Hanging out with Malvina Russo, Country Manager of Airsorted

Gen caught up with Malvina Russo, Country Manager of Airsorted. 

Airsorted makes hosting on Airbnb Hassle-free. Airsorted are an Airbnb management company using technology to create an infrastructure for the fast-growing sharing community.

Airsorted dramatically increase property yields and handle everything from cleaning to guest communication, laundry to key exchanges and reviews to pricing. They take care of everything - so you don't have to, all whilst helping you make the most from your property.

Watch the video here or look below to read the transcript:

 

G: Hi gang, Gen George and Malvina here today. Today we’re going to be talking about all things Airsorted. Malvina, how the hell are you?

M: Hi. Yes, I’m Malvina, the country manager of Airsorted Australia. Airsorted is an Airbnb property management company. We basically manage properties in Airbnb, taking care of everything starting from the creation of the listing on Airbnb itself. Airsorted is a company that has been operating in the UK for a while now. It’s been over two years and just recently launched in Sydney, Australia. It’s been six months, around six months now and yes since then the company has been growing amazingly in Sydney and had experienced an amazing in growth…in terms of maybe a bit of background…definitely.

G: Like my lovely accent.

[Laughter].

M: And I graduated in economics not too long ago and started my career in the finance sector, soon realized that it wasn’t really what I was after, and moved to Australia back in 2013, for my international management studies, at U Syd here in Sydney. And that’s where I got to meet more and more people into entrepreneurship. A lot of entrepreneurs that, recently at that time started launching their business and I thought that it was extremely interesting for me and that’s really, that was the, where I really wanted to move and shift my career to. And it’s during that time that I joined the startup work. So just after graduating, I started working for a big German incubator, called Rocket Internet. It was for one of their venture and the project was extremely, extremely interesting. So launching a startup from scratch in two years’ time, that company expanded to six markets.

G: It’s huge!

M: Yeah, I was really lucky to be a part of this amazing huge project. And it was just insane. And …. From all this extremely talented people that are launching a startup, taking it from two people in a room to over one hundred and fifty. It was an amazing experience. It comes with pros and cons, and my point of view …. The startup world, the startup atmosphere kind of actually disappears and it becomes corporate quite quickly. That’s something that was a huge learning, but I knew that I still wanted to keep on working, let’s call it “real startup”, if you can say that and yeah so that’s why I decided to keep the same position, same kind of roles, what I like, managing a team, building a team from scratch for an amazing project that is Airsorted. So that’s where it all started, and I joined Airsorted Australia for the launch so just a couple of months after, it’s been over four months now that I'm working there.

G: Seasoned!

[Laughter]

M: And it’s been an exciting journey so far. So, when I started, we had someone from UK, Florence, that came to launch Sydney so started to meet the suppliers and understanding what kind of traction we could get. But then I, once I took over I was alone, it’s been very, very funny time. I still remember the calls at 1 a.m. from guests that ... Can’t remember how many times I had to go and yeah like fix locks in the apartment. When I was alone, I think I was sales rep, account manager, handyman all at the same time.

G: …plumbing skills.

M: But now it has been fun but short time.

[Laughter].

G: Thankfully, yeah.

[Laughter].

M: Right now we have a very, very experienced, I would say big time for now, given that we’re around 6 months old, we have five people in the office with the team of housekeepers and also handyman that work on the side. So, at the moment, the company is growing really a lot so we basically do … service that is quite developed here in Sydney now, there are many players in the market. We think our strengths and really differentiate from all the other players. It’s … definitely that the knowhow that we bring from London and the two years that we have spent managing over a thousand company, or, property, sorry. We have now around 1,500 in the UK so we have that expertise that we carry from the UK here in Sydney and as well as an amazing tech product behind. That’s definitely one of our main strengths the way we can automatize basically all the processes of making possible for all bookings to be handled very smoothly. We manage properties on Airbnb here in Sydney but already in London we extended to other platforms and that’s what we’re going to do soon here as well. And then we have an amazing, what we call “guest experience team” that manages all guest communications that’s guest vetting, and we do that 24/7 because we can take advantage of the fact that we operate both in Sydney and London, we can cover any time, any day and we reply to guest requests, to support guests within 5 minutes from their request, something that no other company is really able to do so we are really proud of that as well as the global brand that we are building. That’s definitely what we think is our main strength.

G: Yeah.

M: We plan to be expanding soon to other cities as well, it’s really exciting time to have yes so definitely, eventually one of the main …. Melbourne is the next city, probably, most likely on our way to expansion plan. And then plan to slowly expand to all other cities.

