Using smart home tech to provide a platform to manage listings
Products enable keyless entry, and appliance monitoring
SHORT-TERM rentals and businesses such as Airbnb have allowed many travellers to enjoy more affordable and localised stays in various countries. However, not much is said about the issues that the hosts face when leasing out their units.
These include having to make the time to do the key exchange, or guests leaving the air-conditioner on throughout the day.
These were some of the actual challenges that Igloohome cofounder and chief operating officer Walter Wang faced, according to the company’s chief executive officer Anthony Chow (pic above).
“Walter [Wang] is an Airbnb host, and in Singapore he manages five listings and welcomed 300 guests in just one year,” Chow told Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
“It is not easy as he is a full-time professional, and he spent upwards of 100 hours to coordinate key exchanges, and S$3,000 (about US$2,200) per property per year on increased utility bills,” he added.
Igloohome saw its genesis at Singtel Lifespark Hackathon 2014, where Wang shared his problems with being an Airbnb host, and the team went about prototyping.
“That was when we figured that this is one of the most obvious and practical applications of the idea of the smart home, and with a huge market potential worldwide as well,” Chow said.
“We immediately went about prototyping it, and in 60 hours we got customers who wanted to buy the solution – the demand we were able to generate won us the hackathon,” he added.
Singtel Lifespark Hackathon is an internal hackathon for employees of Singapore Telecommunication Ltd (Singtel).
Igloohome’s founding team of Chow and Wang, as well as Kelvin Ho and Sharon Goh, were employees who had worked with each other in Singtel’s DataSpark department, which serves as the telco’s ‘digital innovation engine.’
Igloohome’s products consist of a guest management platform, smart locks and smart thermostats. The guest management platform allows hosts to manage their listings on various short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, Homeaway and Flipkey.
“This means that when someone makes a reservation on Airbnb or any of the other compatible platforms, Igloohome’s system will automatically be informed, and is able to control smart locks automatically to welcome the guest for self-check-ins,” Chow said.
“During the stay, Igloohome can regulate the temperature for energy conservation, and finally, upon checkout, Igloohome can secure the property by expiring the guest’s check-in profile,” he added.
Igloohome, which will only be officially launching at the end of the year according to Chow, has started selling its products in selected parts of Australia and the United States, where short-term rentals are more prevalent.
The startup has also begun trials with Airbnb, installing the system with over 100 Airbnb hosts in the United States, although Chow declined to comment when asked about other trials Igloohome is currently involved in.
Smarter home opportunities
On the face of it, the smarter home space for rentals seems fecund with opportunity, from smart lights to smart fridges.
The challenge Igloohome is facing is identifying the right opportunities, said Chow.
“The toughest challenge has been identifying the right opportunity that will enable Igloohome to create the biggest impact,” he added.
Beyond just the business challenge, technical challenges abound – especially when factoring in the diverse types of residential units.
“One of the biggest technical challenges is to develop a generic solution for the many different property types typically associated with the urban rentals which most Airbnb hosts have,” Chow said.
“For example, we had to consider our solution not only for houses, but also for apartment doors with buzzer or intercom systems, for new and old houses with different types of locks, and heating and cooling systems,” he added.
While Igloohome may not have the perfect solution, Chow is confident that its trials with various property types will soon produce “a solution for everyone.”
Regulatory challenges also loom ahead. Do a Google search with the keyword phrase ‘Airbnb and regulation,’ and you will be greeted by a long list of negative results.
However, Chow believes that eventually a compromise between regulators and short-term rental platforms will be reached.
“At Igloohome, we believe that our Smart Host solution will only help this industry grow, by selling the shovels to the gold-diggers joining this industry,” he said.
“Also, with a more efficient and secure way to rent out your house, Igloohome could also potentially help in overcoming some of the security concerns of regulatory bodies,” he declared.
Igloohome got its impetus after Singtel initially funded the startup to help it kick off, according to Chow, who declined to disclose how much Singtel invested.
“We are currently in the midst of closing our seed round, and the information is confidential at this point,” he said.
At this point, the startup is focused on developing products in the next six to 12 months to prepare to eventually scale, according to Chow.
“We will be focusing on developing the best product for Airbnb hosts to use in the selected markets we are in (Philadelphia, New York City, and Sydney), and prepare to scale to other parts of the world,” he said.
Beyond short-term rentals, Igloohome is also looking to explore the enterprise market, and Chow believes that the startup can help bring more efficiencies to property managers.
“We will start targeting professional property managers to help them improve operational efficiencies and bring in more revenue,” he declared.
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