demand looked like for that product, I said, “Hey, wow, there’s actually a lot of demand for this and there’s already a lot of supply.” There are a lot of apartments and homes that are second homes, investment properties that are sort of sitting here underutilized. I don’t need to be raising tens of millions of dollars to buy and renovate properties. I need to be creating a marketplace to put the supply and the demand together and putting a service layer on top of that. So, marketplace with a service layer, that’s the distinction from a just marketplace. HomeAway is a marketplace. VRBO is a marketplace. Airbnb as a marketplace. We’re a marketplace that matches supply and demand, but with an intermediated service layer on top.
Andrew: Okay. I’m looking at an early version of your website. It was just plain WordPress. You guys did a lot of blogging back then. I think you even won a blog . . . yes, there it is. Blogger’s Choice Award for best travel blog, right? Do you remember that?
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So you started this out. How many buildings did you or how many apartments did you buy?
Parker: We had about 13. Most of them were individual apartments. I did a couple of sort of small, like mini complexes where we had like a retail space in the bottom and three apartments on top.
Andrew: And then you were renting out the retail space too?
Parker: Yep, I did that too.
Andrew: And one of the things that I know about Argentina is that . . .
Parker: Wine store as a tenant and had a restaurant as another tenant.
Andrew: So Argentina is known for not being mortgage friendly. How did you get money to pay for all this?
Parker: Yes, it was all cash. So it’s not mortgage friendly, but it is cheap, especially at that time. So I’m talking, the first apartment we bought was $80,000 for a pretty cool one bedroom that needed some work, but a pretty cool one bedroom with a terrace and a great neighborhood. $80,000. So it went a long way.
Andrew: I heard you went to your friends and you said, “I’ve got this idea. We need to raise the money.” You tried to raise how much and how much did you end up raising?
Parker: Well, at first I was going to raise like $200,000. We were going to buy three apartments and ended up raising $800,000 in the first go around because it was one of these high times for Argentina, where it’s kind of coming off the crash. You know, Argentina about every 15 years has a major crash and then, you know, gets exciting again. So it was one of those exciting phases so people thought it was really cool. They thought it made sense. They wanted to have a piece of the Argentine recovery. So raised about $800,000, was able to buy six or seven apartments with that and then raise another million and we were able . . . bought some more with that. So a total of 1.8 million we raised over 18 months.
Andrew: This is kind of dorky, not dorky. This is kind of a nerdy question, but I think it’s important for Mixergy. The structure. How did you structure it? Did they own a part of your business that bought the properties, or did they own part to the properties? I see you’re nodding, you’re shaking your head. What was the structure?
Parker: Yes. So the first one was not people investing for shares in a company, right? People weren’t buying a piece of a brand or our company. It was they were buying shares of the real estate portfolio, right? So if we had $1.7 million worth of real estate and you’d put in $170,000, you owned 10% of that combined real estate portfolio. You do not own any piece of Palermo Capital. I could have gone and done whatever I wanted with Palermo Capital on my own, without having any ownership rights for the initial investors.
Andrew: I See, this was Palermo Capital at first.
Andrew: Got it. Palermo as in, Palermo, Buenos Aires. So what you founded started out as Palermo Capital and then you built Oasis on top of that or separately?
Andrew: Separately as a rep for this. And did Palermo Capital give Oasis a percentage of each rental?
Parker: Yes. So Palermo Capital became a client of Oasis. Done the real estate I said, okay this was interesting. This was good experience. But a) the market’s not as hot anymore, and b) it’s a lot more scalable to be a marketplace service business, not a real estate investment business.
Andrew: So I went back in time and started like googling from years ago from around that period. One thing that I noticed was there were some real estate brokers who were selling property in Argentina saying, “And don’t worry the days that you’re not using it. There’s this guy from Oasis Capital. His name is Parker. He can help list it for you and generate some revenue.” Was that part of the plan?
Parker: So, yes. So once I pivoted from the real estate investment place, I said let’s create a management marketplace here. So high service marketplace. Let’s start a fresh company. It’s going to be called the Oasis. Me and a couple of the guys threw in $10,000 each. That was more of a traditional sort of startup equity concept, right? The guy who put it in the most money had 50%. I had 30%. The other guy had 20%. and let’s become a management marketplace.