G: Yeah.

M: And it’s I guess, it’s been an exponential growth. The main challenge that it comes with that, I would definitely say it’s being able to get the right people onboard the team, it’s extremely important. It’s already a very particular business …hospitality and very demanding. You have to work long hours and often also it’s very stressing, you work on bank holidays so it’s really different from any other office job…

G: Definitely.

M: …corporate job. But not just that they really want to get the right people, passionate people onboard and really share the same visions, trying to do that …so far, we’ve been extremely lucky. We have some people from the London team joining us, but we are always looking for new talents, for new people to join. I was alone four months ago, we are becoming six soon and we’re going to be more and more starting from the beginning of new year as well. So yeah, that’s definitely one of the other main strength that we have and that we’re really focused on …an amazing team…. Very young team and everyone coming from different background but all with the same passion and the same vision, making our clients happy and manage the property as best …we can.

G: Yeah fantastic. And I mean your team culture have surely shifted as you quickly … people into the mix, right? How has do you think your team culture has changed from day one when it was just you to kind of where it is now?

M: Yeah absolutely. So …when I was alone, mostly, I guess the main challenge that we had …also in terms of culture is to make sure that we could easily make the team in Australia. At the time I was alone but then as we started growing, few of the culture from London right, because it’s a big distance and it’s hard to find, to feel actually, part of a global company, and there needs to be a lot of work there in terms of like, yeah, how you transfer culture and also how you communicate, right? We can call it HQ at London, right. And the way it’s shifting now, the way we do that is we basically make sure, we have to bear in mind, who our clients are, what they need, what are their profiles and personas and that we clearly identify each one of them, what they need. And we have it clear, written, even if …in the office.

G: …they are going to open the door right now. So how did you, what’s your program that you’re doing now between London and [so much] the Australian office?

M: Yeah you mean in terms of?

G: Like a transfer program?

M: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Or a rotation program, we call it.

G: Sorry.

[Laughter].

M: It’s kind of the same but yeah it’s basically what we do is we have some employees coming over for a short period of time, could be couple of months, three months, in some cases six, coming over from the London office to the Sydney office, to… in different departments so either sales or account management. They bring their expertise, their experience from London and …

G: Some of the culture as well, right?

M: Exactly, the culture as well. And that’s an amazing way for us to have…

G: Quicker traction and quicker growth and culture…

M: Exactly and we can easily transfer it to the new hires. Yeah, that’s a great program. Pretty much loved by the team of course. [Laughter]. We have now a huge list of people ….

[Laughter].

G: So awesome so it’s a new … being across so many time zones having to very quickly manage more and more people, how do you manage your headspace then? Because you need to be the best that you can be, to obviously assist with the team.

M: Yeah, that’s a very good question. I think I still haven’t found a perfect way to do that and I work on that every time. But I guess it’s… I think for me the most challenging thing is the fact that you kind of, at some point you find yourself leaving work, so the day, you actually spend from 9 to 5, 9 to 6 in the office with your team and then London wakes up and then you have to manage to work with the London team. I guess that’s…to me, keeping my mind busy with and trying to take like what I like to take are motivational breaks. I really enjoy taking some time, reading me some interesting book. Everything about like, I just, finishing “The Lean Startup” and I think that really helped me, learning, at the same time, a break. But other than that, it’s just like a really, really long workday. And you eventually learn how to manage that, you get used to it. But in terms of how I deal with the team, because it’s extremely important for the team to know that, yeah we work hard but we also have some time and we play hard. 

[Laughter].

M: I try always to make sure that you know, the team has the time. We can even have events or like you know, making them feel compensated for all the time they have to spend. It’s usually very hard also when it comes to, yeah like, scheduling calls with London for the team as well. You have to work so long, so we found ways to …to make it work.

G: That’s fantastic. So, what other content do you look for to keep evolving yourself as a leader, I mean ‘The Lean Startup” you’ve read, is there anything else, any other podcast or you know people that you look to?

M: I listen to podcast but I …definitely more and more. I'm more of a book lover, I love reading. Even if I go back home at 1 AM, I like to, even if it has to be just 10 minutes, reading a book, I really, really enjoy it.

G: Just so you…down as well.

M: Exactly, but I have to admit that sometimes it’s note the most effective thing…podcasts are way better so I’m getting used to …

G: Listed to them. Find it …concentrate…I’m in and out, like “what? what were you saying?”

