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John Banczak: “Major complaint is consistency”

In light of COVID, I think travel and hospitality companies will rush to adopt and implement more contactless technologies and experiences. While they’ve been moving this way for years — digital check-in, RFID and Bluetooth room access — COVID will certainly accelerate the proliferation of these technologies. As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over […]

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In light of COVID, I think travel and hospitality companies will rush to adopt and implement more contactless technologies and experiences. While they’ve been moving this way for years — digital check-in, RFID and Bluetooth room access — COVID will certainly accelerate the proliferation of these technologies.


As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Banczak.

John Banczak John co-founded TurnKey with T.J. Clark in 2012 after serving in leadership positions with HomeAway, BedandBreakfast.com, Hotwire and Worldres. As CEO, John’s extensive experience with travel technology has been instrumental in the success of TurnKey and its proprietary technology platform, which automates routine tasks of property management. He began his career in revenue management at Northwest Airlines and KLM Airlines. He continued in travel and ecommerce with Accenture, Worldres, and Hotwire. After Expedia completed the acquisition of Hotwire, he served as President of BedandBreakfast.com, eventually leading the company’s acquisition by HomeAway. Subsequently, he led the HomeAway Software for Professionals group, and the company’s post-merger acquisitions of Instant Software and Escapia. John earned a BBA from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was studying investment banking at Wisconsin Business School when Northwest Airlines posted their interview schedule. I hadn’t considered the airline industry, but an interview slot was available, so I set up a time to talk with them about a revenue management position. It was described as a highly analytical field for setting airline pricing, which sounded pretty interesting. Who doesn’t want to learn more about that? After about an hour, they opened my eyes to how dynamic the airline business was and just how many moving parts there were. Compared to the investment banking-style analysis I was focused on, this kind of quantitative and analytical approach was kind of mind-blowing.

After a few more interviews I was convinced this was a great fit for me and I completely changed gears. Before then, I had never really considered anything travel-wise. Honestly, I don’t think most people understand what goes into a travel company of any kind, whether it’s vacation rentals, hotels, airlines, etc. Airlines practically deal with the complexity of NASA every day. It was and is a very dynamic business and hotels are the same way.

If you look at hotels, there’s a massive real estate component, there is style and design, huge branding elements, hospitality, service, pricing analytics, food and beverage, finance. It’s just such a crazy dynamic industry that it’s hard not to be drawn into it, and once I was drawn in, it stuck.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Early on at Northwest Airlines, I was on a team educating employees in the field on pricing and revenue management. These included everyone from gate agents to reservation agents in markets from Michigan to Alaska.

At the time, the culture around travel was that if a flight was going to be in the air, then the employee could be on that plane. So rather than pay for a hotel in Detroit, I’d fly in that morning, go straight to my presentation, and then hop a flight home at the end of the day. Then I’d have to go back the next day and do it all over again. After a few days I was just exhausted. Finally I asked the team if there was a hotel in Detroit near our location. Well it turns out there was a hotel across from the airport with crew rates of $19 a night. I was floored. I’d been flying back and forth every day to avoid 19 bucks. It just didn’t make sense.

I learned that there are smart ways to be cost-conscious. If you look at TurnKey Vacation Rentals today, we’ve raised $100 million, which is small compared to our main competitors. We don’t have a lavish office. When our execs travel, we fly on Southwest Airlines. When we do stay in a hotel for business, we don’t stay in Ritz Carltons (as much as I’d love to). Our ethos as a company is to be wisely frugal, and that’s something that you might not learn until you’re flying back and forth between Minneapolis and Detroit multiple days in a row trying to save a buck.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not burn out?

The first tip would be to make sure you set up your board properly from day one. A quick way to burn out is to have a board that doesn’t get along with each other, or where one investor feels like they have more say than others. I can’t tell you how many founders I’ve talked to where that’s led to them leaving a company.

So from day one we were very deliberate about that at TurnKey Vacation Rentals. We formed a board with industry experts who we had a long history with, who were smarter than we are, who added unique value and understood that ultimately we were running our own show. That’s helped tremendously. Everyone feels like they’re on equal footing and everyone gets along well.

The other tip would be to pay attention to cash flow. It is all about revenue these days. In good times, I think cash flow becomes an afterthought for a lot of startups. But when times get bad, like we’re seeing today with COVID in the travel industry, having cash in the bank is key. If you lived through the first dot-com crash you’ll never forget to watch cash.

Is there a particular person who you’re grateful toward who helped you get to where you are today?

Early in my career with Accenture, I wrote a strategy proposal for Microsoft, which they ended up accepting. I was pretty junior at the time, so the lead partner put a manager on the project and built out a project team around me. As the project progressed, my responsibilities increased to the point where I was a main client contact handling most of the deliverables. When Microsoft added another phase to the project, I felt I was ready to become the manager of that phase. The lead partner said, “No. You’re not qualified to have that job.”