Andrew: Wait, who had 50%?
Andrew: Who had 50?
Parker: One of the co-investors.
Andrew: So they got 50% for being an investor, even though you were the operator?
Andrew: That’s very un-Silicon Valley-like. It should be not just the other way, but, right?
Parker: Yes and no. I guess it depends. I mean if you’re a day one founder and on day one you don’t take it any capital, of course, you have 100% and then you build something and then you sell a smaller percentage to your first capital. But me on day one I went to these guys and said, “Let’s invest together to create this.” So it wasn’t a sort of ongoing. It wasn’t a startup that I’ve already built out for a year that I was then going to raise capital on. It’s a subtle but important distinction. And of course in hindsight, yeah, do I wish I’d done a little more work on it first and then taken it to investors versus selling . . .
Andrew: Were they just investors?
Parker: We didn’t have a formal board, but essentially they were kind of early board members.
Andrew: But they weren’t operators? They weren’t, no.
Andrew: Like look at this. I see you on a lot of different places. What’s HolaConnect? Is that like a dating site, or is that a site that you are using to get clients?
Parker: I don’t even know what that is to be honest with you.
Andrew: I wonder if it’s just your team that is getting you on all these different sites. So as I even tried to research you, I see a bunch of stuff about you, and I can’t tell what’s you and what’s like PR people doing a really good job. All right.
Parker: Yes. So like you said, to take you back to kind of the early days when you start Oasis and, you know, you’re super bootstrapped and you don’t have, you know, a lot of cash to build a brand or to buy ads in a traditional way. Right. And this is, you know, nine years ago, so you also don’t have the idea of putting these homes on Airbnb and using them as a demand channel. So how are you going to generate demand? Right. SEO was a big thing back then, right? So let’s go pump out city guide content, blog content, let’s sort of establish ourselves as experts on Buenos Aries and we’re going to get, you know, good SEO juice out of that and let’s invest in cheap long tail AdWords, right? Which worked a lot better back then.
Let’s spend a thousand bucks a month on marketing and between SEM and SEO, we’ll drive some awareness. Maybe we’ll get some of these sort of cheap press, the, you know, kind of other bloggers to feature us. So it was a super kind of bootstrapped, you know, marketing strategy, which because I think our concept was good and the branding was good. I guess we were clever on some of the early marketing stuff. We did build a little bit of scale and awareness based on that. And then, you know, 12, 15 months later I was able to go raise $125,000 sort of seed round to start scaling a little bit more.
Andrew: You said we did a bunch of . . . we did some things that were clever marketing. What’s one thing that you’re especially proud of from those early days?
Parker: I mean, I would say it’s not like that clever. Certainly, in retrospect we’re just sort of recognizing that, you know, especially in a city like Buenos Aries, a foreign city for Americans being a kind of American authority on that city was marketing in and of itself like that that was going to support the core business. So, yes.
Andrew: I saw that. I saw Parker’s favorite coffee shop, restaurants that he recommended.
Parker: Five lists, you know, all that kind of stuff which you get today is with the explosion of content that’s everywhere. It doesn’t sound very innovative, but then it was, you know, there just wasn’t as much of that of that content and just being clever about what content would resonate the most, you know, and how to sort of again, set ourselves up as the authority. You know, as we moved on, that was a lot of the concept behind creating this clubhouse concept, which . . .
Andrew: Yeah, let’s, let’s go to that. You decided we’re going to create, if we’re going to be a decentralized hotel, we still want to have a place for people to gather, a place that feels like a virtual lobby. How did you put that together at first?
Parker: Yes. So that’s exactly well said. Like you wanted to, you needed to create something, a physical space to unify the sort of experience, right? You’re staying in these cool apartments and you’ve got sort of the concierge element of a hotel via our on the ground team, but you don’t have any sort of physical place to kind of come together. Maybe meet the other Oasis guests, interact with some locals, sort of, you know. So we created this kind of curated social club essentially. I found one of the homes on our site, which is an amazing sort of showplace type, you know, full home, townhome and the owners wanted to sell and I said, don’t sell this. Instead, lease it to us for five years and I’m going to turn it into this real kind of cool private social club. And so that’s what we did. Did a four month build out, built a pool in the back garden.
