STARTUP STAGE: Becoming rentABLE is a platform for accessible short term rentals


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Becoming rentABLE

Becoming rentABLE is a listing platform of accessible short-term rental properties. 

Becoming rentABLE aims to build inventory by certifying properties for accessibility beyond just a wheelchair to include all mobility, cognitive, hearing, sight and the fast-growing aging population.

What is your 30-second pitch to investors?

Becoming rentABLE is a listing platform of accessible short-term rental (STR) properties in the United States and Canada. Think of us as an accessibility-friendly Vrbo or Airbnb. Our goal is to build our inventory by certifying properties for accessibility beyond just a wheelchair to include all mobility, cognitive, hearing, sight and the fast-growing aging population because we know accessibility is a part of life for everyone.

Location

Raleigh, North Carolina

Describe both the business and technology aspects of your startup.

We understand the struggle people with disabilities have had trying to find truly accessible short-term rentals in the industry. Without any direct competitors, Becoming rentABLE is alleviating renters’ pain points by providing a dedicated accessible property platform with choices in the form of 43 filters. Not only do we focus on individuals with mobility needs (wheelchair, walker, canes, crutches), but we are also expanding to include cognitive, hearing, sight and the aging community. Beyond those audiences, we are also reaching the short-term rental industry as a whole, property managers and hosts, businesses through their DEI efforts, state travel and tourism department and local convention and visitors bureaus (CVB). In the coming year we are aiming to grow our brand awareness, expand our certification offerings to include all of our areas of focus: mobility, cognitive, hearing, sight and aging, as well as grow important partnerships in the industry.

As a relatively new company, Becoming rentABLE created a directory style website to capture certified properties and property manager/host information via an internal database. In addition we created online quiz tools for our certifications via Typeform to allow users to “pre-qualify” their property as well as gather back-end property owner data information for Becoming rentABLE.

Give us your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.

Strengths – We are the only company working to address the inventory and expansion of accessible short-term rentals. We are the only company with multiple certifications for accessible short-term rentals. We have a lifetime of work leading up to this company, and everyone on the team personally has a connection with disability. 

Weaknesses – Our business weaknesses are true of most startups. We are growing fast and need to hire more people, but we also need money/funding to keep the work going. As entrepreneurs, there is always more that needs to be done to grow at the pace we need to make the difference we want to see in this industry.

Opportunities – There is enormous market potential! There is a vast market with both a desire to travel and discretionary income to travel. Sixty-two million Americans have a disability, yet there are fewer than 2,000 truly accessible short-term rental properties. In addition, accessibility has only ever been looked at in terms of wheelchair accessibility. We are expanding the reach to include all mobility, cognitive, hearing, sight and aging.

Becoming rentABLE’s digital presence is currently not at the level we would like it to be at and is absolutely crucial for our business to connect with our consumers. This is both a weakness and an opportunity. We aim to build a digital presence that features our brand and gives us a platform to communicate with our consumers. We want our website, social media and other digital mediums to build our credibility and provide a means to educate consumers.

Threats – Apathy is our biggest threat. Of course the normal economic fluctuations are a standard issue for any start-up. The travel industry in general and short-term rentals specifically face the threat of diminishing discretionary income among potential travelers, hosts, and property owners, especially during economic downturns. The solutions we provide are vetted by some of the best voices and minds in the travel disability and accessibility world. 

Becoming RentABLE’s business plan may encounter challenges due to financial constraints, as implementing and maintaining robust disability filters and accessibility features can incur significant development costs. Furthermore, apathy within the short-term rental industry towards prioritizing accessibility might hinder widespread adoption of such inclusive platforms, but we feel education is power. Overcoming financial barriers and advocating for industry awareness and education are essential for the sustained success of Becoming rentABLE.

What are the travel pain points you are trying to alleviate from both the customer and the industry perspective?

For years, people with disabilities have had trouble finding short-term rentals that fit their needs without exhaustive searches that may or may not lead to what they need. In April 2022, Becoming rentABLE researched a large booking platform and found that of their 660,000 property listings, only 85 were accessible across 27 states. The remaining 23 states had zero! That was alarming. In December 2023, we researched another booking platform’s site. We looked at 2,539 properties labeled as accessible across 13 states. Of those, only 407 (or 16%) were truly accessible. This incorrect information or mislabeling of properties leads to frustration and possible lawsuits.

Becoming rentABLE comes in as third-party experts to verify and validate accessible features through our certification process. If the properties meet the requirements, they earn the Becoming rentABLE certified medallion and a spot on our website. 

Education is also a big part of our work. If you don’t have someone in your life that needs accessibility, you might not understand the need. We are also working to educate homeowners and property managers on what it takes to create an accessible short-term rental. 

So you’ve got the product, now how will you get lots of customers?

We built our business over the course of two years, fine-tuning who we are and building relationships in both the disability world and the short-term rental industry. Building partnerships and educating and creating a website listing platform with truly accessible short-term rentals is how we will develop our business. With over 70,000 searches for accessible short-term rental properties each month, this is a huge market and an excellent opportunity for growth. 

