Develop a sense of service: By this I mean realizing that being a host means being part of the hospitality industry, and that this in itself is an industry that should be focused around the service that we as hosts are providing to guests. No matter how tough many guests may be to deal with, one should always bear in mind that the aim should be to be of service to the guest and go above and beyond whenever possible.
Many people dream of becoming an Airbnb host but don’t know where to start. In this series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host” we are interviewing successful Airbnb hosts who share lessons from their experience about how to run a very successful Airbnb property. As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Na’ím Anís Paymán.
Na’ím Anís Paymán started an Airbnb management business while still at university and Keezark now manages close to 400 units across 20 cities. Following graduation, the business grew rapidly and the necessity for better systems soon became apparent — leading to the birth of Zeevou, a cutting-edge Property Management Software and Channel Manager. With the onset of COVID-19, he was in the perfect place to acquire hotels affected by the pandemic, and he thus founded Paymán Investments to enable the acquisition of an increasing number of hotels with the aim of converting them into aparthotels down the line by collaborating with outside investors.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
Sure thing! So I grew up in a country which most readers may either never have heard of, or may associate with Top Gear or Voldemort’s hiding place — namely, Albania. While not Albanian by blood, my parents moved to Albania from Italy in 1991 to help contribute to the country’s material and spiritual advancement following the fall of communism. Aged 15 I left Albania and headed to the UK where I had been awarded a scholarship at Abingdon School to allow me to pursue the last two years of my highschool. I then took a year off to volunteer at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, and upon my return attended Cambridge University where I studied Natural Sciences. While at university, I continued to build on a student-recruitment business that I had set up during high school and started a number of other businesses, amongst which was my Airbnb management service.
What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?
Well, the short answer is food! I love eating, and unfortunately I had ended up at Gonville & Caius College while at Cambridge, which besides being famous for numbering Stephen Hawking amongst its fellows, was also infamous for providing some of the worst food on campus! Not only that, but due to ridiculous fire safety measures, we were not allowed to have any real cooking equipment in our kitchenettes in the dorms and were basically forced to eat food in halls most of the time. So a couple of weeks in and I was fed up (no pun intended)! I looked at my finances and the costs I was incurring by living in halls, and concluded that it would make more sense to try and find an investor to purchase a flat and rent out the spare bedroom as this would work out cheaper for me and provide me with my much-needed kitchen. I set off to do so, however once done, my college refused to allow me to move out of halls for my second year. So I was sort of stuck with this property that needed renting out, and soon enough figured out that the greatest income was to be made by letting the property out on a short term basis. Airbnb was just starting to grow at that point, so I used it to fill gaps in between some bookings that I had managed to muster together through various contacts, and the rest is history. I started managing for others, then I started leasing, furnishing and sub-letting entire blocks, went into guesthouse and hotel management, launched Zeevou and set up the investment company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this?
Define ‘interesting’. Perhaps I can go with ‘exciting’? If I were to exclude the time that I landed from a trans-atlantic flight to a whole flurry of missed calls and messages describing an attempted homicide at one of the properties due to a pimp going after some escorts that had managed to get through our checks and book their stay, it was probably the time that a guest’s Airbnb account got hacked. Well that doesn’t sound that exciting, I know, and neither did I think much of it when we got a booking and shortly afterwards a cancellation as the guest claimed their account had been hacked. It wasn’t until the next day though when a colleague who was doing a check-in at another flat in that block called me to query who had just been let into an apartment that did not show any bookings on our calendar. The penny dropped and I rushed half-way across town to find the culprits about to leave the apartment and jump into their car. Some quick thinking helped me block the car’s exit, and luckily police responded within minutes. While the three men who turned out to have been drug dealers were arrested following a 3-car plus a helicopter-assisted police chase, they were ultimately released as I was unable to prove that they had broken into the property. I guess one could call it ‘interesting’, but I’d rather describe it as ‘frustrating’ that although the police had caught them in the act, they were still allowed to walk free. I guess we all hope and pray for a more just world!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistake? Not sure I understand what that means… Well, ok, jokes aside, it was August. For some reason the market in Cambridge was funny in the summer. While you could sell your properties out ten times over in July, come August things went pretty dead. Faced with empty calendars, I scrambled to see what I could do to fill them up. I had previously asked a colleague to try and follow up with an application that I had submitted to join Booking.com, however nothing had come from it. So I took it upon myself and chased, and chased, and chased, until I was able to get them to list our properties on their site. At the time, they were predominantly focused on hotels, and listing a vacation rental on their site was a bit of a rarity. Their teams had not got the right expertise or staffing levels to deal with the increasing short term rental market, so it really took a push to get them to even respond to my initial request to get listed. Anyway, the listings went live and soon enough we got a booking for one of the properties. A few days before the guest’s arrival, I was appalled to find out that Booking.com did not handle payments. What?! I was totally amazed at how a booking site would send you a guest without having first collected payment from them. What’s more the guest wanted to pay by card! Luckily, I was able to get an iZettle ordered out at very short notice and managed to collect payment on arrival. While not so funny in the heat of the moment, I do look back and laugh at how little I knew at the time!
