We Quit Our 9 To 5 To Start An Airbnb Cleaning Service. Now We Make $1.4M/Year

John Candelario
$120K
revenue/mo
2
Founders
3
Employees
Vacation Home Help
from
started June 2019
$120,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
3
Employees
4.03M
alexa rank
56
followers
9
followers
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We Quit Our 9 To 5 To Start An Airbnb Cleaning Service. Now We Make $1.4M/Year

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I hated my banking job. Disliked it so much, decided to start a vacation rental cleaning service. Crazy? Maybe, but it worked.

Can you start over, cleaning toilets and making beds to run, and thriving in a completely online business grossing over a million dollars a year? Yes, it is possible.

My name is John Candelario, Yamaris Bonilla (Co-Founder and featured in39 Inspiring Women To Follow In The Vacation Rental Industry) and I started Vacation Home Help to help Airbnb hosts and vacation rental owners automate their turnover cleaning. We help homeowners and airbnb hosts around the world self-manage their rentals remotely. When our users manage remotely, they can save on fees that they would otherwise pay to vacation rental management companies. How?

We match top rated and vetted airbnb cleaners to hosts who need airbnb cleaning service. In addition, we offer free resources and education through our daily short term rental podcast, Vacation Rental & Airbnb Mastery.

Being a digital entrepreneur allows me to work from anywhere, so I live and work in Puerto Rico full-time. After my operating expenses, my take-home varies from $20,000 in the slowest months to over $60,000 in the busiest travel months.

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John Candelario and Yamaris Bonilla, Founders of Vacation Home Help

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I studied accounting in college at UCF but cleaned vacation rentals to pay my way through school. I struggled with financial security early in life, and it is deep-rooted insecurity of mine. Growing up, my family was deeply impacted by the 2008 housing crisis. Throughout middle school and high school, we constantly moved from home to home. The business was my way to escape from this insecurity and the source of my entrepreneurial spirit. My parents were housekeepers for much of their lives and the poor treatment and lack of growth opportunities they had fueled my desire to create a solution for people in their situation.

I believe all cleaners deserve dignity and fair pay and this startup is my way of giving back through the creation of business opportunities for underserved communities. In addition, I desired to run a lifestyle business to have more time for the things that matter. Some entrepreneurs are all about work. I, however, want to enjoy my hobbies like fitness, gardening, music, and family time. Entrepreneurship allows you to design the life you want, with both time and finances. I am proud to say, this business has allowed me to provide for my family and construct a home, mortgage-free.

I had a knack for cleaning and did it all throughout college before Airbnb was a huge thing. I landed an investment banking analyst role on Wall Street with Citigroup, however, I absolutely hated the work. It was actually pretty boring and it did not let you have much freedom (definitely not a lifestyle career choice). I decided to quit and move back to Florida where I could capitalize on the airbnb boom. I had limited savings at the time, so I was all in.

Yamaris just moved to Florida after Hurricane Maria. We decided to team up and grow a business together. At first, we cleaned all of the rentals ourselves, sometimes 2-4 per day and we came back drained and exhausted. To avoid burnout from being so busy, we needed help. Lots of help.

We transformed the business model into a referral agency where we rigorously vet the absolute best Airbnb cleaning services and match them with owners who would be a perfect fit. For this service, we charge a service fee of 25% on cleaning appointments. To our cleaning partners, we provide them with marketing, sales, accounting, bookkeeping, technology, and more. They have the freedom and flexibility to grow their Airbnb cleaning business on their terms with our platform.

We noticed that many owners actually wanted to self-manage to save on costs. Property management for vacation rentals is super expensive (think 25% management fees on gross rental income) so many owners decided to do things on their own to pocket that cost…that is where we come in! We take care of the turnover between guests so they can manage remotely and we provide recommendations to local contractors that can pretty much do everything else affordably for them. It is a match made in heaven.

I validated this idea by asking for feedback from all of my first clients. They loved the service they were receiving and found it super personal and exactly what they needed. The cleaning services we teamed up with loved the autonomy and direct relationship with their clients. Part of validating what worked and what did not work was making sure both stakeholders were happy.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Designing a service that our users would find value in was fun. We have two primary users. The host and the cleaning service. We need to balance both of their needs. The host needs a consistent, reliable, and quality Airbnb cleaning service. The cleaner needs consistent work, fair pay, empowerment, and a system that supports their growth.