It was already in great shape, so it didn’t take a ton of investment and launched this kind of . . . you know, this is also, again, Buenos Aries did not have a Soho House or any sort of private members clubs. So it was a first for Buenos Aries, so we were able to generate some local interest and that’s obviously key. You got to have cool locals and cool legitimate content, you know, and we generated that and that was a hook for the Oasis guests to say, “Oh great, yeah, these guys, you know, they really are kind of invested in the local culture. They really know what’s going on, so I want us to stay there and not just because it’s a cool apartment with good service, but because I’ve got a connection to sort of the local culture and other travelers.”
Andrew: How did you know that people wanted that? What kind of conversations led to that?
Parker: A lot of it was a personal experience and very kind of close to me anecdotal experience. You know, I did, you know, took two trips a year to kind of international trips a year with friends and one year we ended up in Florianópolis Brazil, which is a kind of a fun, sort of party island in the south of Brazil. And we had two groups of eight and each group had its own house and then we knew some friends of friends that also had a house, and then we met some other people that also had a house.
So I kind of we’ve got . . . we kind of know 30 or 40 people that are sort of around right now, but aside from like meeting at a club every night, like there was not like a central place for that group to kind of gather in. It would’ve been really cool if there had been. So, experiences like that, and I started, I kind of had a bit of a light bulb moment on that trip and then I ran it by people. “Do you think that would be a value-add? Do you think that’s something people miss when they rent a house or stay in an apartment?” And the answer seemed to be yes.
Andrew: And when I say people, you would talk to people who are staying with you, Oasis clients?
Parker: Both. Friends, fellow, you know, entrepreneurs, friends, advisors, and yeah, once we got a little further with the concept, we did some guest surveys.
Andrew: The Airbnb guys famously told me that they would stay at people’s homes and just start interviewing them and staying at Barry Manilow’s drummer’s home to help them understand that he said, “Look, I don’t want to just rent a room here. I go away on tour a lot. I want to rent the whole place.” And that’s when they got the idea, you know what, let’s try letting people rent the whole place. Did you do any of that where you were basically living with your clients and did you learn anything as you did that shaped the business?
Parker: Yes, I spent a lot of time with them. I was super hands-on. You know, again, it was a bootstrapped operation in a city where I lived, in a city where I was sort of part of my inspiration for starting the concept was, I myself was in that position as a traveler or an ex-pat who is in a foreign city, so it was very close to me in my own experience. So yeah. I had a lot of friends who came down and stay in and booked through us and sometimes I would actually literally stay with them, but sometimes it was just sort of being very close to what the experience was and what was missing and what was working.
Andrew: Is there an example of that? Was there one thing that you did differently because of those experiences?
Parker: I mean, creating the clubhouse came out of that. Taking guests surveys into . . . coming up with a corporate kind of approach, which in early days it was much more B2C individual travelers. I told you how we were marketing ourselves. So, you know, it’s not like the Google travel manager was, you know, knew about us, but as I spent some more time with the travelers, I realized some of them were traveling for work or they were being sent to Sao Paolo for three weeks for work and thought this was, “Oh wow, if I could stay in one of these places instead of a corporate hotel, that would be super cool.” So the idea to sort of start targeting corporates directly came out of my own sort of . . .
Andrew:Talking to them and seeing why they were staying.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Then you said, you know, we can’t just be in one city in one country. We have to go beyond. What’s the next place that you moved to?
Parker: Sao Paolo. So, we sort of simultaneously. So I’m in Buenos Aires, Argentina, you know, don’t have a ton of capital. So trying to look at places that were geographically close by, you know, and that’s sort of easier to execute from a management perspective. I didn’t realize at that point Brazil is one of the hardest countries in the world in which to do business. So you know, I said, “Oh yes, Sao Paolo. See, it’s close. It’s a major city. Let’s do Sao Paolo and that’ll sort of prove out our sort of urban kind of more business-oriented case and the same time let’s go to Punta del Este, Uruguay also physically close, but a sort of, you know, chic, leisure destination where we can sort of prove out the higher end kind of leisure use case.” So I sort of felt with that triumvirate of cities. I was proving concept in a few different areas.
