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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 29, 2016 4 years ago

House of shares

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VeryUs lets travelers rent a room instead of the whole house. It's a tech twist on the bed-and-breakfast model.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

A few years ago, Matthew Heady found the perfect vacation getaway: A six-bedroom house on the sunny Caribbean islands of Turks & Caicos.

The only problem was it cost $1,200 a night. He tried to organize a group of friends to go in on the rental. “Everybody ended up backing out,” says Heady, shaking his head.

The busted vacation led the Naples technology entrepreneur to dream up VeryUs, modeled after Airbnb. Unlike the popular booking service of private homes, VeryUs helps individuals and groups rent rooms in large homes. A play on the word “various,” the service works by logging onto the website Very.Us.

Heady is no stranger to the hospitality business. He grew up in his parents bed-and-breakfast inn, The Stockbridge Country Inn next to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Growing up in the bed and breakfast and his success starting and selling technology companies such as eDiets in Florida came together when Heady moved to Naples a few years ago to settle with his wife and small children. He met business partner Ryan Heinemeyer at co-work space Venture X in Naples. They're both co-founders of VeryUs. Heady, 39, is the CEO and Heinemeyer, 26, is vice president of sales.

Together, Heady and Heinemeyer solved a problem for travelers and house renters. “Travelers can't afford to stay in luxury vacation rentals without their friends,” says Heady.

Meanwhile, large luxury homes are difficult to rent because they're too big and expensive for most individuals. “These places sit unrented 75% of the time,” Heady says.

Heady wondered whether strangers might share a house, although he knows travelers have done this for years with bed and breakfasts. “It's all in how you present it,” Heady says.

For example, strangers or groups of friends and family are more likely to rent a house together if they have the same interests. That's why VeryUs will list events such as concerts, sporting events or festivals that draw people with similar interests. They hope to partner with many of these events to fill rooms. “We're pulling enthusiasts together,” Heinemeyer says.

The site also includes searches by interests. “Skiing is the biggest one,” says Heinemeyer, who is exploring expanding the service to Europe.

So far, the most receptive age group of renters has been in the 25-to-42 range. “It's the whole millennial generation,” Heady says. “People are comfortable exchanging and sharing personal space.”

By the end of July, Heady estimates the site will have 5,000 properties for rent. VeryUs makes money by charging a 10% commission on every booking. The service is currently only available to property managers, but will be available broadly by the end of the month. “Right now, we're proving the model,” Heady says.

The two entrepreneurs have so far self-funded the project with $20,000, saving on expenses by programming it themselves. “We could've spent over $100,000,” Heady acknowledges.
But by Christmas, if it's as successful as they believe it will be, Heady and Heinemeyer are considering raising between $750,000 and $1.2 million to grow the business.

Although Naples isn't a hotspot for venture funding, Heady says investors will find their way here for a good investment idea. “In the last five years, Naples has just exploded,” Heady says. “Florida is the No. 1 state for our vacation inventory.”

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