HYH-44 Meet Matt Landau!
Release Date: 06/29/2018
Download Episode! Matt Landau To many hundreds of independent vacation rental owners and VR managers, Matt Landau is the guru of the vacation rental market. He translated his remarkable experience in Panama into a valuable VR knowledge base that continues to expand within the large, virtual community that he has created. Matt’s experience, his sense for kind and appreciative personal relations, and his drive for professionalism make him a natural leader for other VR entrepreneurs. Matt talks with Debi about his background, creation of his VR community Inner Circle, and why he involved gang members in his vacation rental business. It was a triumph of conversion from a severe, dangerous humanitarian loss into a unique asset. Debi finds out how Matt found Costa Rica, Panama, New Orleans, how he got his start, what his mistakes have been. Despite Matt’s experiences and position at the center of the Inner Circle, he is a humble, genuine person who earns people’s trust honestly. Debi Hertert encourages Matt to share some of his experience with her audience. The following show notes are a full transcript, with time markers. LINKS: Matt’s heartwarming article in VRMB about the gang conversion https://www.vrmb.com/hope/ Matt’s Vacation Rental Marketing Blog: https://www.vrmb.com/ Sense of Place TV show (also can find via the VRMB.com site): https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=matt+landau+sense+of+place [00:45] Debi Hertert introduces the audience to Matt Landau, his “Inner Circle”, and his YouTube TV series “A Sense of Place”. [05:00] Finding Costa Rica: Using Matt’s Inner Circle members’ questions, Debi asked Matt about the “back story” – how’d he get started? Matt studied economics in school – but might not have been that enamored with the major. He chanced upon a story about a University of Richmond graduate who moved to Costa Rica and started an online travel agency, Costa Rica Vacations. Casey happened to be in Charlotte, VA when Matt called him, and agreed to meet. He made a 6-month job available to Matt in Costa Rica in 2006. Casey asked Matt to write a book for Costa Rica Vacations that would be informative for guests, and not be available from any other source. Matt traveled around Costa Rica to see the various partners that Casey worked with and was jazzed with the experience of traveling in the country, staying sometimes at vacation rentals, sometimes hotels and immediately knew he loved the vacation industry. [09:00] – Finding Panama: Everyone he met in that first six months encouraged Matt to check out Panama – coincidentally, Casey was at that time interested in possibly opening a branch of his travel agency in Panama, so they checked it out together. Matt started a blog “The Panama Report” which was one of the first Travel and Investment blogs for Panama, and he found a taste for the life. On that very same visit, he found the tiny historic district of Casco Viejo: Matt: “I met two gentlemen from Holland, Paulus and Eric who were running the only accommodations in all of Casco Viejo. It was called ‘Los Cuatro Tulipanes’ (The Four Tulips). And it was a revolutionary experience for me. I went into it nervous and uncertain and curious not only about the rentals but the neighborhood. And it just blew my mind and I decided that this was a neighborhood in which I wanted to live. Almost within the next 6 months, a series of events happened that I could have never planned but that ended up setting me up for where I am today. It was a combination of the travel agency that Casey was opening up doing really well, and needing to place people in the evolving historic district of Casco Viejo, and Paulus and Eric determining they were going to leave Panama for some reasons that are probably worth a separate day. And they said to me ‘we are going to shut this business down unless we can sell it to one person and that's you”. Debi: you had you had not spoken to them about it? Matt: “Not at all. I was helping them a little bit with their marketing after I had stayed. I was living in Panama in the downtown area but I just felt like it was an alignment of stars. And I found a small handful of business partners who were already involved in the neighborhood and on the real estate side of things and others were coming from the United States and we put together a little team. And next thing you know we are running a vacation rental business in Panama. It was the only place to stay in town and if you had come to Casco Viejo between 2009 and 2013 there was nowhere to stay but with us. We just learned everything on the fly. Fantastic and there was nobody to take our place.” [13:00] Birth of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog: Debi: and then while you were there you started the vacation rental marketing blog? Matt: “So that was a really hilarious pivot in all of this in that we learned everything on our own in very much the same way all our colleagues have. I felt like I had a really good notebook of information of stuff that worked because I keep copious notes and I structured