Andrew:So it was still thinking about the luxury individual client and thinking about how do we give them different options, not because this is where they happen to be, but because we want something close to us.
Parker: Yeah. But a combination of obviously it had to be relevant to the traveler. You can’t pick some random place just because it’s close to you, but a combination of what’s going to be relevant to our audience, what’s a destination I’d like to introduce maybe to our audience is going to be relevant to them, but also what is geographically sort of manageable. You know, picking Hong Kong just wouldn’t have been, wouldn’t have made sense at that point.
Andrew: Right, you know what, I’m on the website for the club, clubhouseba.com, right?
Andrew:I get to see photos of it. I get to see other locations beyond Buenos Aires. But I also, it looks like I can just apply to be a member. If I’m 23 years and older, I could be a member as an individual or as a couple. So is that also a standalone business now or is it just a way of promoting the product too?
Parker: No, it’s a standalone business and always was. My take on it was, in order to make it interesting, it can’t just be, “This is the virtual lobby of a rental company.” Like that’s not cool and interesting. So how are you going to make it interesting is you’re going to have interesting locals that are involved with the establishment that are bringing, you know, bringing art exhibits, bringing their own, their friends, you know, doing their birthdays there, etc. So from day one we had a, you know, kind of 50 local members and now we have 300 or 400 and still pretty . . . it’s a small sort of boutique establishment. But yeah, so it does sort of run as a standalone full-on private members club that has members . . .
Andrew: And what do I get if I’m a member?
Parker: You get to go hang out there, man.
Andrew: And then what happens when we hang out? I see that there’s a pool. I’m imagining. I don’t imagine people swimming in that pool much. It looks like just too cool a spot to swim, right?
Parker: Yeah. They swim.
Andrew: They do. They go for a swim there?
Parker: Yes. They’re not doing laps, but yeah, we do Sunday pool parties. People swim. People come, you know, hang out. It’s obviously more of a social pool, but yeah, I mean there’s, you get access to some cultural activities that come through, an art opening, a wine tasting, a product launch. You get discounts on food and beverage and then you get to invite three or four friends per visit
Andrew: In other words, I get to buy my own drinks if I want to.
Parker: Yes. You get to buy your drinks if you want to. It’s similar to . . .
Andrew: But what are some of the events that you do there? You do art openings. You’ll do launches. And if I’m a member I get to go to the launch.
Parker: Yep. We do wine tastings, we do private dinners. We’ll invite as a chef from a local restaurant to come and do like a 12 person private dinner situation.
Andrew: But people still have to pay for the private dinner, right?
Andrew: The reason I’m asking is, then the economics of it does make sense because I was thinking, you’re buying somebody’s house in an effort to add value to the overall Oasis Collections experience, but how do you know if it actually is worth it and considering how little money you had, you had to have it pay off. You couldn’t hope that it would. And so now I understand you probably sat down and said, look, here’s how much it’s going to cost us to turn this into a standalone place. Here’s how many memberships we need to sell in order to cover that. And then beyond that, if we make it available to our Collections clients, then it’s a boon.
Andrew: That was it.
Parker: Yes. And the goal was breakeven and we don’t always. Sometimes we lose money, sometimes we make money, but the goal there is not a cash cow. The goal is break even and it’s a cool amenity for our travelers to Buenos Aries and it’s also, sort of a stock in trade to make partnerships with members clubs in other markets, right? Because if it’s just in Buenos Aries, that’s not really relevant enough to sort of a global proposition which is, you know, to offer . . .
Andrew: But if you have another membership, another club somewhere else you can say to their members that they can come to your place and then your members get . . .
Andrew: Got It. I see how it works. How much is the membership?
Parker: Membership is $1,500 a year.