Differentiation factor: we actually care about our cleaning services and treat them as our customers. The other platforms competing with us do not. They actually make cleaners lowball and bid against each other, oftentimes leading to them working below a living wage with no rights. We champion fair market cleaning fees to make sure our cleaning services can charge sustainable clean fees to their clients.

We launched a daily podcast to teach the Airbnb and vacation rental business to podcast listeners and our customer base. Our objective is to take anyone interested in the short-term rental business from beginner to expert with our short, daily, and actionable episodes. We do not sell a course, we offer all of our information for free at this point in time as we firmly believe education should be accessible to all.

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Startup costs were minimal and we bootstrapped in the early stages. We had $800 to buy a couple of vacuums and cleaning supplies, get licensed, insured, bonded, and put up a really ugly-looking website at the time. We did the cleaning at that time, but now we do not clean anymore. We are a true home services platform that connects our users. As we grew, so did our expenses. Now, to remain compliant as a home services platform, our legal and accounting fees have gone in excess of $10,000 annually.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

Launch was very…real. We started cleaning toilets and making beds. We earned our first customers by putting flyers in laundromats and posting on craigslist and Facebook - totally bootstrapped. We grew at a rate of 20 customers a month in the first 4 months and as word of mouth took off, so did our numbers.

Strategy-wise, we wanted to grow to 50 accounts in one market before moving to another. Florida is our largest market and we are heavily focused on growing our market share in the Sunshine State. We are focused on growing into states that are friendly to our service model.

Our website was ugly. I designed it on wordpress with a template with absolutely no experience. The HTML and CSS code was horrendous, however, I believe it's so important to just get started and not obsess over too many details. If we were perfectionists, we would have never grown this business. We financed this with our savings and as we grew we invested our earnings in digital marketing.

The biggest lesson: is being consistent. Doing the right things, however small, over and over repeatedly as a habit - that is how we actually started growing our user base. Cash flow was super important and when we started we made the mistake of invoicing our clients. You would not believe how many property management companies do not pay their bills. For every 5 managers, we had collections issues with 3 of the 5. Because of this, we changed our billing system and now charge with a payment method on file on the day of service and it has helped our cash flow tremendously. We do not operate on receivables at the moment and we are completely self-financed.

We are interested in raising capital to expand our footprint, however, having the right partner is just as important. We had a few investors offer these toxic convertible notes and we passed on them. Our model works and it is growing, and we do not necessarily need capital to grow modestly and responsibly. When we find the right partner that believes in our mission, we will know.

Stay on top of the latest industry trends, macro, and micro, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Do not get complacent or comfortable, there is always another startup that wants to disrupt.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Growth was challenging because of retention. We had a great service when we were living in Florida because we had a closer pulse on the business. When our model changed after moving to Puerto Rico, we had to adjust. In retrospect, I should have made many changes prior to the move. First big issue, is the labor shortage. When COVID-19 unexpectedly rocked the world, we lost a lot of talented cleaning services. The new cleaning services we had for a short time were not delivering consistently and guest expectations for cleaning were higher because of the pandemic. We revisited our model and changed our onboarding process for cleaning services to be more rigorous to only attract top short-term rental cleaners.

Next big challenge for retention, is inflation. Clients wanted lower cleaning fees to entice prospective guests, but we could not offer that at the expense of our cleaning companies. Clients who were looking for the lowest-cost operator left our platform. We shifted our focus to attract our ideal client: the self-managing Airbnb host. This host wanted quality and consistency and knew that paying a fair clean fee would get them both.

We stopped advertising to property management clients and owners seeking the lowest cost option. Next, we touch base with our clients constantly asking for their feedback so we can constantly improve our services for them. Communication is everything in retention. After all, you cannot grow if you don’t retain clients.

We send a weekly newsletter to our clients who opt-in, providing them with the latest updates, hacks, and tips to master their vacation rental businesses.

To grow, we have to spend wisely. We do a couple of things exceptionally well. Our google AdWords campaign is highly optimized and we are top of our competitors in terms of impression share. While our competitors blanket buy top keywords, they spend recklessly and a lot of the users clicking on their websites are not going to be customers…We have a super-targeted pay-per-click campaign. We also offer a promo that is too great to pass up, first time users get $75 off their first cleaning service.

Our referral program has helped us grow. For every friend a user refers (terms apply) they receive a free cleaning. We had one client refer us to 12 clients and earn 12 free cleanings. It spread like wildfire and we are pretty excited about our current clients being our agents for growth.