it a little bit and made it into the form of an eBook. And it was essentially like the best ways to market your vacation rental business but I wasn't sure that vacation rentals were the right demographic to buy the eBook. So I made four. I've actually never shared this. I made four websites: HowToIncreaseHotelOccupancy.com; HowToIncreaseResortSales.com; Bed and BreakfastAdvertising.com and VacationRentalMarketingBlog.com. One page on each website; the same book for sale on each website with a different title. The same price. It was an ultimate control versus variable experiment. I pumped probably like 200 bucks worth of add words into that experiment. I was driving traffic from Google to these four sites to see which ones worked. And one of them blew the others out of the water: Vacation Rental Marketing Blog. I dropped all the others and I said okay I guess this means I should focus on the vacation rentals.” Debi: Holy cow! On my computer I have a file folder that says ‘The Vault’ Matt: “Yes! Those were the original documents; like How to Boost Occupancy. And I refer back to those fairly often to see if they’re still good or not, has the industry changed, and most of the advice was pretty solid”. Debi: Can I ask you how old you are? (35) So you started this when you were 25 years old? Matt: “Yeah – right out of college” I would say it's fearless but it's really what everybody in our industry does at the beginning. It’s just winging it. Debi: Honestly, all the dominoes falling in the right place all the right people came. The universe just looked after you beautifully! Matt: “and I think that's true. A lot of people got into this business. If it wasn't an accident it was some bit of alignment of stars adversity whatever you want to call it that brought this opportunity in front of them and they ran with it.” [15:30] “The Inner Circle” Debi: So what was your thinking when you started the Inner Circle? What was your goal then, and how do you see that you might have met or not met that? Matt: “Well, before the Inner Circle I was creating one-off Learning Materials eBooks video courses, guides, things like that and I realized that I was putting myself at a bit of a disadvantage because even if someone absolutely loved my work and purchased the book or the video course or whatever, I needed to go and create more in order to sell to them and that was like a bit of a spinning wheel. So I decided to pivot the business model instead of selling one-off learning materials to build a small fee, monthly membership Community where you would have access to all the learning materials that are created on a regular basis but also get this community element that has that's kind of proven to be so unique.” Debi: Have you been in a community like that before? (No) So you really didn't know whether or not it was going to go. Matt: “Virtually speaking, no. But guess where I was? Physically located in a community called Casco Viejo that was developing from scratch. We were solving our own trash problems, crime problems, we were dealing with like every type of neighborhood building challenge you can imagine. And I all the sudden start seeing all these overlaps. Like wait a minute, this is how we do it in real life, why shouldn't that work virtually? And what we have now I think in the Inner Circle is a very tight-knit Community. People who stand for the same thing but who happen to be located everywhere throughout the world. It's a cool thing to compare real life community building and virtual community building. It's a private community, so that kind of immediately rules out anyone who's not serious. The fact that you have to pay means that you will need to be committed to learning. It's one part learning materials, eBooks, courses, workshops. One part open forum - ask questions and get answers from people who have been through it before. And the Inner Circle membership also includes real life meetups. Last year we hosted 26. And you attended one yesterday and those are a chance to bring the virtual sides of our lives down to earth and actually meet each other in person and learn. That’s the value proposition but in general it's owners and managers who are serious and who want to grow. And it's a very small minority of the general vacation rental population but we're okay with that.” Debi: You also have grown immensely in the last few years. How many members are there now? Matt: “842 - not that anyone's counting” [ [18:45] From Gangs to Esperanza (Hope): Debi: Rick Oster wants to know why you started the charity with the gang members? Matt: “Necessity. This neighborhood that I had fallen in love with had a very serious problem which was prohibiting me and others from contributing, and that was gang violence. And we had specifically 4.5 almost five street gangs who were constantly at one another and that made walking to the grocery store in the morning a bit of a challenge. It also made running a hospitality business a little daunting. I wasn't even comfortable with guests walking to certain areas for fear that they would get robbed. So the first, real reason that we