#Asia If your next holiday is in Bali, Thailand, or Sri Lanka, this startup has a villa for you


David Chambat, founder of Villa-Finder, has been living in Singapore for the last 10 years. Originally from France, David’s journey started as an MBA student at INSEAD Singapore, after which he accepted a job at a startup producing and distributing video content for the online hotel booking industry. During the course of his work David was exposed to exotic travel destinations in Asia and fell in love with what he saw.

“I almost bought a villa in Bali around three years ago,” David tells Tech in Asia. “My aim was to rent it out to tourists, but in the process of putting it on the internet I saw there were no suitable portals. Most of the existing websites had small images, no options of booking online, and poor technology infrastructure.”

David’s quest to buy the villa fell through after he wasn’t able to secure the relevant permits. But by now he understood there was a real gap in the vacation rental market despite the existence of Airbnb and was determined to capitalize on the opportunity. He decided to use the money he had set aside to build a company instead.

“Initially the project just concentrated on Bali and the aim was to make it easier for both owners and travelers to rent villas,” says David. “We designed a simple website but concentrated on original, authentic images as well as updated availability information. That gave us an edge in the market.”

Villa-Finder team

Villa-Finder team

Locking in supply

Villa-Finder started operations in August 2012 and David says it was able to reach profitability in just a few months. Demand was not an issue – there was overwhelming interest from holidaymakers to rent out larger properties, especially for those traveling with families or in large groups. The problem was supply – no entrepreneurs had concentrated on this particular niche before and so the market was fragmented.

To overcome the problem David spent a lot of time in Bali, driving around on his motorcycle and meeting with villa owners. Slowly, as word of his new venture spread, many owners also started approaching him. The number of villas on his portal began to grow.

But the entrepreneur says he never wavered in his goal to have a “very unique selection of villas”. All the properties on the site have to meet strict quality control guidelines before they’re accepted. Some of the key criteria are maintenance, location, and quality of structure. Furthermore, it is the startup’s own internal team which takes care of photography and uploading content. “That’s a key selling point for us,” adds David.

We are kind of a go-between between the customer and owner. We make sure the property is ready for your stay and that it’s clean, ready, and maintained with stuff like toiletries, towels etc. We’ll only market villas that can meet these demands and have a team going to monitor the villas all the time.


Bootstrapping to success

The startup has never sought to raise funds and remains bootstrapped, even after three years of operations. It’s also expanded to cover locations in Phuket, Samui, and Sri Lanka. David says they worked very hard to spread the word through expat communities in Singapore as well as concerted efforts on Facebook, email, and social media marketing.

What also helped was the fact that the site is multilingual and supports 13 different languages. “This assisted our search engine rankings,” admits David.

Villa-Finder now has over 1,000 listings on the site, with prices ranging from US$200 to $5,000 per night. David declines to give a precise number for monthly bookings but says it’s “several hundred”. However, the average value of the booking is US$5,000 – much higher than your regular hotel room. “It’s not a big business in terms of volume, but the ticket size is good,” he adds.

What we do is guarantee quality, family-friendly villas, and a highly-curated selection. For example, traditional European customers like very open living rooms and very open bathrooms in traditional types of buildings. Preferences are different for Asian customers who like enclosed living rooms in less traditional buildings. So we have all sorts of villas catering to all needs.

David says there are plans to expand into Australia and Mauritius. He’s also very optimistic about the future of the industry and says there’s a growing demand for villas and apartments over hotel rooms. “Airbnb has done a great job introducing new market segments and we’re benefitting from that.”

See: This startup is solving the worst thing about the end of your holiday – pesky foreign currency

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