Nathan Potter on the Future of Travel
Nathan Potter on the Future of Travel
Nathan leads Wander's product and engineering team. Their core focus is on building and delivering high-quality products that delight customers and help scale business functions. He has previously spent time building established products at Fortune 500 companies and also greenfield products as an early-stage startup team member. Nathan has 7+ years of experience where he has built and deployed systems that have needed to handle scale for eCommerce giants like Target and security constraints for Intelligence Agencies and large financial institutions across the globe. In this conversation, Nathan discusses how Wander is paving the way for a more automated and luxurious travel experience than ever before. Discussion: Background of Wander. Why was having a Tesla onsite important for creating a good experience? What has it been like to integrate with Tesla? How do you choose which smart devices to integrate with? What are some of the surprises of creating a concierge experience? What are some of the processes you have created for your team's back-office system? How do you allocate resources for your client-facing system vs. your back-office system? Is there anything that you have wanted to build but decided not to? How do you approach integrating the whole tech stack? Lightening round questions. Links: Transcript: Nathan Potter We're working directly with Tesla and our auto insurance companies to basically build out a miniature Turro within our app. So we've gotta go through the onboarding process of signing the agreements for the rental and waiving all of the policies and the auto insurance and everything and then integrating with the Tesla API as well. Blake Miller Welcome to the Future Living Podcast. Today I've got a really exciting episode with my friend Nathan Pottery, the CTO of Wander. Wander is, as I've been describing to a lot of friends, kind of the company that I've got a startup crush on. And I'm excited to bring this one to you as one of our first episodes back for the Future Living podcast because we're doing a lot of similar things, but they're focused more on vacation rentals. Nathan, welcome. Why don't you give everybody a little bit of background on what you guys are doing with Wander? Nathan Potter Hey, thanks for having me on Blake. Love what you're doing over at Homebase. Yeah, would love to. So we're basically building a network of smart homes across the globe. Currently, right now we're located across the United States and looking to expand into Canada, Mexico, and Europe this year. But each home you can imagine as a luxury real estate property. You walk in the lights turn on, the music is playing, and the fireplace is on setting the ambiance for your stay. You can control everything through the app, whether that's the shades, the lights, the locks, the garage doors, really anything. You can control the Tesla through the app as well. So each of our properties comes with a Tesla for you to use. We love it. It's a ton of fun. We've been able to build some really cool integrations with Tesla and have been working with their API team to integrate directly with them and that's been a lot of fun to experience. Blake Miller We're talking about the home and all this stuff and maybe that's something we can start with because what you're describing is something that's just so cool. You guys are designing such an amazing experience for people that are traveling, right? And what I think is so cool too is it's not just for your standard family or couple that's getting an Airbnb, you know. You support this group travel model. And I'm curious with all of that, why was having a car on-site or having a Tesla there so important to creating a good user experience or a good resume experience? Nathan Potter Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of our properties are relatively close to airports and a lot of times people will fly in and get an Uber to the property, and we want to create a travel experience from the future. Like if you're looking 10 years down the line, what does travel look like? You know, and so you can kind of imagine that whenever self-driving cars are to a place where it can be like, okay the car comes and picks you up from the airport and then takes you to the property, and then you can use it during your stay, instead of having to rent the car at the airport. And a lot of times we work with teams, so a lot of remote companies will use our platform and basically rent one of our larger properties. For them, it's like they already have a car on standby if they need to go on trips or anything–super easy. Blake Miller So what's it been like starting there at that integration? I mean, you've got locks and thermostats and all those things inside the house. Starting with that integration of getting somebody access to that car instantly, what's that been like? What's it been like working with Tesla? Nathan Potter It's been a lot of fun, honestly. It's been huge, though. I mean, there's a lot of moving parts. We're working directly with Tesla and our auto insurance companies. So basically we had to build out a miniature Turo within our app. We've gotta go through the onboarding process of assigning the agreements for the rental and waving all of the policies and the auto insurance and everything, so we can send that over to our auto insurance providers. Then, integrating with the Tesla API, as well. So we were working with their business team to get access to their fleet API, and since we were able to get that, it's been a big game changer for us. Now it's kind of fun. We can basically allow the guests to unlock the Tesla whenever they've gone through that flow and then provide them that access throughout the trip, like viewing the battery level and seeing where they parked, all of those sorts of things. And then after their trip is done, it'll automatically lock after the cleaning crew is done cleaning the car up and getting it ready for the next guest. Then it's locked waiting for the next guest to arrive and go through that same onboarding flow—the rental agreement and everything. It's been a big challenge, but it's been a ton of fun, and cool to see the delight that it brings the guests. It's not every day that you get to drive around in a Tesla, so it's been fun to provide that along with the beautiful properties. Blake Miller I think it's probably pretty obvious why you guys chose Tesla to work with on the vehicle side of things. Moving inside the house, or inside