Short-term rental property managers and property hosts are our second customer base. While the short-term rental market is booming, accessible short-term rentals are few and far between. Becoming rentABLE provides STR property managers and hosts with the tools and expertise to succeed in this niche market. Our products and services target people who want to increase their revenue by meeting the urgent need for accessible accommodations. As more and more people hear about us, more industries are coming to us, recognizing that what we are doing can affect their industry too. 

Tell us what process you’ve gone through to establish a genuine need for your company and the size of the addressable market.

After a lifetime of trying to find accessible short-term rentals for her family and seeing the success of her accessible short-term rental, Lorraine Woodward knew she needed to create a solution. 

Becoming rentABLE’s data confirmed there is not a one-size-fits-all box to check with accessibility. This resulted in the idea to expand accessibility beyond the wheelchair and include cognitive, hearing, sight, and aging accessibility. The team at Becoming rentABLE came up with the idea to create 36 individual accessibility filters allowing renters to pick and choose what features they need in a rental. If a renter needs a roll-in shower and grab bars, they click the corresponding filters and choose from the properties that actually have these features.

How and when will you make money?

Becoming rentABLE has created multiple revenue sources to increase the availability of accessible short-term rental properties across the U.S.
  
Mobility & Cognitive Certifications: We sell certifications that not only verify the property’s accessibility level, they educate the property owner on the hows and whys of making their property accessible to a larger audience. 

Product Partnerships: We vet the products we recommend to STR property owners that will make their listings accessible to a larger audience.

CVB/state travel and tourism departments: We partner with state and local governments to provide guidance for accessible travel to points of interest. Travel isn’t limited to vacation rentals, we are opening doors for business travel as well as emergency health travel (when a family needs to stay near a hospital for ongoing treatments). 

Partnerships: We recently completed an accelerator program with Expedia. At the end of the program they partnered with us to create educational modules. We hope to continue this work with other booking platforms.

What are the backgrounds and previous achievements of the founding team?

Our team has 30 decades of combined experience in the disability arena. Most team members have spent much of their career serving our disability communities, working with state and federal agencies, nonprofits and for-profit organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Lorraine Woodward, founder and CEO, is an entrepreneur, business owner, and a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities. Lorraine entered the business world to make a positive difference for individuals with disabilities. 

How have you addressed diversity and inclusion within your business?

Becoming rentABLE was founded by a person with a disability, so it seemed only fitting to include other people with disabilities or who had family members with disabilities to add their perspective and ideas. Today our company consists of 17 people, each with a unique background with disability. We also have a team of six ambassadors, all of whom also have a disability. Knowing that we wanted to broaden our focus beyond just wheelchair accessibility we brought in team members with other disabilities.

In addition, when possible, we try and partner with companies that understand disability or have team members in their company with disabilities. That compassion and mutual understanding goes a long way.

What’s been the most difficult part of founding the business so far?

The most difficult part of founding Becoming rentABLE has been technology! While we are good at many things, technology isn’t one of them. Relying on outside sources for this piece has been hard and trying at times. We have great ideas, amazing partnerships and contacts, but implementing what we want on the technology side and without deep pockets of funding has been the most stressful.

The second most difficult area has been building the best team with very little money. We have been bootstrapping our company, no outside investors, so we watch where we spend every penny. We have been fortunate to have had the most amazing people who are talented and want to share their gifts with us. 

Our third area of difficulty is growing our brand awareness. We want to make sure the people who need our services know we have a listing platform just for them. Unfortunately we still run across people daily who are surprised they didn’t know about us.

Generally, travel startups face a fairly tough time making an impact – so why are you going to be one of the lucky ones?

Trends [and] insights have taught us a lot. Post-pandemic, state governments are rethinking their accessibility, inclusion, and diversity strategies, which will lead to a more equal and inclusive workplace by removing barriers. Accessibility and DEI efforts are expanding reach at a rapid rate.

As companies adjust their DEI efforts in the workplace, the need for more accessible business travel rises. Historically, business travel has included ground or air travel and hotel. An accessible short-term rental property fills the gap when a hotel stay is not an option for an employee. For our employers, an accessible short-term rental will help increase their pool of new hirers and impact employee retention, growth and network by simply having available accessible STRs to business travelers.

A year from now, what state do you think your startup will be in?

It’s only up from here! We will continue expanding our reach and visibility to broaden our customer base by working with more CVBs and state travel and tourism departments. We are making our certification and educational programs more robust, including cognitive filters and features that haven’t been explored before. We will add new certifications for our hearing and vision communities. We will continue to grow our ambassador program, which puts a relatable face on all elements of traveling with disabilities.

For the past two years, we have focused on the U.S. market, just recently adding Canada. In a year, we hope to bring a global dimension to our organization.

What is your end game? (Going public, acquisition, growing and staying private, etc.)

Becoming rentABLE is in the business of social change. While we are focused on the accessible short-term rental market, so many things are related (or should be related) to the work we are doing. We have plans of growth by increasing the awareness of accessibility the following areas- the real estate market, hospitals, occupational and physical therapy, business travel, aging community, local CVBs, state travel and tourism departments

We believe that through partnerships and working together we can make the biggest impact. While we aren’t closed off to the idea of acquisition, right now we are focused on our goals and dreams for the company and staying focused on making that happen privately.

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