Andrew: Oh, not bad at all. All right, cool, why don’t I continue? Actually, you know what, I’m going to take a moment and talk about my sponsor. Second sponsor is a company called Toptal. I got to tell you, you’re a finance person. I wonder if you need this, but I went to Toptal and I said, “Look, everyone knows you guys as the people who hire developers. I don’t need a developer right now. What I really could use is a finance person, somebody to go over my finances and give me an understanding of how to improve it.”
And he looked at all my credit card charges and said, “You’re actually paying too much to process credit cards. You should go negotiate.” And we did. We lowered our prices and then he said, “You know, software is starting to get a little bit expensive. Just so people understand the value of money, tell everyone on your team that if they cut software expenses by a certain amount of money, you’ll give them dinner for two.” And we made it into a contest and sure enough, not only did we save more money because of that, but people started to be aware of the importance of cost.
Then I went back to him and I said, you know, software is not really our biggest expense. He goes, “I know.” And I said, the real big expense is people. He goes, “Yes, I was waiting for you to talk to me about that.” I said, “Okay, so what do we do about that?” And because he’s someone who’s had management experience beyond finance, beyond our company, we were able to have a conversation about how do you cut costs with people without having them feel like you’re cutting their salary.
How do you make sure that if you’re paying someone $100,000 a year, that you’re getting full value for them and now we’re starting to implement some of the strategies he came up with? Most people will go to Toptal, I believe just for the developers because they have the best of the best developers. I think that their finance people are hidden asset. You can have, if you’re putting together a deck to raise money, you could have someone who’s had experience doing it from Toptal, put it together for you. You can have someone put together a spreadsheet if that’s what you’re looking to do, and many people use them for that and most people just don’t know that that is available. So I’m going to tell you guys right now, if you’re listening to me, yes, you can hire the best of the best developers.
My interviewees have listened and gone and hired from them, but a hidden asset from Toptal is that you can also hire these finance people, these management consultants who’ve worked at places like McKinsey, who’ve had businesses that they’ve run and maybe at times they’re later in life, and they’re just looking for a project. Maybe they’re in between projects and they’re looking to learn from you as much as they’re looking to help you out.
If you’re looking to hire them, go to toptal.com/mixergy. That’s toptal.com, top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. toptal.com/mixergy, where Mixergy listeners are going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours, in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. I want to really emphasize this, guys. If at the end of your trial period, you are not 100% satisfied, you won’t be billed.
Forget your money back. You’re not going to be billed. Phenomenal offer. And they’re asking us to just limit it to Mixergy listeners. In the past, I’ve said go spread it, tell your friends about it. They’re saying please stop that, Andrew. So, toptal.com/mixergy. All right.
Parker: Solid plug.
Parker: That was a solid plug. I like it.
Andrew: Thanks. I’ve noticed actually, you know what we did. Our salesperson took videos of me talking about Toptal and watched how many people, how many interviewees said how do you spell that or what, what’s the name? And then they sent it over to Toptal so they could show, look, forget about the audience. Look, the interviewees are signing up.
You know what, you told our producer that there are a couple of situations, two specific occasions where you are close to closing. What were they? What was the first one? Because right now we’re setting people up to believe that Parker’s invincible. Everything he touches works and it’s easy for him, but it’s not easy. What’s the first time?
Parker: Certainly not easy. Yeah, I mean in both times were related to funding to sort of, you know, not believing in the idea or not, you know, just not wanting to do it anymore. I’ve never really wavered on that. I’ve just, you know, it’s just been on the practicality of, “Hey, we need money to keep this thing going.” We’re a startup running a burn and you know, that means that your runway ends and you got to go raise money.
So, yes, it was a couple of, different times and you know. One was sort of when we only been doing a kind of angel investment rounds in the earlier days and we were just kind of, you know, at the end of the runway there and we’re sort of thinking, trying to sort of make the leap to raising institutional capital and you know, taking my first trips to Silicon Valley and you know, as an American entrepreneur living in Buenos Aries trying to sell sort of a hospitality travel concept in Latin America. It was just not fun.