the vacation home, how do you, especially as the CTO, choose what devices you're using and how you connect them? I'm kind of jealous because it seems like you probably get to pick just one or two and not have to be spread so thin with several devices in each category like we have to, but how did you go through that process? How do you evaluate the hardware that you're working with, and what are the things that are important to you guys? Nathan Potter Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of that is in partnership with our home ops team. They are absolutely incredible. They're really the boots on the ground setting up these new homes and renovating properties that we bring onto the platform. Blake Miller And you guys have vertically integrated the whole team, right? Nathan Potter Correct. Yeah. So those guys are on the team here at Wander and they travel around the country going to these beautiful locations. Blake Miller That'd be fun. Nathan Potter Yeah, no, it's a blast. They seem to be having a great time. So they will go to a home and–it's interesting, we do have to support a wide range of things. Primarily locks, because some of these homes that we acquire already have smart home setups. So they're either like with Crestron or Troll Four or Savant or otherwise. And so we have to integrate with kind of what's, what's there, and what's available to us to minimize the overhead in terms of like retrofitting or renovating. Blake Miller Oh, interesting. Nathan Potter Yeah. And so we do end up having to integrate with a wide variety of devices, but we've been able to kind of create a middleware on our system that kind of abstracts it away. So all of the locks look kind of the same to our client. Like our mobile app, it's just a lock, whether that's a Dana Lock or a Yale Smart lock, it doesn't really necessarily matter to the client, it just kind of looks like a lock. And so it's interesting. We purchased a passive house in Oregon, which if you're not familiar, it's a super energy-efficient home with three-inch thick doors and triple pane glass windows and all sorts of stuff. It's really, really interesting. But as you can imagine, there are not a lot of smart locks on the market that integrate with that door. So we ended up having to try like five or six different locks. It's just finding ones that fit easily into that middleware that we've developed. It's been fun. You’d be surprised by how many different devices we have to integrate with, but it's been incredible to see all of them come online. Blake Miller That's cool. So as you guys obviously have been, I'm gonna make this number up, but I saw that you had something like a thousand stays. What are some of the interesting things or quirks that you've seen come about because you have this kind of living experience for vacations? I assume there starts to be a lot of feelings of concierge-type stuff. What are some of the surprises and how do you get the feedback too? Nathan Potter Yeah, absolutely. The concierge team is a huge piece of the feedback. It's nice because we have a direct line of communication with our guests before, during, and after their stay talking the whole time with our concierge team usually. And our concierge team is reaching out to make sure that their stay is going okay. Some of the crazier things we've seen are just unexpected hiccups during stays as, as you can imagine. We try to prevent those as much as possible, but they'll happen on occasion. For instance, say we ran out of propane so now we're setting up some propane meters at each of the properties that direct feedback from concierge saying, “Hey, the fire pit's not working, what's going on?” We'll get somebody out there immediately to refill the propane. But now we're taking that a step further on the product side and basically integrating that into to our back office systems to say, “Hey, we're running low on propane at this property, let's get somebody out there to refill it prior to the next guest.” So those optimizations are how that direct line of communication with the guests is helping us optimize and streamline our business. Blake Miller I think being proactive and we've seen it too like, you know, we serve internet in people's apartments and sometimes that internet has gone down. A lot of times that is power outage related and completely out of our control, but being able to send them a notification right away that we know that the network's down and we're working to get it revived goes a long way. So I can imagine that being able to let people know that somebody's got their back with digital touches like that has got to relieve a lot of stress when it comes to that vacation. Nathan Potter Totally, because then they don't have to worry about it as much. I kind of know somebody's working on it. There's kind of an ETA there on when I can expect to be back online. Maybe I can go run and grab a copy or a bite to eat or something while it's down, you know, instead of just being in the dark and being like, “Well internet's down, when is, when is it gonna come back online? Not sure.” Yeah. But totally. Being able to be proactive with the guests is really key. Blake Miller Yeah. I wanna come back to a little bit more of the guest stuff, but you mentioned something interesting about the back office that you're building. You mentioned that your entire team's been verticalized with everything from fixing these places up and getting them ready once you guys acquire them to then operating them. What are the things that you are building for your back office and what's important there? Is it about making sure that each stay goes really well or making sure that the team operates as efficiently as possible? Both? How are you thinking about that? Nathan Potter Yeah, absolutely. I would definitely say both. At first it, it started off fulfilling the needs of our concierge team. Say a guest was in conversation with our concierge team and they wanted to extend their stay, allowing them a quick and easy way through our internal system to extend the stay and charge their card, or place an Instacart order for the guest. We do all of these sorts of things, and just providing these automations for the common needs of our concierge team was initially how it all started and now it's grown into an entire property management suite of tooling. Now our finance team is able to view revenue details and all of the metrics that they're looking for. Our concierge team is able to see what upcoming bookings are coming up, the cleaning crews that are scheduled, and