Build the bridge is a series of articles that showcases international entrepreneurs that foster business collaborations across the world.
Have you ever dreamed of traveling with your entire family without worrying about finding affordable and quality housing? GuestToGuest is a home exchange service which provides date flexibility and allows anyone to travel anytime and anywhere in the world!
As today’s world-leading network for home exchange – with up to 280,000 homes in 187 countries – Guest-To-Guest acquired the American leader HomeExchange.com in March 2017. During summer 2017, Founder & CEO Emmanuel Arnaud also moved to the USA to manage the new Boston’s office.
Former guest speaker at the first edition of La French Touch Conference Paris, we were curious to know his motivations behind their recent expansion in the US.
1) Where is your idea of international home exchange coming from?
It was while wanting to travel to Florence during the Christmas holidays. At that time, the home exchange was becoming popular, but my family and I faced a difficulty: the Italian family was ready to welcome us, but they did not wish to go to Paris. This triggered the idea to resolve the main hurdle of home exchange: reciprocity. I then decided to create in 2011, a point-based system, “GuestPoints”, allowing to organize non-reciprocal exchanges. The GuesttoGuest model was born.
I started with 1 home in September 2011, we now have 400,000 today, and will have one million members in 2 years.
Our success is based on the fact that, once you try it, you stick to it. Hospitality is one of the most shared values in the world. We offer a safe and user-friendly place to host and stay for free, with the freedom and flexibility.
2) Compared to hotel services, what’s the added-value of Guest-to-Guest?
Well, the first aspect is, of course, the money. You can easily do a home exchange for free, and the average home exchange costs less than 50€ for a week …no hotel can compete with that! Also, when you are doing a home exchange, you have access to the whole home, just to yourself. This is very different from having access to only one room. That is especially true when you travel with kids, who need more space. Also, you typically exchange with a family like yours. So, if you have a baby, you’ll easily find a family with a baby who can let you stay in their home, where you’ll find everything you need: a crib, a highchair, kid-proof stairs, etc. So when you look at the financial aspect, the logistical, and the sheer pleasure of being in a real local home, it becomes clear that for all travelers, the quality of the experience is unrivaled.
3) In March 2017, you opened a new office in Boston. Could you tell us more about the process of your takeover as well as the challenges and the solutions that made it a success?
We met with the previous owners of HomeExchange.com in December 2015, and we saw right away that the marriage between both companies made a lot of sense. We shared the same values, and vision for home exchange. We had similar but complementary communities, and we trusted each other. Everything was finalized in February 2017, and I moved with my family in September to open our Boston office.
Since the acquisition, we have been focusing on organizational issues, to make sure we have the right people in the right roles to take the company to the next level. My move to the US is part of that reorganization. The US market is the largest market in our industry, and it is home to all major players in the tourism space. I am confident that we will experience growth in 2018 on a whole new level!
4) Why did you want to move to the US, especially Boston?
Moving to the US was important to build our team and develop our membership in the most important market for us. The East coast seemed a natural choice as most of our operations are European, and I travel to Paris once a month. Once that was decided, the choice was really between New-York and Boston. I chose Boston because of its thriving start-up scene, the presence of travel companies like TripAdvisor, its amazing pool of talents with MIT, Harvard, and 60+ other colleges, and its great quality of life.
5) Do you have any advice to offer to French entrepreneurs with ambitions to expand internationally?
Think BIG! France is a small market, so it’s really important that French entrepreneurs build companies that are designed to be able to grow internationally. You’ll also need to think big in terms of the money you invest to make it in the US: the market is much bigger, requiring higher budgets to get known, also hiring talent is more expensive than in France. It seems difficult to launch a serious US effort without a six-digit budget to do so.