Episode 1: Toby Savill (Airsorted)

StartWell’s CEO sits down with Toby Savill, who is leading Canadian expansion for Airsorted – the world’s largest single manager of AirBnB properties who recently raised £5M to fuel global expansion. Toby explains why Toronto’s diversity has attracted the company to Canada and how StartWell is already contributing to his success.

[expand title=”Podcast Transcript”]

Qasim Virjee 0:01
Do This is the inaugural podcast episode from start well, broadcasting, you know, over the internet on iTunes and other syndicated partners from Toronto. For those of you tuning in that don’t know about us start well is essentially a co working space but we add value and play this kind of role of an incubator. We’ve got a mixture of artistic organizations as well as high tech startups that all share the same roof at our campus on King Street, we’ve got another location that’s a bit smaller up at St. Clair, which is a residential neighborhood in downtown Toronto. So for this inaugural episode of the stairwell podcast, I wanted to sit down with someone who I think represents a lot of or at least is living through the experience of a lot of our entrepreneurs, comes from outside of the city working on very interesting kind of product launch and new brand introduction into the Canadian market coming from, you know, established markets. And so my guest on this first podcast is Toby Savile, who I’ll introduce shortly I’ll let him introduce himself.

Qasim Virjee 1:20
And, and yeah, why don’t you just jump into it, Toby, tell us a little bit about yourself where you came from. And we’ll we’ll dig into your story.

Toby Savill 1:27
I can do yes, my name is Toby, I come from London. As you can probably notice, my accent is slightly fighting a lot. I’m over in Toronto, I’ve only been here a month, maybe a little bit more now than a month. So only been a month. It’s been crazy. It’s rush by. I am part of an Airbnb management company called Air sorted, which is based in the UK. But we’re in 15 cities globally. And essentially, we eradicate any of the hassle for anyone who owns a home. And we’d like to advertise via multiple platforms, holiday laps, but predominantly Airbnb, were a very tech focused bunch of guys and girls. And we really do focus on revenue management, as well as the service providing just to ensure we eradicate hassle, as well as generating as much possible income as we can for our hosts. So it’s been a great start to the trip and Toronto, the hosts that we’ve already brought on are fantastic. The traction has been excellent. And I will elaborate in a second on how fantastic start will have been for the beginning of our journey.

Qasim Virjee 2:23
Thank you. Thank you. Yes, please do. Please elaborate. Well, actually, let’s jump into that later. I’d love to dig in a little bit into some of the things you said. Firstly, you’re the world’s largest is IT management company for Airbnbs?

Toby Savill 2:36
We are Yes. So we’ve been running for three years. And as I said, London was HQ and we manage just under 1000 properties there. And we’re up to 2000 in the excess of 2000. Globally, we received a wave of investment fairly recently, which has given us some some wriggle room to get around the world hence my being here

Qasim Virjee 2:56
is this. And can you talk about what that round entailed or

Toby Savill 3:00
Yeah, so it’s VC investment. And we recently received five, 5 million pounds, so you can do the maths with dollars. And the focus is global domination, it always has been. We always keep a focused and detailed service in all of our various locations. We try and hire talent locally to keep the the local knowledge as well as bringing someone like myself who has the business knowledge, we team up and we try and replicate our model as much as we possibly can, in every city we go to. We have yet to hit too many hurdles yet but always faced challenges, and always good to work in great working spaces like this to ensure that when you do hit hurdles, all it takes is a few few connections and conversations and we can pass those.

Qasim Virjee 3:42
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s what we’re here for is to help the company it’s kind of you know, exactly that, you know, the way we look at it is obstacles to success in business, at least in early stage startup stuff are often to do with network problems. And with new entrances into market. Of course, connectivity is always a problem. So being here is that kind of like, you know, facilitator for your introduction to the market is really fulfilling for us. And it’s something that we enjoy,

Toby Savill 4:09
I think, you know, we work predominantly in home sharing space sharing. So the co working environment for us is excellent. We love the kind of startup vibe that comes with this place and it’s very much something that we’re used to dealing with sharing space and it really is a melting pot for ideas. And then already we’ve been able to contribute with marketing outdoor advertising ideas, the guys that I’ve come across have a genuinely had some contribution to the leads that we’ve generated and converted on so I would be I’d be inclined to say we have started well

Qasim Virjee 4:39
it’s funny here because like you know I didn’t want to go there right in the beginning of the podcast episode and talk about how awesome start well is and the wonderful stuff that we’ve done together already but in one month if you I didn’t realize it’s only been a month, so let’s qualify that it for weeks. You know, right from when you were considering where to land and we talked and showed you The space we worked out in office, I guess some of the connectivity is through experiential or physical marketing you through, you know, other members in the building, we connected with you with the Creative Services Agency, right.