I was kind of stunned. After all, I had written the original proposal, been on the project the whole time, produced well and had a great relationship with the client. So the partner broke it down for me.

The problem was that every idea or deliverable I shared needed polish or editing before sending to the client. It was never “client ready.” I needed supervision. Good ideas aren’t enough. Ultimately, I couldn’t run a project until I could identify and produce client-ready deliverables. It was a matter of judgment.

Client-ready can mean a million things. It can mean your presentation is perfect, that the numbers in your spreadsheet are triple-checked, that the grammar in your email is correct. But at its core, client-ready means your game has to be at a 9.9 out of 10 all the time — not an 8 and sometimes a 9. To be an executive team member, a chief operating officer, a chief marketing officer, your bar has to be that high. It was good to get that lesson early on in my career.

Can you share the innovations you’re bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

TurnKey Vacation Rentals truly was the first vacation rental company to really drive technology and processes in trying to be a good neighbor. We launched our own noise decibel monitoring way back in late 2013 to get in front of problems like parties and neighborhood disturbances. Now you’re seeing major players like Airbnb finally start taking that seriously.

We’re also leading the industry in positive ID verification during the booking process; some companies still don’t do this at all. We have been using bank-level authentication for years to ensure that guests are who they say they are. This is an effort to prevent fraud, but also to be a better neighbor and increase safety and security. We’ve gotten so good at screening that we guarantee our owners against fraud. If we let someone stay in the house, they will get paid; it’s that simple.

TurnKey Vacation Rentals is the first company to use secure, single-use digital locks on 100% of our rentals that can accept one, and we pay for it. We don’t push that cost onto our owners. This was just unheard of in the industry before. Even our largest competitor still makes it an option and they won’t pay for it. Especially in the current travel environment, guests prefer our secure, zero-contact check-in experience. The security of these locks is unmatched. Who wants to sleep in a home that has keys floating around town?

In addition, we’re the first company to truly verify that our housekeepers completed a cleaning job, and completed it well on every single job. Through our technology platform, our housekeepers access checklists and then take pictures of each room after the clean. These images are then reviewed and verified for cleanliness and staging. We’re also the first company that offered guests any type of housekeeping rating system. So if a housekeeper receives poor ratings, they’re removed from our program.

What are the main pain points that your technologies address?

One major paint point for vacation rental owners was how to avoid parties and associated home damage. You’re starting to see it now in the news, but we’ve implemented noise decibel monitoring in 100% of our homes since 2013, and have private security ready to intervene if necessary.

For guests, a major complaint is consistency. From vacation rental to vacation rental, it can be hard to access the home, and when they do it isn’t clean. We’ve focused on making our homes more consistent than any other in the market. Our homes all have secure locks, our technology makes our housekeeping more consistent, and we’re available 24/7 for guest support needs.

How do these technologies disrupt the status quo in the industry today?

Our technologies disrupt the status quo by elevating the standards for service, technology and security in the vacation rental industry. Most property managers or individual owners either can’t or won’t make the investment in these technologies and processes. We’ve been doing this for our homeowners and guests since 2013.

COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share some examples of how travel and hospitality companies will adjust over the next five years in new ways that consumers will prefer for travel?

In light of COVID, I think travel and hospitality companies will rush to adopt and implement more contactless technologies and experiences. While they’ve been moving this way for years — digital check-in, RFID and Bluetooth room access — COVID will certainly accelerate the proliferation of these technologies.

As a travel insider, how would you describe your perfect vacation experience?

I stayed in my first vacation rental back in the ’80s. So very early on I became used to staying in a home that had a kitchen and privacy, and more space to hang out with friends and family.

The ideal vacation experience for me used to be traveling internationally. I’ve been to 23 different countries, logged over a million miles, lived in Amsterdam for a couple years. With a family now, the ideal vacation is at a vacation home in a great leisure destination. I like having a home where everyone can spread out and be together, yet have some privacy at the same time. Our family is big into leisure activities. We love to ski, go to the beach, surf, fish, windsurf. Vacation rentals just tend to be in the areas where you can do those activities.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Looking at vacation rentals, I wish our industry would take the pledge to install 100% single-use digital locks on every door. I wish they would take the pledge to put noise monitors in every home. I wish they would take the pledge to have a virtual tour of every home. I wish they would take the pledge to do fraud identification of every guest. This is a movement that could transform travel, communities and local businesses. We’d be safer, more secure, and better neighbors.

I think what’s holding our industry back is that a lot of hosts and property managers become bad neighbors to the community, and a lot of scammers create bad problems for owners. But there are ways to mitigate this, and we have been mitigating it. It’s truly within every property manager’s grasp.

I’d love to come up with some universal standards around how homes are managed and operated within a community.

I think this would make communities better, keep owners and guests safer, and do a lot to help mitigate some of the problems that the industry faces.

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