People really interested, but it just wasn’t, I just wasn’t getting there, right? So it was, it kind of got way down to the wire of like, “I’m just not sure we’re going to be able to, to raise this capital and having to think about what do we do?” Do we, you know, is there a way to downsize, to get to sort of break even overnight, right? Can we get by if we laid off some people if we sort of, you know, if we did this and that, could we get to break even and not really need capital or need much less or is that not viable? Is that not the right way to go? Do we just sort of try to sort of push off payments and sort of gird ourselves and keep going and just hope that a check comes and it was . . .
Andrew: What did you decide to do?
Parker: The latter.
Andrew: Just keep going and say we’re going to be able to raise money somehow.
Parker: I’ve done that, yes. But both times is what I did. I’m not sure it’s necessarily right or wrong, right? But I think, you know, one of my favorite entrepreneurship books is “The Hard Thing about Hard Things,” which, you know, and then one of the kind of, you know, quotes or takeaways that sticks with me is, you know, it says, like startup founders should not play the odds. They should not sort of, you know, place three or four bets and sort of, try different strategies or hedge themselves. You just, you pick one thing and you’re one approach and you go with it either works or it doesn’t work.
And so I sort of felt like this is the business that we’re building and if I try to sort of pivot it or downsize or fire, like it’s just not going to work, it’s going to put us in sort of a backward spiral. So I’d rather just have faith and take, you know, keep taking cuts of the plate and hope that it comes through. And if it doesn’t, you sort of go down fighting versus trying to sort of scramble to get up simultaneously play three strategies and see what happens.
Andrew: How’d you keep your confidence up when you were in a situation like that? Confidence enough to sell it, confidence enough to lead your team, confidence enough to go and pitch one more time?
Parker: It’s super hard. I mean I think the team part for me has always been a bit tough, right? Kind of gearing myself up to pitch externally is easier for me. And because it is a pitch, right? Whether that’s to a customer or to an investor like obviously I’m not saying it’s not, there’s not truthful, obviously it has to be based in truth, but it is by its nature a sales pitch. Whereas to me, being salesy internally doesn’t really resonate. It’s not my style. I find it hard to do and I’m very transparent with the team. So striking that balance of being transparent and not sort of giving this pub up sort of sales pitch to the team, but also, you know, keeping them engaged and being . . .
Andrew: So you were clear with them. You said we might actually run out of money here?
Andrew: You were? Wow. And how do people continue working day to day for somebody who could not like keep things going potentially?
Parker: Yes. It requires buy-in. I mean you’ve got to sort of strike the balance of transparency and with enough sort of positivity and optimism.
Andrew: Optimism. Like we don’t have not enough money, it’s possible that if we don’t raise another round we could go under, but look, we’ve got to be able to raise money because, look at the . . . Did you show them the finances?
Andrew: No, It was more like, look at the vision here.
Parker: Look at the vision here. Yes, look at the vision here. Of course yes, you quote the KPIs and stuff that’s working right? And that’s not BS. That’s, you know, you’re showing, “Hey, we’ve got traction here, here and here, the space is going in the right direction. We’ve got a great team.” Like I am confident and I am putting my money where my mouth is. I’m here right now, I am confident that we’re going to get this done. And it may be bumpy and yes, like ultimately we may have to, to the senior team, we may have to lay off a few people, right? If it comes down to that. We may have to weigh scale back marketing if it really comes down to that, but you know, I think kind of keeping the team, taking that in with you on that and sort of not trying to bear the whole thing on your own shoulders. That’s kind of the approach I’ve taken.
And again it is a fine line because sometimes you maybe reveal a little bit too much and then it does do what you just said kind. It kind of distracts people and then it becomes tough to have people focused. So there’s no silver bullet. It’s a tough, tough issue. And another way I’ve just tried to address it is, you know, talking to advisors and reading books and yes, just trying to kind of learn and improve every iteration of it.
Andrew: I found “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” to be really helpful. What’s another book that you read that helped. It’s well written too.
Parker: Yes, it’s very entertaining. There’s a more recent one called “Start with Why” that’s really good. That’s just about, you know, again, it’s about the sort of the intangibles and kind of giving people, not talking about this is what we need to do today and tomorrow. But look, why are we here? Why are we doing this? What is the . . .