Facebook marketing (now Meta)...I dislike it. Why? They want you to pay for impressions and they purposely create interests that are so broad you cannot accurately target a good audience. In my opinion, Meta has been the biggest waste of capital. We used to remarket on Meta, however, since iOS privacy updates it is way less useful. Meta’s customer service is also pretty difficult to work with, so we do not see ourselves using Meta advertising much. Our owners are absentee, Meta works better for local ads.

We also use Microsoft ads (Bing) and have experimented with TikTok and Instagram. However, we are big on direct mail, our podcast, PPC, and word of mouth. To date, we spend $3,000 per market per month on PPC and we are actively planning to invest more in PPC and direct mail.

SEO has been big for us as well, we use SEMrush to track our positioning and we have been steadily investing $2,000-3,000 monthly on SEO with freelancers.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Since we launched 4 years ago, we are now profitable. Our service fee of 25% becomes a 20% ROI with our main expenses being contractor payouts, marketing costs, software, and SG&A. Our customer acquisition cost is $65, we are looking to reduce that cost to $25 through strategic initiatives.

Monthly web traffic…we get about 6,000 clicks a month from organic visitors and ads on 300K impressions. Our traffic is very profitable because most people clicking are interested in our platform and service offerings. Email subscribers, we have over 2K loyal subscribers and a growing Facebook following. Return on ad spend is high, $10 for every $1 spent.

Operations are global today. We have operations support in Argentina, Florida, Colorado, and Puerto Rico while our service partners service the entire United States and we are responsibly expanding our geographic footprint, which is primarily in Florida where we started.

In the short term, we want to grow more aggressively into Hawaii, Georgia, and throughout Florida. Over the long term, we aim to position our podcast as the #1 go-to source for free vacation rental education and to attract capital to grow our geographic footprint worldwide to help as many hosts and cleaning services as we can.

We are disrupting the vacation rental industry with our model. It is the first of its kind to balance the needs of cleaners and hosts in a fair, equitable way. This balance is key to consistency and is a delicate balance. If the host is unhappy, they will constantly struggle to find a reliable cleaning service. If the cleaning service is unhappy, they will perform low-quality work or stop working with a client. Balancing their needs creates a mutually beneficial and productive relationship, that is what Vacation Home Help excels at.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

CRM: FreshWorks

Website: Wordpress

Weh Host: dreamhost

Marketing / SEO: SEMrush

Freelancers: Fiverr

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink has been a great read. In a nutshell, take ownership of everything as a leader. What happens in your unit is your problem and we cannot make excuses for our failure to lead. We must take ownership of everything in our startup. Blaming partners or clients is a recipe for failure, this book has helped mentor me to own the process, journey, and outcome.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is a timeless classic. In every business, you deal with many different personalities. I find that the ability to deal with people is the most important skill you need to succeed in entrepreneurship, whatever line of business you are in. I reread this every 2 months.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

There are a lot of people trying to do the same thing…as an entrepreneur what has kept me sane is knowing that there is nothing truly original…everything has been borrowed, stolen, or inspired from. When first starting out, my focus was to deliver the best service possible (obviously), but at the same time to actually make everyone happy. Through thinking of all stakeholders and their unique needs, I was able to design a platform that works for everyone involved. When the people doing the service are happy, the people receiving the service are happy.

This may sound simple, but it actually is much more involved. You need to be hungry and ask the right questions and journal…journal a lot. Self-reflection and journaling have helped me identify problems, bad habits, profitable behaviors, and more. Too often, I see entrepreneurs try the same things over and over and expect a different outcome, that is the definition of insanity. Hey, if a weird and insecure kid like me who grew up moving from home to home can start a business that actually helps people and makes money in the process, so can you.

Stay on top of the latest industry trends, macro, and micro, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Do not get complacent or comfortable, there is always another startup that wants to disrupt.

My parents are a huge source of inspiration for me. They taught me to never give up, no matter what cards are stacked against me. If you do the right thing and help as many people as you can get what they want, you can also get what you want.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are looking for a content marketer that has experience in the vacation rental industry. We are also looking for a videographer/producer that can produce an awesome video like Dollar Shave Club’s viral ad. We are also looking for interns who can write great blog content, create social media content, and perform SEO. Internships are paid / unpaid and remote. Interested candidates can reach out to me by email.

We are constantly looking for talented cleaning businesses who want to grow their business with more short-term rental clients. Cleaning services can learn more here.

Where can we go to learn more?

To learn more about us visit our website:

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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John Candelario, Founder of Vacation Home Help
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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