Vacation Listing Service, Inc. has just raised more than $5m in a seed round from an impressive list of investors (read here). Keith Cox, the CEO of the San Francisco, CA-based startup answered our questions about the company, Vacatia.com, the team, the funding and future plans.
FinSMEs: Can you tell us something about you?
Keith: I am an entrepreneur with a passion for new and exciting consumer businesses. From launching two restaurant chains, Pacific Catch and World Wrapps, to building a fractional ownership company, Resort Equities, to starting a seed stage venture firm, Brainstorm Ventures (invested in Opentable.com, Zappos.com and Me.com), I have diverse interests in the startup world. Starting Vacaita.com and building the marketplace platform is one of the most complex challenges and exciting opportunities I have ever faced. BTW, I am an equally passionate traveler and foodie!
FinSMEs: What’s Vacatia.com? What’s the problem you want to solve?
Keith: Vacatia.com is an end-to-end transactional platform that supports sales and marketing of shared vacation ownership products. The Vacatia.com marketplace benefits everyone in the space — consumers, brokers, agents, developers, resort homeowner associations and their managers. In addition, we are focused on creating a trusted environment that caters to a new generation of online buyers, who are enamored with the sharing economy…making timeshare a perfect fit for GenX and GenY.
The vacation ownership industry segment is a very active and robust vertical that provides tremendous satisfaction to millions of Americans…until they want to re-sell. The resale opportunity happens to be a white space that still needs a complete solution in a 40+ year old industry (vacation ownership). Plus, there is a need for an online sales and marketing channel that caters to online buyers who want ready access to information, content and tools online to make smarter, easier and more rewarding lifestyle and purchase decisions and are embracing the sharing economy. We are excited about addressing these needs.
FinSMEs: How does it work?
Keith: Everything from posting listings, to searching for the perfect vacation ownership opportunity, , to buying timeshares is done online through the Vacatia.com platform. Sellers, or their broker representatives, post listings on the website and a prospective buyer, once a login profile is created, has the option to “make an offer” to purchase the interest for sale. A dialogue is then created between buyer and seller, through Vacatia.com, until an offer is rejected or terms are agreed upon. The buyer and seller then have their choice of several national escrow and title companies they can use to close the transaction, and obtain title insurance (if they so desire).
FinSMEs: What’s the business model?
Keith: We focused on a transaction-based model. There are no ad fees or upfront fees to post a listing. Revenue is based on a platform fee generated when a vacation ownership interest is sold. We also have several marketplace product lines that will launch over the coming year, including rentals of timeshare inventory.
FinSMEs: Tell me about the team. Who are the guys behind Vacatia?
Keith: We have a truly unique and balanced team behind Vacatia. I am very proud of the group that has been assembled and what they have accomplished to date. The group ranges from industry veterans who launched Disney’s vacation ownership program to the founding architect of Hotwire. We have experienced start-up talent from Loopnet and Trulia to an experienced strategy executive member from Interval Leisure Group. The team represents a strong, collaborative and positive culture.
FinSMEs: You have just closed a massive funding from well known investors. Which approach did you use to attract them? Was it easy to close the deal?
Keith: In my experience, it is never as easy as it may seem to close a sizeable pre-launch financing, and our fundraising took a lot of persistence. ‘Timeshare’ engenders a different response from each investor. However, we certainly gained a great deal of momentum as our presentation became more focused and we were introduced to more and more big picture private equity, real estate, e-marketplace and timeshare industry veterans who saw the magnitude of the opportunity we were addressing. In fact, we ultimately were successful with strategic investors who we thought could be influential and impactful to our business and it turned out those were also the investors who said “yes”.
FinSMEs: What else can you tell us?
Keith: We have a fantastic group of investors and advisors who have been extremely helpful since their introduction to the company. We have also been lucky to have the support of many industry leaders, and to have received an enthusiastic response from the leading industry association, ARDA.
FinSMEs: How are you using the funds?
Keith: We are using the funds to continue building our team, infrastructure and platform and are just now starting to invest in marketing outreach to launch the marketplace and grow the company.
FinSMEs: Future Plans?
Keith: Vacation rentals will be a natural addition for us down the road given the beautiful resorts the Vacatia.com marketplace is already serving.
Make Vacatia a groundbreaking success and help to introduce the time “share economy” to new generations of buyers!
About Keith Cox
Keith is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded businesses in the resort real estate, consumer technology, venture capital and chain restaurant industries. Keith founded Vacation Listing Service after his experience leading a resort real estate brokerage and fractional ownership company, Resort Equities, which he founded in 2004. Prior to entering the resort industry, Keith co-founded and served as managing director of Brainstorm Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund, which invested in e-commerce and emerging technology companies such as OpenTable.com and Zappos.com. Keith also helped to found, fund and launch consumer internet and mobile technology companies such as Me.com, Santa.com and Lightt, Inc., serving in each case as the Chairman of the board of directors. Prior to Brainstorm Ventures, Keith co-founded and served as CEO of World Wrapps, a west coast chain of gourmet, quick-service restaurants and Hot Concepts Award winner. More recently, Keith conceived of, launched and served as CEO of another growing, venture-backed restaurant chain, Pacific Catch, which is a moderately priced, Pacific-inspired fish house. His previous business experience includes that of strategic management consultant in the consumer practice at Booz-Allen & Hamilton and financial consultant at Deloitte & Touche. Keith obtained two BAs in Business Economics and Sociology at UC Santa Barbara and his MBA at Stanford University.