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?
Hm, if I were to have to encapsulate it all into one point, it would probably be thinking that they are just renting out a property and not realizing that they are actually setting up a business, even if to start with they are only hosting a room in their house or a single self-catering unit. The reality is that hosting on Airbnb is only part of what is a much larger hospitality business that the host is embarking on. The sooner one realizes this, the better the chances of succeeding in setting up a profitable business, lowering the risk and increasing the profit margins. In the long term, what every host should be aiming to do is try to gain control over their sales funnel and take on ownership of their guests, build customer loyalty and drive direct bookings. There are many elements that feed into this for which it is important to have systems and processes set up correctly from day one, and I would say that the most common mistake is for people to disregard the importance of building up that rapport and keeping track of data, including the collection of marketing consent.
Another mistake that ties in to this, is that hosts often don’t value their own time when they start off. And by that I don’t only mean that they don’t delegate enough, as not everyone is seeking to achieve scale, but they also don’t attach a monetary remuneration value to the time that they spend in running various aspects of their business. This often leads to a false economy of trying to save every last penny in work they outsource or software they employ, and in the process also overlook the net positive effect on their bottom margin that utilising high quality services can bring, even when these come at a relatively higher cost.
What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?
Well I think it’s a question of learning from those who have been through some of this before, and that can take the form of mentorships or training courses, but for many that is an added expense that they may not be happy to undertake. That’s one of the reasons why at Zeevou we have launched the Zeevou Academy — to help everyone to have access to quality training materials on how to start and scale an STR business. I think that interacting with other hosts on a regular basis and sharing what one is learning can also go a long way to helping one to prevent losing out on potential opportunities. Lastly, I cannot overemphasise the importance of really carefully researching the software that hosts choose to run their business on, as each piece of kit will have been built based on certain assumptions on how hosts operate, and it is of paramount importance to ensure that the ideators of the software package that one ends up using understand the pain points of hosts in detail, have demonstrated that they address a fair number of these, and show a willingness to continue improving their product as well as the service that they provide to hosts. A software company that provides good customer service can help hosts prevent a lot of the pitfalls that they could face if they don’t set things up the right way from day one.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Airbnb experience? In your opinion, what makes you different from the rest?
The work that we have done in condensing the experience that we have obtained from operating as an Airbnb host and scaling that operation significantly is probably our single greatest contribution to other Airbnb hosts, and guests. By building tools that help automate processes from communications, to collection of guest details and their preferences, the signing of digital rental agreements and upselling extra like early check-ins or late check-outs, not only do we help reduce a lot of inefficiencies for both sides, but Zeevou also enables hosts to reduce the impact of human error on their business as a whole. Moreover, through the multi-host direct booking platform (Zeevou Direct) that we have developed and which shortly after launching was already featured on CNBC and the New York Times, we are now bringing hosts together to not only enable to them direct bookings through the websites that we provide for free to anyone who wishes to have one, but we are also facilitating the process of guests being able to book directly with hosts without having to pay any fees to a middleman through a centralised search engine.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Develop a sense of service: By this I mean realizing that being a host means being part of the hospitality industry, and that this in itself is an industry that should be focused around the service that we as hosts are providing to guests. No matter how tough many guests may be to deal with, one should always bear in mind that the aim should be to be of service to the guest and go above and beyond whenever possible.
- Display discipline and follow-through: If you find it difficult to go above and beyond, at least make sure you are doing what is expected of you to a high standard. Not only does that mean ensuring the place is clean and well-maintained, it also implies being prompt in your replies to guest queries, and ensuring that any special requests that you agree to deliver on are delivered on, and that all details of any such requests are given due importance.