Andrew: What is your why? This is Simon Sinek’s book. He did a great Mixergy interview. Yes, what is your why?
Parker: The why is we’re trying to change the way people travel. Ultimately, you know, we’re trying to connect people to the world’s top destinations in a way that gives them a, you know, super insider perspective and creates an experience that is better than they’re going to get at a hotel or Airbnb or anything else out there.
We’re really trying to, you know, we think travel is, you know, hugely impactful where we’re not curing cancer here. Like we’re definitely, you know, not self-important about the mission, but we do think and I do believe that, you know, travel is very impactful in people’s lives and it is a force for good in people’s individual lives and as a society in general in terms of greater understanding and whatnot. So, you know, we are trying to make it easier and more rewarding for people to travel particularly internationally. And so that’s why we do this.
Andrew: One of the big investments came from, am I pronouncing the name right? AccorHotels?
Andrew: They own the Fairmont. I sometimes hit the Fairmont to work, but the one in San Francisco feels like an opera house. It’s a little too posh. Plus I can’t resist their food and their drinks, so I end up eating too much. They own those. Sofitel, they own Swissotel. They own a bunch of really luxury brands, right?
Parker: Yes. Luxury brands, as well as mid-scale and you know, they, have a lot of business brands as well, like Ebs [SP] and more European and Latin.
Andrew:I got to say, Ebs is like a small-scale hotel is still way nicer than a lot of the U.S. like cheaper hotels. It’s really nice hotel, considering. How did you get them in as an investor and why isn’t that more of a strategic investment?
Parker: Yes. So it was interesting sort of story there. That was sort of our first kind of institutional strategic investor bought a small minority percentage, but a decent percentage of the company a few years ago and we sort of gave it a go for a little while. They ended up investing in several companies in the space and actually . . .
Andrew: Couldn’t they take a 30% equity stake in your business?
Parker: Yeah, 30% at the time, which got diluted a little bit as we did some more rounds and then, I mean ultimately you know, which is kind of an interesting lesson on kind of corporate venture capital versus pure financial venture capital is just is kind of the priorities of a corporation. Just shifting their strategies, shifting. They decided instead of doing minority deals to go actually fully by a couple of people in our space, one of them was Onefinestay, which is kind of a competitor . . .
Andrew: They paid $168 million dollars for Onefinestay.
Parker: So once the owned . . . once they put that much money into a pseudo, you know, a partial competitor, understandably it’s going to be tough to sort of support us and them equally. So there was kind of a kind of some frank discussions and maybe figuring out how this could maybe all work together strategically, but ultimately it didn’t make sense. So we still felt that having a hotel strategic partner made a lot of sense for reasons I’ll explain in a little while, but Accor just wasn’t the right fit. So we actually went and did a deal with Hyatt a year ago and sort of replaced Accor with Hyatt as our sort of strategic lead investor and that’s been an awesome partnership and something we’ve really leaned into here.
Andrew: What was the process for getting them as an investor? I mean, you’re a guy who struggled to get investment. I could see that moving out of Argentina probably helped. You move to Miami right now you’re a U.S.-based company. What was the process of raising this money and why did it work this time?
Parker: Yes, I think guess a few factors. One location for sure, you know, and even Miami, FYI is considered a little bit off the radar for a lot of investors. It’s kind of seems like if you’re not in San Fran, L.A. or New York, it seems like a bridge too far. So interesting just how much even in today’s world, the location still does matter. So moved up to Miami, that was a factor. I think a factor is just the maturation of the market, you know, overall is just getting into sort of a phase two of this whole sharing economy, alternative accommodation staying where people realizing, okay, Airbnb is the big, sort of 800 pound gorilla here and they’re growing like crazy, but there are all these other niches of this space. There’s the high-end villa rental space, like Luxury Retreats and Airbnb then bought.
There’s the more kind of corporate housing in the space. There’s the, you know, curated city version of the space, etc. There’s is the co-living version of the space. So I think, you know, starting two years ago, maybe three years ago, there’s just been kind of an explosion in this market overall where people have realized, I mean, the hotel industry is a $550 billion industry and what we’re doing isn’t going to put the hotel industry of business. That’s not the goal.