[Laughter]

M: That’s exactly the same. So, I prefer book and I like sometimes to even read the same book twice. So now like, given like, also the period right now, I was really thinking, Lean In…so yeah, that’s mostly books that I read, moving slowly to podcast, if you have any good cast to recommend.

G: I highly recommend…Harry Uffindell does growthengineer.com and he does a lot of video, video sort of interviews with a lot of people in the industry but he also has a lot of great recommendations, books to read, podcasts to listen to. He’s got a whole list of them. We actually interviewed him the other day, he’s, he … so we’ll have to share the list.

M: Cool.

[Laughter].

G: Mate, you better be listening Harry!

[Laughter].

G: That’s awesome so I guess you know, working globally, trying to relate internationally, are you finding that there is a difference in mentality between London, I mean, obviously there’s a hell of a lot more people than in Sydney, but do you find that you’re tackling things differently because you are rolling out of a …cities?

M: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a very good point. There are some…not many, many differences, even when I think of our main challenge, our main focus right now is growth. The way it’s handled in London, and the way we’re doing that in Sydney right now is extremely different. Even when you’re saying, just simply like marketing channels, or like even offline marketing, the market compared, in significance to London is so different. On this side so when it comes to develop new strategies, we tend to basically have to change many, many things.

G: Yeah…

[Laughter].

M: Which is a funny side, wouldn’t be that funny, right…exactly the same.

[Laughter].

M: And in terms of how the market is responding, we find that it has …more or less same manner to London. In terms of client needs and client profiles, in that case, we find many similarities of course. There will always be differences but all of the main challenges or objections or issues that we can find, we’ve experienced those in London. So that’s also what keeps us to try, to be able to, not just able to solve issues but to be corrective and preventing the issue from happening in the first place so that’s very good. The main challenge would be struggles from the strategy point of views, we’re testing everything, from scratch. We have some learnings from London, but the markets are so different which of course makes sense. So, I guess for us, in terms of growth, in terms of marketing, that we have online marketing, if you take a side, SEM, SEO which is something that we can manage in the same way, in both countries. Everything else is extremely different. So, everything is a new challenge.

G: It’s exactly the same language at this point.

M: Yes, exactly! That’s also…

[Laughter].

M: I’m waiting for the time we’ll expand in Italy, so it would be really fun.

[Laughter].

G: …spaghetti you can speak Italian!

[Laughter].

G: So, I mean two-sided marketplaces, there are a lot of challenges, controlling your supply and demand. What are some of the biggest challenges that you think there are?

M: Yeah well, I mean first, first challenge of course is getting the supply. When you’re still …of course I mean for us it’s just, we had the advantage of being global right? We have the advantage of showing a model that was working really well, great NPS from our clients in London. So that made it possible to get, start getting ready you know clients that were happy to give us trust as well as, like in terms of all the supplier side, I’ve been already able to bring a brand that’s already proven and it’s working. But you always have challenges. Of course, we are new in Australia, there are many players operating in Australia since a few years now, so in that case, what we want to prove that we are able to deliver the same if not better job. We can do that immediately and sometimes clients think we need some time. Well we are …

G: Started.

[Laughter].

M: …started already.

G: So, from a marketplace point of view, when you are started, now that you’re getting that traction, how are you then growing that to a scaling, now that you got those couple of people?

M: We are growing really a lot, we started with basically nothing five/six months ago and now we’re here.

[Laughter].

G: …say what you wanted to say!

[Laughter].

M: Yeah so, I got lost so what was I saying?

[Laughter].

G: You said you started from the bottom.

M: We have, we’re going for the seventieth property this month…more and more… but yeah so what we do is...a lot of marketing. We, I was stating it before, main online marketing, SEO, SEM of course, social media baits, we plan to be doing more and we’re starting to do already more offline marketing, trying many different channels, because we are at the beginning. We’re testing which ones work, but for now, that’s where we’re focusing on our … as well as our, reaching out to old, main Airbnb groups, or like people…

G: Community.

M: Communities that are very interested if not expert of the sector already. I guess for us the main challenge is brand awareness. The service, similar service has been live and going on for years already, so many people are familiar with it, still may needs to get to know about this in the first place but we really also want to get more awareness to our brand, like let people know that we’re here as well. Then it’s really easy with London as well, many Australians travel very frequently to London, so we have many clients that go …London as well…

G: Wow that’s great! So what sort of tools do you use I mean as a startup, comes back to analytics, tracking what’s working, what’s not, you know, what are you using to grow your business?