- Regard it as a business, not a property strategy: Far too many hosts think of becoming an Airbnb host as just another property rental strategy. Far from it. Being an Airbnb host requires you to be on call 24/7, 365 days a year. As such, not only do you have to have the right expectations of the time and effort that building an Airbnb hosting business will take, but you also need to constantly try to find ways of how you can improve the guest experience and your profit margin (these are not competing interests), as at the end of the day for many hosts a lot can be on the line if they don’t manage to maintain a healthy profit from their rentals.
- Employ the right systems and processes: This ties in with what I was sharing earlier. If you are looking to build a long-term, sustainable business that can grow from strength to strength, don’t underestimate the value that a good set of systems can bring to the table. For many hosts, the management of the properties is done off-site, and given the remote nature of interactions with guests and staff, software really forms the backbone of your business, and you better make sure you’ve got a strong backbone if you don’t want to keep firefighting left, right and centre!
- Build a great team: Having said that, a piece of tech kit is just that — a tool. You cannot expect it to run the business for you. And you can’t really expect to be the only person involved in hosting a guest if you are serious about succeeding as an Airbnb host without sacrificing your lifestyle! So you will most definitely need some sort of a ‘team’ — even if that just consists of a housekeeper and an ad-hoc handyman. Again, the effect that any team members have on the success of your enterprise will be immense, so you better be very careful in who you select, and how you treat and nurture them once they’ve become part of your Airbnb hosting family.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
One where I can tell that the host has really put themselves in the shoes of me as a guest, has thought ahead about what I may need during my stay, and has provided accordingly. To me it would also be very important that any requests I may have made ahead of the booking that were agreed on are adhered to in detail, and that if there is an issue it is attended to very promptly. And to add the word perfect, I think I would also want to feel comfortable in the communications i have with the host so as to be able to conclude that they are welcoming and going above and beyond to make our stay comfortable. As a corollary, a small surprise upon arrival is always a welcome sight 😉
Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?
To be honest I don’t want to be presumptuous in saying that I have brought an immense degree of goodness to the world, but of course we all try our best to be of some service to others in our lives. I guess I have tried to be aware of the impact that our business has had on various stakeholders — be these owners, neighbours, or colleagues, and to best balance these so as to serve their needs to the best of my ability. As a company we have tried to maintain a diverse workplace, uphold equality and nurture respect and unity within the team as well as in our interactions with third parties. As part of this, I have always been conscious of trying to maintain a gender-balance in the makeup of the staff that we have hired, and in fact have always employed more women than men. I have also tried to create employment opportunities for sections of society that otherwise would not have been able to earn a respectable living for themselves, both locally to the properties and internationally for administrative staff based around the globe. We are trying to pay back to the hospitality community by contributing through the tech that we bring to the table for free. At the same time, through Paymán Investments we are trying to contribute to the regeneration of high streets and disused hotels and aim to turn them into community hubs for the local community whenever possible. From the early days, I have also tried to ensure that I have an adequate proportion of my time free to contribute to community-building activities in the communities that I have lived in, and to use my spare time to serve those who through their personal circumstances may have been in need of various types at a specific point in their life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, in terms of how I am seeking to contribute to the hospitality world, we are trying to kick start The Direct Booking Revolution! I believe that both hosts and guests would have a much better experience if they were to be able to communicate with each other freely and directly from enquiry to departure (or one hopes a second booking)! It is in light of this that we are making a large proportion of the tech behind Zeevou available free of charge to anyone who wishes to join the movement.
However, if we are talking about the greatest amount of good for the most amount of people, I do not think that I am able to lend the greatest influence by initiating a movement, but rather by participating in a global movement which has already been underway for almost two centuries and which has spread to the most remote corners of the globe! It is a movement that aims to bring true freedom to every soul on this planet — what greater good can there be? And just as I am not the best person to initiate a movement of such magnificent proportions, I am probably also not the best person to describe it, so I will call on what others have written of the Bahá’í Faith and Bahá’u’lláh, its Founder: “Bahá’u’lláh came to set humanity free. His Revelation is, indeed, an invitation to freedom — freedom from want, freedom from war, freedom to unite, freedom to progress, freedom in peace and joy.”
How can our readers further follow you on social media?
I am active on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/naimanispaymanofficial), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/naimanispayman/), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/naimanispayman/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/naimanispayman).
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thanks for having me — I hope every member of the audience has been able to pick up some sort of value from what I shared with you today!