Toby Savill 5:11
So the, the teams that we’ve kept the guys that we’ve kind of connected with, we’ve done a lot of the online stuff. And I was very open about that when, when approaching a lot of the guys in the office, I said, we’re good for online, we’re generating great leads, we’ve got a team that do that centrally in London. But what they have been fantastic with is the outdoor stuff and the connections that we’ve managed to generate for prints, distribution flyers, as well as all the brilliant, wild posters that we’re getting. And we’re launching next week. So keep an eye out for those. So yeah, various connections that have been made. And because they’re experienced in the market, they know what what is the correct price, and where to negotiate and where to be happy. So that’s the consultancy that I needed being in a new place, you need people who’ve got experience around you. And that’s why a co working space is always the first door that we knock on it when we’re in a new city.

Qasim Virjee 6:00
Yeah, I was sitting in my meeting earlier today, I think in our Atrium Cafe, and lo and behold, you walk by with Lewis, who’s a contractor that we’ve worked with, with renovating this actual location. So it’s cool to see that that connection has already been made. And you guys are working together.

Toby Savill 6:16
Yeah, Luis has already sent me numerous videos of how excellent he is at working our lockboxes really excited. I like the fact that he gives me updates. And you know, he knows how to work the codes, he sets it all up. And he gives me video proof. So very happy with that connection, because you’re one.

Qasim Virjee 6:32
So taking a step back, let’s go back to kind of like this global domination plan that you mentioned, you know, powered by, I guess it would be Canadian math, you know, over $10 million to expand globally, while you’re already in 15. Countries. How does a territorial rollout look to err sorted? So you’ve come abroad from the UK? Tell me a little bit about why. Well, firstly, I guess how many people are at the head office at HQ in London? And how long have you been with the company? What was the backstory before you came out to Toronto?

Toby Savill 7:07
Yes. So first of all, s are always very good at offering opportunities. And people progress very fast if they show that they can be diligent with their existing roles. I was with the sales team for eight months, and proved my colors in that part, it also had a bit of thirst for the operational side of things. So then I started helping out with a few other launches like Brighton, and Bristol, which is which neighboring cities to London, after proving those colors you start applying in internally. And obviously Toronto was a huge opportunity for me and people do internally, we always internally recruit, but we can’t. So I was very lucky to get that role. And we went ahead with it. We’re about 100, I’d say we’re about 100 employees in London, with contractors probably about 120. And interestingly, I think we’ve probably employed kind of 50% of our workforce within the last three months after investments. So we’re growing at a huge rate. And the talent that we’re bringing in is extraordinary. And where we can we want to expand that talent and take them across the world and see what they can do in terms of the process when people touch base and land in new locations. And they learn what they have from London and everyone’s trained there. And then they’ve got a real opportunity to take the business knowledge that they’ve learned from London, adapt to that location and where you are, and then really make that city your rent

Qasim Virjee 8:28
is, you know, I find this very interesting because I have a lot of personal experience going through London, you know, music industry stuff, working with the BBC in yours and, you know, decades and lifetimes gone by. But, um, I see a lot of similarity between, for myself anyway, being Canadian, but looking at Toronto and London as these kind of global metropoles. You know, I feel like Toronto represents it with the diversity on the ground, but its relevance in the global marketplace is increasing. As you know, North American cities are primarily becoming I don’t know, I guess we’ve got this interesting new era where America has a different brand globally and Canada’s kind of becoming a little bit more known in Toronto for that, you know, how how does that play into your perception of what’s possible in Canada or from Canada and from Toronto?

Toby Savill 9:23
Well, what we love about Canada and particularly in Toronto, is their openness to diversity and how multicultural the city is, and how, how they really do embrace people who aren’t from here, they love that. And I think with Airbnb where tourism is obviously a huge contributor to that and and vice versa. Right. It’s very important that that we we stick with that and facilitate that process. And we want to go to cities that are happy to have new people new faces share space, and a very innovative and open minded in terms of the communications that we find really important about global domination and being in different locations, Toronto In a different timezone, London’s in a different timezone. And so Sydney amongst other areas that we’re in, this means that we can provide our customers with all kinds of communications around the clock. So whether it’s a guest inquiry, where is where’s the fuse box? Or how does the oven work? Or whether it’s a booking inquiry, we can deal with all of those communications around the world. So, yes, there’s thought process behind where we’re going and how well our business model would fit to it. But there’s also service minded decisions behind that, that mean that we can give our our hosts and guests better services as a result.

Qasim Virjee 10:32
What’s the plan for Canada as a whole? Is it just Toronto that that’s on the roadmap for now?