all of those sorts of things. We're able to see an overview of the business so to speak and manage everything from there. And we have an internal name for it, Wander OS, and it's cool to see how it has evolved over time. I mean, it's relatively young, at least six months old as a product, but the efficiencies that it's brought about within the business are huge. We've been able to streamline many manual processes that we were doing before and it's also cleaned up a ton of our data from the manual processes. Now it's going through our system so we're able to track all of those efficiently and provide that to our finance team to allow them to have their reporting for our lending providers. You know, much more clear and easy to put together. Blake Miller We've got some similar behind-the-scenes systems too. Curious if sometimes, like us, you put more of the resources into the resident stuff so the manager kind of acts like kid brother sometimes, and it's always a little bit slower maybe in some ways. How do you divert your resources to be able to help us support that too or how are you thinking about that? Nathan Potter Yeah, definitely. We actually internally treat them as different products, so they have their own dedicated resources in terms of how they're developed and designed, and built out. It makes it really nice because we are our own customer for that product and so that is a pure direct line of communication. Through Slack, there is a constant back and forth on how we can improve, how we can optimize, and what new features we can build out. But since they're basically their own product teams and groups, they move relatively quickly in terms of velocity from a development standpoint. I mean, they all integrate together, but they are treated separately in terms of product teams. Blake Miller Smart probably, especially being vertically integrated, it probably helps, you know, save the bottom line. So I'm curious. We’ve been talking about a lot of the different things that you're building, and you've been integrating with a lot of different things. Has there been anything that you really want to build or wanted to build that ultimately you decided not to for whatever reason? Nathan Potter Yeah, there are definitely some things that we haven't built that we're excited about. It's more of a timing thing. I would love to be able to build scenes into our smart home system to be able to click the morning scene button and all the shades slowly rise, the coffee machine starts, you know, that sort of experience. I would love to be able to build that. It's on the roadmap. We just have been building other things. We just launched a FinTech product recently that kind of took precedence over that. Blake Miller Let's touch on that really quick because it's fascinating on, again, kind of the verticalization of everything. Atlas is a product that helps fund new homes, right? Nathan Potter Yeah, absolutely. So it's really interesting because it kind of turns guests into owners and so you can kind of see this motion of like you go, you stay at a wander, you're like, “This is awesome, I would love to own a vacation home like this.” And instead of like having to go out and fork out several million and deal with the management and whether you rent it out or not, you can invest in Atlas, which is, is a REIT that is essentially the entire wander portfolio of short-term rentals. And so there's this cool kind of, I think someone was saying if you invested like x number of dollars you could basically live on Wander. I don't really remember the number, but there's that sentiment of incentive investing in a rental property or a vacation. You just invest in that and then from the returns of that, you pay for your own vacation each year. Blake Miller Yeah, it's like a real true new age timeshare. I'm sure you guys hate that analogy. Nathan Potter It's better because with a timeshare, if you don't use it, it's a use it or lose it sort of thing, whereas, with this, it's like, okay, I didn't go on a vacation this year, you're still getting those returns and those dividends. So it's nice in that regard and we're looking to build tighter integrations between the various products. So if you're an Atlas investor and you're a guest, we're building out a point system. It's kind of like a reward system that we're building out with tight integrations between all of these things. Blake Miller You guys are going after everybody. It's like the new Marriott Bonvoy. That's incredible. Nathan Potter Thanks. Yeah, it's been a ton of fun. We like building and we're having fun doing that. Blake Miller Right on. Well, one of the things before moving into the lightning route here, I wanted to talk about if you guys are evaluating Matter at all from a technology standpoint and how you're thinking about that. People ask us about it a lot and it's interesting. In a lot of multi-family, we look at it as something that's gonna help our residents get their own devices connected to the rest of the smart building. I'm curious how you guys are looking at that, because I'm sure with the vacation industry you're thinking about maybe fitness and equipment, and how do all those other things get connected that maybe the resident brings? I'm curious about what you're diving in on, and kind of a secondary question there with Matter is just from an overall tech stack, where do you nerd out? Nathan Potter Yeah, absolutely. I'm super excited about Matter. I mean the IoT industry moves relatively slowly. To get all of those parties in a room to agree on a standard, like Matter, is a huge undertaking. So it takes years and I'm super excited that it's starting to roll out. I think the new HomePod supports Matter, the new Apple HomePod. So I'm excited to integrate that more into our system. I think the way that I look at it is we basically have that middleware that I was mentioning beforehand. So in terms of our client and server and devices and everything, we have this abstraction above all of that because there are so many different things. Like you've got ZigBee, Z wave, Bluetooth, WiFi connection, and now Matter. And so it's just with all of these different elements that you almost kind of need this overlay that abstracts that a little bit and makes it almost futureproof to where whenever the next new thing does come out in the IoT space, it's easy for us to adopt and just plug and play. So that's kind of how I'm thinking about it on our end and we've done a solid job of building it out in that way. Yeah, I'm excited for what...