M: Yeah basically analytics, we have, we actually are in the process, I might take this chance to hire new head of marketing…

G: Anybody out there?

[Laughter].

M: It’s going to be in London though, so that’s a big move, but not that bad. Well…

G: Winter is coming!

[Laughter].

M: So, I don’t know but great …

[Laughter].

G: Jon Snow knows nothing!

[Laughter].

M: But yeah, so … and you had growth and yeah, the tools we use, analytics and we plan to have them, yeah. Someone, a new person does that on full time basis from London as well for all the cities. We are expanding to new cities as we speak, mostly in the UK and soon, soon to Melbourne as well.

G: That’s fantastic and very cool. And so then, I guess next for you guys, besides being … an Australian point of view, and you’re rolling out in Melbourne, are you’re going to spend a lot of time on the ground? I mean how you approached Sydney, would there be things you would do differently? … you can do differently, or more efficiently.

M: Yes exactly. We definitely are going to take all the learnings we had from Sydney. Melbourne also in terms of Airbnb market, it’s quite different. As well as … could be as well so we’re going to take, keep those differences in mind but try to basically scale in the most efficient way, what we’ve done in Sydney. So, it’s still like in the expansion plan we’ve seen is coming, beginning of next year and what we’ll do is we’ll spend some time there, find someone that can manage to stay there so then as soon as …

[Laughter].

G: I shotgun Italy country manager!

[Laughter].

M: Sorry, no, no, just joking. I love Italy, but I see Australia as now my second home, so yeah.

[Laughter].

G: That’s great. So, who do you look for mentorship or advise or just, I guess to look to when you’re coming up against challenges?

M: Yeah well, it’s really, it really depends, I, have to say, once, given that in any case, in terms of the experience I have and the background I have, graduating really recently, I was really wrong at the beginning to say that I could just do…. scared to ask for help, or advice, feeling more like what could be, weakness in a way. Like I don’t know how to do this, I'm feeling guilty, I should be able to do that. And then slowly you realize that it’s just not possible, that’s not how you improve, how you grow.

G: Yeah, definitely.

M: So, yeah, right now, I basically, every time I get to meet an entrepreneur, someone that has launched something amazing, like you…you know as many feedback and advice as possible. I really think that you know if you learn being able to say “That’s what I can do, that’s what I cannot do, can you help please?”

G: Being honest.

M: As well as yeah, trying to read as many experiences from others as possible and yeah like basically trying to absorb knowledge…all possible. And it’s surprising you know how many new things I really keep on learning every day. But yeah, it’s just the most amazing and difficult thing at the same time to learn to... business like this from scratch that is growing so much.

G: That’s fantastic. So, if you could have, I ask everyone this, if you could have a superpower, what would it be?

M: Well, this really kind of, it’s not really going to impact my work.

G: That’s okay.

M: The only superpower I wanted to have was to be able to teleport myself to everywhere, I just love traveling so much, that yeah, that would be definitely the thing I would go for, being able to travel 24 hours to go to Europe or…

G: Yeah, get a lunch from Europe and come back to work.

[Laughter].

M: I’ve been studying here in Sydney for international management, so I get the chance to meet so many amazing people that are now spread everywhere in the world. Even just being able to say, “Yeah I’m going to have lunch that is in Sao Paulo”, that’s definitely what I'm going for.

G: ..sort something out too, Hyperloop. You see the rockets, right? Thirty minutes from London to New York or whatever.

M: Yeah.

G: It’s nuts, it’s crazy. Yeah.

M: Yeah who knows, maybe it’s coming sooner than we expected.

[Laughter].

G: That’s awesome so if anyone could help you out, how could it be? I mean is it finding a growth marketer in London, sales people here in Sydney?

M: Sales, account management that’s definitely something that we are always looking for. …sales for now but that is also a role that we would have open on a regular basis.

G: Also, there is your website, airsorted.com.au, yeah, cool.

M: And yeah, vis design, decorator position and as well as if anyone is out there, who’s looking for some help to manage Airbnb… amazing service, 24/7 tech support, we’re there.

G: Or the plumber is literally here.

[Laughter].

M: Yeah, yeah, I was thinking of going on, invest on myself.

[Laughter].

G: Well you never know, you could have a second career.

M: Yeah, it’s always my talent, expertise that you have…

G: Oh well thank you so much for your time, really appreciate it.

M: Thank you for having me, it was really fun.

G: Of course. Well guys, see you next time, thank you for coming to watch.

Gen George