Todd Baldwin: “Automate everything”

Automate everything — From locks to messages to guests and cleaner scheduling, analyze your processes for recurring steps that can be automated. Automation takes a bit of an investment to set up but pays infinite dividends in freeing up your time on the back end and ensuring your processes are executed seamlessly every time. Many people dream of […]

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Automate everything — From locks to messages to guests and cleaner scheduling, analyze your processes for recurring steps that can be automated. Automation takes a bit of an investment to set up but pays infinite dividends in freeing up your time on the back end and ensuring your processes are executed seamlessly every time.

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 Todd Baldwin.

Todd Baldwin, known on CNBC as the Millennial Millionaire, is an American entrepreneur, investor, and real estate enthusiast. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife Angela where the two of them have amassed a House Hacking and Airbnb Empire. He is using the knowledge he has learned in these endeavors on his YouTube channel to help others build wealth and gain financial independence.

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”?

Unfortunately, my story is not uncommon. I was raised by a single mother who struggled every day to put food on the table for three kids. Seeing my mom worry tirelessly about finances led me to decide at 12 years old that someday I would become a millionaire.

By the time I was 22 I was making 6 figures working in sales, and I used every last penny to buy real estate. Today at 28, my wife and I own a 5 million dollars real estate portfolio where we have over 35 long-term tenants and have hosted hundreds of guests across 3 Airbnb units.

What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?

Prior to starting on Airbnb, my wife and I owned 4 houses and we rented each out by the bedroom (known as House Hacking). When we bought our fifth house in 2018, we intended to do the same, but ended up finding the perfect home for sale with an attached mother in law unit. The place was very cute and from the first time we went inside my wife envisioned the Airbnb listing — complete with cute throw pillows, artwork and all the homey touches of a good Airbnb. We also ran the numbers and knew right away we could get far more per month as a short-term versus long-term rental. Even with calculating in some expected vacancy (we gave ourselves a conservative 50% occupancy rate), we knew we had a unique opportunity to maximize cash flow. As soon as we decided to buy the house, we jumped right in and listed on Airbnb. We actually put our calendar up before we even closed so we could start getting bookings as soon as the unit was set up. Within weeks we achieved an occupancy rate above 90%.

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

We actually had a rocky start with Airbnb. Our very first guest was on vacation to celebrate his 21st birthday (unbeknownst to us at the time of booking). The guest made the reservation for four people — which was our maximum with just one Queen bed and a pullout sofa — but arrived with about 10 people and had the birthday celebration in the Airbnb unit, which was attached to our main home. There was noise all night long, cars parked everywhere and when they left in the morning we entered to a royal mess and our brand new pullout sofa completely busted. We were totally new to the process and had no idea how to handle it during the stay or get support from Airbnb for the damages afterwards. Luckily, we had the mindset that it can only go up from here. And it did get infinitely better from this point out. To date that first experience is the only time we have had real a real nightmare guest or damage to any of our properties, but it certainly almost shook our resolve in the short-term rental game.

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?

When we first started out on Airbnb, I forgot to put some of the basics in the unit. We didn’t have an ironing board or a hair dryer. One day we had a guest ask for a hair dryer. I brought my wife’s over and left it in the Airbnb unit.

The next morning when my wife was getting ready for work, she asked me if I had seen her hair dryer. Fear spread across my face as I explained that it was in the Airbnb unit. I didn’t get my typical kiss goodbye when my wife headed off to work with wet hair.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?

Relying on one single cleaner and attempting to manage all processes manually (such as changing lock codes).

What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?

A spotless unit is a necessity on Airbnb, and that requires a crew. You need a roster of names you can call who can provide reliable, efficient and quality service. The cold hard truth is that cleaners bail, so you need a team. Hire a bunch of cleaners to have on rotation, so if one is a no show you can call another.

For your own sanity and quality control, it’s important to automate as many of your host processes as possible. While hiring workers to support your cleaning efforts makes a lot of sense, the best support you can give yourself for management is automation. When you first start out full of energy and excitement, you may think you can manage it all manually and maybe you can… for a while. But ultimately putting automation in place for things like lock codes and welcome messages with check-in instructions is critical to avoiding those big mistakes that weigh on you each day and can completely ruin a guest’s vacation if they get forgotten.

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?

My wife and I optimize the guest experience through a combination of automation and personalization. Before a guest arrives, we have a series of messages at a set cadence (i.e. three days prior, night before, day of, etc.) that are set automatically to give the guest the relevant information they need at that point without being overwhelming. We also use a program that automatically sets the guest’s door code to the last four digits of their phone number to make this easy to remember and instills confidence that the code is unique for their stay. We also have some more analog personal touches, such as a chalk board with the guest’s name on it right at the entrance to the unit. Finally, throughout the unit there are laminated or framed instructions for any appliance (washer/dryer, A/C, Keurig, etc.) that may be new to the guest with clear instructions and pictures for how to use.

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.

1. Keyless entry — We use an application called “RBoy Apps” that interfaces with our lock and the Airbnb app to set unique door codes for each guest automatically.

2. Get a good cleaning crew — Cleaning is the most labor-intensive piece of the gig and the hardest (or perhaps impossible) piece to automate. You need reliable cleaners and back-ups for those moments when life happens.

3. Excellent sleep experience — Spend money on a comfy bed. Most of the time your guests spend in your unit they very may well be asleep, so this one of the most critical fixtures in your unit. We bought a high-quality mattress and even put a gel foam mattress pad on top. We constantly receive messages from guests asking where we bought the bed, brand name, etc. I’d say that’s the mark of a comfy bed.

4. Add a personal touch — Automation is great because it’s seamless, reliable and consistent. But it does lack the “humanness” of a truly personal interaction. We like to bring the two together by having the cleaners write the guest’s name on a chalkboard at the unit entrance. We also provide a list of nearby restaurants and activities we love in a homemade coffee table book.

5. Automate everything — From locks to messages to guests and cleaner scheduling, analyze your processes for recurring steps that can be automated. Automation takes a bit of an investment to set up but pays infinite dividends in freeing up your time on the back end and ensuring your processes are executed seamlessly every time.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My wife and I are very different in our approach to traveling. When we book an Airbnb for ourselves, she will do all of the research, sift through past reviews before selecting and read over the house guidebook once we are confirmed. I like to fly a little farther from the details. If I know how to get in the front door — and once in, the WiFi password — I’m good to go. We kept this range of guests in mind as we built our guest experience: we provide all the detail for those who want it and just the essentials in our messages for those who don’t. For the actual experience itself, we value a nice place that is impeccably clean, provides the essential amenities and a check-in process that is painless.

Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have learned so much about personal finance through my real estate and Airbnb journey. I strive to share this knowledge with others and have started a YouTube channel to do that. On my channel, I break down my strategy and processes for all to learn what has worked (and not worked) for me that might benefit them as well.

I also grew up with hardly any guidance in the realm of finances. I have seen how valuable this knowledge is and how much of an advantage young people have when they can learn these lessons from others early on. To help foster this knowledge, I volunteer my time to guest teach high school classes and groups via Zoom. These kids are hungry for this information — some don’t even know it until I first introduce them to the subject — and I love to see the energy and enthusiasm in the questions they ask.

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. 🙂

Financial literacy education in schools. I think the most effective tools to rise above generational poverty are knowledge and mentorship.

How can our readers further follow you on social media?

YouTube: Todd Baldwin — Millennial Millionaire

Instagram: @toddjbaldwin

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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