put together the program was safety. That's the number one thing about any community. If it's not safe nothing else can happen.” Debi: And did that ever happen? Did anyone get robbed? Matt: “Yes, on a regular basis. In the early days we had a map and we would draw very clearly where it was okay to walk and where was not okay to walk. And of course, the adventuresome traveler who doesn't like to listen to instructions would venture off the beaten path and almost like clockwork get robbed. It was never a violent crime it was almost always petty stuff. But we had plenty of gunshots. The specific impetus for Esperanza was when we lost a little neighbor of ours named Kevin, who was eight, on the block right outside Tulipanes. I would say that was the breaking point. We realized this is something needs to be done and no one else is going to solve this problem. I also had the wonderful guidance of another mentor whose name is also KC, who had a vision. And that was to not only demobilize these gangs but to give their members a real opportunity to participate in the community. And that was something so fascinating to me it was almost beyond my comprehension. But I knew where I could be helpful. I knew how to mobilize the neighbors, all of whom were ready to be helpful. Again, ‘Community 101’. And once the program picked up steam it was almost just this epiphany of realizing that we could take a problem and actually make it part of a solution. And that ended up benefiting everybody in the neighborhood to the point that the very same gang members that were robbing my guests in the early days were at this point offering walking tours to the same tourists and being featured in Travel, and Leisure, and GQ, adding value to the community where they were formerly taking it away. It got started out of pure necessity but picked up momentum because of hope. And I think those are probably the two little factors that start most of these revolutions that are happening in neighborhoods around the world.” [listeners/readers – please do yourselves a favor and follow the link at the end of these show notes] Debi: So where do you see yourself going now? Matt: “San Francisco…my mom is going to receive an award and my whole family is going to celebrate that with her. But what I always like to say is that I know I'm not exactly sure where this is all going but I do know that I'm doing it with the right people. 23:30 New Orleans: Debi: And you're in your next phase, you’ve sold Los Tulipanos and you’re now living in New Orleans. You’re renting so you're not quite settled Matt: “Home base will be New Orleans and people ask why I chose New Orleans. One, because I like the idea of spending some time in the States after almost 12 years living in Panama. Two, I wanted warm weather. I'm big on that. I’ve spent plenty of cold winter months in New Jersey. And, I wanted to be central to where most of my travel and my colleagues are located which is North America. And in some cases South America and perhaps most importantly I wanted to be somewhere with character. Which New Orleans has. That's my home base for the moment and I'll keep going back there in between my trips and I'll begin you know writing my address on Decatur Street on forms and things like that. I have a license plate. So I guess that qualifies as a home for the moment but I'm not sure where I'm going. I do know that I'm doing it with a lot of people that I admire.” [24:30] A Sense of Place Internet TV Show: Debi: Well in your phase includes the TV show or, would you call it a TV show? Matt: “Jessica Mosel just said it's an Internet TV show. It's a travel show that features vacation rentals.” Debi: And you got your blog still and you got your podcast that you say you’re reviving and the Inner Circle. So do you have to have plans for the Inner Circle? I mean what I'm seeing you do is kind of pull all of this together into kind of one overarching support activity. Matt: “The inner circle is certainly critical to my livelihood because it's where I generate dollars like that's my salary income. The other stuff tends to be a way to ultimately get someone to join the Inner Circle even though maybe only a small percentage of the people actually will. But there's a general direction through the podcast through the blog through the show after most of the events that I like to support like this one where we are right now, the Vacation Rental Success Summit. To get my brand out there and my brand is primarily education and empowering these owners and managers with all the right tools and resources to do their own great work. And I believe that that kind of positive energy that style of help don't sell marketing will ultimately trickle back so we are indeed looking to grow the Inner Circle but slowly and surely and I think that's a nice recipe. You’re very much of a founding member there and people think I exaggerate but I consider all of my inner circle colleagues very much my mentors and my friends and we all bring to this community something so different from our former lives. And they were all looking to improve and grow.” 27:00 So what about Airbnb? Debi: It’s just so charming to watch you grow! I remember not too long ago you were like really down on Airbnb, you didn't think Airbnb was ever going to make it or be a presence in this industry. What do you think now? Matt: “They most certainly are I'll tell you that much if you close your ears off to reality you don't grow one bit that's for sure. That's a survival tactic!” Debi: So you’ve now stayed in Airbnb’s? (Many) Okay and so what do you think? Matt: “I think Airbnb is probably the most important thing to happen to this industry. I say this industry because they are very much synonymous with what we do. The gentleman in the lobby of this hotel asked ‘are you here for the Airbnb thing?’ (Oh dear) Of course I didn't correct him, I know exactly what he was talking about and that represents the general public. Airbnb is synonymous with short-term rentals. I think that that kind of awareness is incredible. I mean you could not have asked for a better explosion in this movement. That being said, I think with that comes a whole lot of responsibilities that Airbnb is still trying to figure out. And I also constantly go back to this question what is best for the greater vacation rental industry. And sometimes it will frustrate an independent owner because they don't think that we’re actually including them personally, but it also goes for Airbnb. And when decisions are made that impact the greater industry, one bad apple in an Airbnb could affect a greater population. And I think there are plenty of challenges that come with that role in the community. It's changed a whole lot of people's lives. I think there's a huge gamut of players in the Airbnb ecosystem there's people that are as professional as any of the other vacation rental owners and managers we have here. I stayed in an Airbnb in Amsterdam two weeks ago that was one of the worst hospitality experiences of my life and it was 500 bucks a night. So I think again not unlike the greater industry, plenty of room for improvement but what you can't ignore is the scope of their role in all of this. And people like you, who just adopted the role of community leader and with the help of Airbnb, very much using it almost to get on the shoulders of giants in a way. I think that's a pretty amazing thing. And really fun watching you go through that process. And I will just add this: I have also got to watch everyone in our community grow too. This is a relatively new industry only been around for 10 or 15 years. Some of us for more but the majority of us have started within that time. And I've had the pleasure of watching them become incredible vacation rental professionals just in the past five ten years. I think that's a really cool thing about our industry we've all got to watch one another grow and evolve and those of us that are still here doing something right.” Debi: And you know the home share [hosts] that I connect with, a lot of them don't really feel like they're part of the vacation rental industry. They think ‘I'm just retired sharing this room.’ [They often deliver great hospitality, but] they don't really identify with the industry aspect. Matt: “I'm pretty sure they will because I believe the moment you're accepting someone's hard-earned dollars that could otherwise be spent at a local hotel, you’re accepting that you are entering the hospitality industry. And if you don't, recognize that you're leaving open a lot of room for issues. This place I stayed in Amsterdam it was a two-bedroom place. We had three people staying there, two people in one bedroom and me in the other and there was only two towels. There was hair in the bathroom and we weren't allowed to check in until 7 in the evening. It was not a lovely experience by any means and I knew that this person didn't necessarily do it as a business more so as a hobby. For that reason I get it. But I do think that if the greater industry again is to involve, every single stakeholder needs to understand that this is indeed a Hospitality business. If you feel like doing someone a favor or doing a little side gig do it on the side don't call yourself a professional vacation rental host, because you’re not. 31:30 Have you ever failed? Matt: “Oh yeah I feel pretty much every day.” Debi: What is the is one of your biggest failures? Matt: I think I made a pretty sincere failure when I started and I entered with a partner who I was very much simply friends with at the time. We went to the same University. And we had our roles and responsibilities; I was more in charge of the marketing and the sales and branding. He was more in charge of the accounting and the operations side of the business but we never actually clarified it. We never actually wrote it out. Which seemed just like a silly formality”. Debi: It sounds like a marriage. Matt: “It was. And we got divorced. If I had done that all over again I probably would have established roles and responsibilities up front. As well as a timeline just so that the communication was crystal clear. And it wasn't that one another's character or values or anything was being