But if that industry is that big, and what we’re doing is a really attractive stay product for a lot of use cases, you know, certainly, the industry has, you know, multi-hundred million dollar potential. So I think, you know, that just became clear to folks over the past couple of years and there’s a lot of money pouring into this space. There’s competitors out there, newer competitors than us that are raising a lot more money.
Andrew:So now I see on your website Oasis has World of Hyatt link at the top. What is World of Hyatt and how does this show how you’ve really connected with Hyatt? They’re not just an investor.
Parker: Yes. So this is something I’m definitely proud of. It’s kind of an industry leading partnership. You know exactly high coming in, not just investing in the company and not just doing maybe a little bit of marketing, but we actually did a full integration to the World of Hyatt loyalty program. so that’s their version of, you know, that is their point system. And through that, travelers can earn points when staying with Oasis, just as if it’s a Park Hyatt or Hyatt Regency. And they can also use points for credit towards the Oasis stays. So it’s the first full-on integration of alternative accommodations company with a hotel royalty program.
Andrew: And are they promoting you too?
Parker: Yes. So yes, if you go to . . . yes, if you, they send emails to their membership base, you go to the World of Hyatt, sort of subpage you see us featured. We’re a part of a brand of theirs called the Unbound Collection. That’s what’s known as a soft brand which kind of sits over some individually branded concepts and properties. So if you go to the Unbound Collection, you see an Oasis banner as well. So yes, we’re pretty integrated into their ecosystem which is really cool.
Andrew: Yes, I can see that actually. I had no idea they were doing all this. All right, well congratulations. Does it still keep you up night when you see competitors come into your space? The more luxury homestay experience?
Parker: It’s a bit of a cliché answer, but I think that it’s I am kept up at night by plenty. It’s not the competition, it’s just our ability to execute and there’s still a lot, you know, there’s a lot to do and we’re only, even though we seem kind of bigger and institutional now, we are only 130 person company and we are still a money-losing start up at the end of the day, right?
We earn revenue but we also are trying to invest in growth. So just thinking about, you know, a regulation change in market X that’s going to kind of totally change our business there or we’re now trying to cater to super high end Middle Eastern clients and LA and how are we going to execute on their demands, right? It’s just how we got to implement a new technology system because, you know, we got to track the World of Hyatt.
You know, redemption and points earning. Like there’s just a lot of sort of execution that is hard. If it wasn’t hard, then you know, everyone would be doing it, right? So that’s what keeps me up at night is more just our ability to hire the best talent, retain the best talent, execute, you know, and scale this thing because I think if we can do that, I’m very confident in our proposition and I’m not really worried about as worried about competitors, although of course, you have to pay attention.
Andrew: All right, well congratulations on everything you’ve done with the business. It is Oasis Collection. You know what? The reason why Hyatt stood out for me is, I’m on SimilarWeb looking to see where your traffic comes from. They are by far the number one source of traffic to your site.
Parker: I see that research you’re doing on the spot.
Andrew: It’s phenomenal to connect with them. Did they own more than 50% of the business?
Parker: No, they’re a minority investor.
Andrew: Very supportive. All right, so go check them out at Oasis Collection. Collection or collections? Why I’m I . . .
Parker: Collections. oasiscollections.com. Check it out.
Parker: I’ll even throw this out there to the audience. Mention the Mixergy interview and we’ll give you $100 off. How about that?
Andrew: Oh wow. My people better go to travel. We should actually be using you guys for our next trip. All right, oasiscollections.com. Guys, go check them out. And I want to thank my two sponsors, the company that will host your website right. It’s called hostgator.com/mixergy. And if you want to hire a phenomenal developer, go to toptal.com/mixergy. And finally, if you own an Alexa device or a Google Play, Google Home or, what’s the other one? Whatever it is that Apple put out that’s not very good yet. Just shout at it and tell it to play Mixergy podcast. You’ll love it. We’re integrated with all those systems. Thanks, Parker.
Parker: Thanks a lot, Andrew. Take care.
Andrew: Thanks. Bye. Everyone.