Toby Savill 10:37
Not at all. Um, so we’re already having discussions about Vancouver, and Montreal. And we’ll see where we go from there. Hopefully, we can break America as well. But Canada is very much on our immediate focus for now, of course,

Qasim Virjee 10:52
is really interesting, because I think what you guys are doing from what I understand, is this double edged sword. On one side, you’re a property management company, or booking management company that’s dealing with the, you mentioned lockboxes, and Luisa contractor, kind of like handling that physical experience side of, you know, the Airbnb booking. And then you also do like linens and keeping the units tidy. But so tell me a little bit about that in terms of, you know, how you roll out a physical services business to find people on the ground in new markets that can, you know, immediately provide the quality of service that you globally have a standard. And then the second side of this, the way I look at it is the digital product and why the air sorted offering is particularly unique for the people that own properties that are listing with you,

Toby Savill 11:41
yeah, well, if I give you a kind of user journey, so you get an understanding of how it kind of happens if you are a host, they may give you a good insight. So in terms of how the process starts, it will start with an onboarding meeting, where I would head over with my professional photographer, round up all the information, I need to go away and build your listing for you. We manage the content, the language, the framework to make sure that your listing does stand out online, we can roll that listing across booking.com, HomeAway, and Expedia, just to grant maximum exposure will also plug in our technology. It’s an algorithm that reacts your price to things like seasonality time of the week, even special events in the area. So we’re always maximizing those returns for you. After seeing you we can turn things around and get you up and running in live five days. And then we’ll manage all the bookings. So the communications before during and after a guest comes to stay. Beforehand, we ensure their security by vetting and screening every guest thoroughly before we accept them. And once they’re within the property, they’ll have access to a 24/7 helpline that just ensures around the clock any questions queries, perhaps they’ve locked themselves out, they’d like some tourist information would pick that up and communicate within 15 minutes to make sure they’re having a wonderful experience. And leaving you as the host fantastic ratings and reviews. We’ll also manage the housekeeping so we provide all the linen and all the towels. So we partner up centrally with a linen provider who delivers within a window. While the cleaner is doing that professional clean at your units or property. They’ll complete by 3pm to high end hotels standards, the next guest would then check in using that lockbox that Louise had put together right using the code that we can change periodically. And that is all something that we offer within a management fee on a booking by booking basis.

Qasim Virjee 13:13
And so even I guess you’re tying in the digital services right from the kind of price neighboring listing service to the customer experience with a lockbox, I’m guessing is a cloud enabled lockbox.

Toby Savill 13:26
It’s all manual. We keep we keep it manual. But we can change them. Because we use all of our current we use our cleaners and maintenance manners, our eyes, we keep it simple. We keep it straightforward. And they can change things periodically to periodic periodically if needed. Right.

Qasim Virjee 13:39
Okay. Yeah, no, I find it really interesting to look at this inversion of what we normally would talk about in Canada, which is like Canada can, you know, teach the world something, and we do have diversity. And we can use that as an asset to sell Canadian products abroad, I find it really interesting to look at the fact that, you know, it also makes us a receptive market. I find that really, really interesting.

Toby Savill 14:07
Well, I’m in a strange situation now where I feel actually, we were offering a fantastic service with the addition to tech, which usually differentiates us from competition in other locations. Here, there’s not a huge amount of competition, even in the service providing I mean, there’s certainly outfits and people that do it independently, but not to the scale that we do with the amount of experience that we do. So we’re finding a lot of our communications early on with lead generation or even prior to that it’s all about education. So I was working with was one of the guys I was working with a meets and we’re talking about how a lot of our advisors for

Qasim Virjee 14:41
the listeners a meet is to meet Nathwani who used to be the creative director of MD, which is a Canadian success story in the startup ecosystem, physical product essentially it’s, you know, a vacuum pack. I don’t know if they’ve I can pack this in my head. It might not be but however, They package up their mattresses. It’s an on demand mattress manufacturer. And he was since day one, I guess he’s employee number two. He was the creative director, or employee number five in the core team. Anyway, and now he’s gone off to found his own company called Nathwani. Media, who is also a member here at start woking West. And it’s a whole new take on creating Creative Services Agency using start well as a physical space platform. Okay, sorry. So that was a long kind of introduction to someone that’s not here in the room with us. But yeah, so you were talking to him?

Toby Savill 15:34
Yes. I mean, he’s the self proclaimed problem solver. And we like to bounce ideas, we try and speak on a weekly basis. I showed him a few of the designs that we’ve had rolling out in Melbourne and some of our other ANZ add locations. And one design that caught his eye was something we use chalkboards, that kind of vibe, and just education. So immediately linking things to school, we can double your income in comparison to a long term lap, and he thought that was great. So now with that kind of added advice from someone I met here, we’re going to roll that out here, and that’s going on the world posters next week. So a lot of it is a lot of our communications are about education, and then executing on the people that are interested.