compromised but it became a relationship that wasn't working. In hindsight, I don't think necessarily it could have saved it or made it any different but it would have made it certainly clear and we would have had one less variable to worry about. So now when I go into any kind of partnership, I decide to be very upfront about who's doing what and sometimes it feels weird like even if it's a super close friend or someone at work with for many years. It feels strange to sit down and say you're responsible for this and that's so many hours and if you go over this hours you responsible for this.” Debi: And that's what makes you a good leader too because you know where your boundaries are. Matt: “And I've seen plenty of spouses and couples in this industry learn this one too. And I'm not married nor am I engaged, don't even have a girlfriend but I hear that relationships are best when there's great communication.” 33:50 “Help, don’t sell” Debi: Okay, I have a question for you here. It’s from Terry from the Inner Circle. Where does your penchant come from to help people where you're nurturing nature comes from by continually putting people in a position to succeed? Which you do over and over well. He's a sweetheart. Matt: “He is a sweetheart” Debi: But you do help people. The whole ‘help don't sell’, recognizing people in their success mode, where does that come from? Matt: “Probably the general generosity comes from my parents. My dad is probably the most generous person that I know. He never ever looks out for himself always someone else first. But I also think it's the path of least resistance when it comes to business. ‘Help, don’t sell’ and generosity in your marketing when it comes to business is the path of least resistance. And it's the most enjoyable path because no longer are you going against anything, trying to break down anything, trying to win over somebody. Rather it's a very passive style you're putting out there helpful things. Most of us have this helpful information within us already so it's merely the act of documenting it and distributing it. And being incredibly open about all of that and just giving it away. What ends up happening is it becomes almost addictive because you've got this momentum about your work and the most grateful people or the people who resonate with that bubble up to the top. And they say ‘you know like that I think I'd like to align myself with this business’. And that goes for all of our business vacation rentals. It is a great example, if you're giving away tons of helpful information about your area and not really caring whether or not the person takes it and runs off and does it on their own at your competitors vacation rentals on the street or not. It's less stress. It’s just like feel free to take this and run if what I'm saying resonates I'd love to speak with you further. It's just more lovely and I think that that common denominator of generosity of giving instead of trying to take. Like they say, all of philanthropy gives you back much more in spades.” 36:30 Vacation rental owners/managers as leaders: Debi: Thank you so much for doing this with me. Is there anything else that you’d like people to know about you, about your business? Matt: “Thanks for having me! But I know for a fact that I went through this process the exact same way that all of us have. And I may have been fortunate to stumble into a neighborhood that happened to be evolving, and I happened to have the opportunity again to find vacation rentals in a country that was exploding and these are all convenient factors. But at the end of the day the people who make up this vacation rental movement are all leaders. And I think recognizing that I try to remind people that all the time. The fact that you are very much a Pioneer in this industry, you represent the very cutting-edge, you are the Trailblazers of what has happened in the history here recognizing that and taking on that leader role that you so deserve. And that sometimes means helping others, sometimes means stepping up and taking risks. Whatever that means to you I think we all have it inside of us. I was very humbled just to be sitting here with you sharing my story. I feel a little bit awkward, because you could be interviewing one of the 250 people out there [at the VRSS conference] they all inside of them have a very similar Journey. I think the magic right now is about recognizing that. We have a number of Inner Circle members who are presenting at this conference, hosting panels, who are sharing their wisdom. I even if you go home and you're sharing your advice with other local competitors I think that is something that is truly special and I think it's what makes vacation rentals different from everything else.” Debi: Thank you Matt Landau. Matt: “Thank you Debi Hertert!”
LINKS: Matt’s heartwarming article in VRMB about the gang conversion https://www.vrmb.com/hope/ Matt’s Vacation Rental Marketing Blog: https://www.vrmb.com/ Sense of Place TV show (also can find via the VRMB.com site): https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=matt+landau+sense+of+place