Qasim Virjee 16:14
Absolutely. That’s fantastic. So again, it’s one more kind of like, you know, tick box in the in the whole value of community story that we sell, for sure. You having been here for a month, the rest of your tenure in Canada is going to be how long? How long are you personally going to be here,

Toby Savill 16:32
I’m passing me here for six months. And I could be splitting that in other locations. We’re not sure yet where my main focus is getting Toronto off the ground and getting as many homes live as possible. And that’s, that’s my main focus for now.

Qasim Virjee 16:46
What kind of infrastructure in terms of your organization HR wise, are you how many people and so on? Are you leaving behind when you leave in five months,

Toby Savill 16:55
so I’ll probably be leaving at a team of five. Okay. And we’ve got a city manager joining at the end of next month, who will be fantastic. She launched Zipcar. So she’ll add a lot of experience and some Zipcar across North America. Oh, wow. So she’s great. Monica, excellent.

Qasim Virjee 17:12
So for the media will, she’ll be

Toby Savill 17:14
salutely. And she’s good friends with Nikola. So that’s great, great connection. And then she’ll be working on on hiring a kind of local team, with young recruits from grassroots, train them up, give them an opportunity, get them bought into the startup vibe, and then really build a team around that. We’ve also got some experience coming in from London, we like to call him the rock, his name is Jitesh. And he is a fantastic, all rounder to deal with. But you have to tell me why he’s called the rock. Nothing fazes this man. He can be chats many issue at once, whether it’s a guest communication problem, or supply management, very good at prioritizing what needs to be done first, and then yeah, causing troubleshooting effectively after that,

Qasim Virjee 17:56
it’s really interesting, because it seems like the approach that you guys have to your business is extremely well defined and agile at the same time. So it’s, you’ve got the strategy, and you’ve got the kind of like structures for how you’re rolling out and all these marketplaces, but you’re able to do it so quickly. And with the flexibility of bringing people on and moving people around the world as you go, I think that’s definitely a story that other companies can learn from. And it’s something that you probably don’t know, have you had people been picking your brains about that side of it at our socials or otherwise, just around the building?

Toby Savill 18:32
Yeah, I think once you get a business model that you’re extremely confident in, you can then build your own foundation to launch aggressively. And, yeah, I mean, it really is about who’s around you. And you need to recruit extremely, extremely wisely. I think it’s good to get someone who has a huge amount of knowledge in the market by doing at least eight months, like myself, and having a little bit of experience from HQ. And then balancing that experience with someone who knows the city extremely well. So if you are looking to roll out a company, try and find someone who’s got experience in the industry that you’re working in, and then balance that with someone who knows the area extremely well. And once those two guys start bouncing ideas, there’s going to be an excellent solution or conclusion to those conversations.

Qasim Virjee 19:12
Absolutely. No, it’s very interesting, chatting with you. And we’ll definitely bring you back on the podcast again, possibly with a couple other members to talk about some of the aspects that we talked about today, things to do with like global expansion, Canada’s relevance to the world, maybe even digging a bit as you expand into Montreal and the other cities to look at kind of like how Toronto’s relevance to the region is playing into your business approach. Yeah, that’d be a good conversation. But to end with just give you an opportunity for any plugs, are you guys looking for any hires or otherwise are you set on that regard? Any opportunities that you want to throw out there to the world so the internet, so the

Toby Savill 19:51
Internet, what we love doing is offering grassroots kind of marketing opportunity, so if anyone wants to get involved, get it with the flyering campaigns, anything like that we offer really good returns, where we’ll give 150 bucks for anyone that generates leads, we number all of our fliers. So that’s I’m looking to build a motley crew at the moment to get around the city. So if you just wanted to have a bit of a temp work, get in the financial district handout 100 flyers even more, there’s opportunity to earn some quick beer money for the weekend.

Qasim Virjee 20:17
And a lot more hopefully, than beer money would be the, you know, actual hosts themselves. So people who own properties, of course, you’re looking for them to reach out to you directly or how,

Toby Savill 20:28
so you can go to the website, WWE assorted.com forward slash Toronto head over there. You can book a call with me, we can have a chat, you’ll also get a calculation of what we think we can earn on your property. If you plug your address into the website, happy to chat. And if you’d like to refer any friends, please do hand your name to them. They can put that in their sign up platform and we can give you 250 bucks as a referral intro.

Qasim Virjee 20:51
Absolutely fantastic. It was great chatting. So I’m glad that we had you on the first the inaugural edition of the StartUp podcast, love it and checks. There’s no way