The end of the road

It’s with great regret that we have to announce that Rentability will shut down at the end of February 2014.

If you have purchased credits with us, and you would like a refund of any remaining credits in your account then please email Josh@Rentability.com with your Paypal account details and we'll refund you as soon as possible.

We’re very sorry that it has to end like this. We tried our best, and we hope that the shutdown doesn’t inconvenience you too much.

Josh, Sim, Tom

A cautionary tale

The story of our gradual decline is a common one I’m afraid. The original idea for Rentability came from talking to my mother, who was fed up with paying large up-front fees to holiday rental websites without any guarantee that the hundreds of pounds she had invested would result in any actual enquiries. The bigger websites also seemed to charge lots of hidden extras - charging more to advertise on “sister” websites that were effectively rebranded versions of the same site, charging fees for each image uploaded etc. This existing model had been inherited from the “classified ad” model of print magazines without realising any of the advantages of the Internet. We thought that a fairer model, where advertisers paid only for actual responses rather than a fixed fee would surely be welcomed by property owners - instead of risking hundreds of pounds on an advertisement that might not bring any responses they’d be risking nothing and pay much less in total.

We set about trying to build a website that fixed these problems. Instead of dull, identical text ads with a few pictures, we built an editor which allowed property owners to create much more attractive and unique pages for their property, with lots of images and interesting layouts. We added free SMS alerts for enquiries, calendars and booking management tools. We created a system that allowed you to embed your Rentability booking calendar into your own website, all for free. We developed a unique system which identified and warned property owners of potentially fraudulent enquiries. We even gave everyone five free enquiries when they first signed up.

Frankly, we couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to continue advertising their property on one of those old expensive, ugly looking rip off sites. Everyone would surely realise how much better our system was and abandon those rip-off sites immediately!

It took nearly two years to develop the website. In the interim, the largest existing advertising site received a huge investment of cash and bought up all of the smaller sites, creating a near monopoly in the market. They were now an almost unassailable monster.

Rentability was three people: Sim, Tom, Josh. We knew we couldn’t simply outgun such a huge corporation, and none of us are natural sales people - we just thought that if we built something clearly better than the competition then word of mouth would do our advertising for us. Turns out we were wrong.

The problem that we faced on launching the site was achieving critical mass - a holiday rental website isn’t any good without properties to rent, and if you’re looking for somewhere to stay then the wider the choice, the better. Some start-up websites tried to solve this problem by trawling holiday rental websites and spamming property owners, or even automatically duplicating their existing advertisements without permission. It would have been extremely easy for us to do the same, but we ruled out this sort of thing out early on - that was exactly the kind of unethical and predatory behaviour we felt Rentability stood against.

So we tried what we could to promote the site with our limited resources - we engaged with people on forums, placed Google ads and tried to spread the word. We’d expected that the start would be difficult - but what we hadn’t anticipated was the hostility and suspicion we would have to face. In retrospect, it’s understandable - with so many rip-off sites around, the awful state of the holiday rental advertising business had made property owners very wary of anyone new coming along - especially if what they seemed to be offering was “too good to be true”. The same unethical practices that we were trying to improve had made people too cynical to even give us a chance.

People were suspicious that we could charge them for trivial enquiries, or simply make up fictions enquiries. So, after considerable debate we decided to put our trust in our customers and instituted an honour system which meant advertisers only had to pay for those enquiries that they thought worthwhile. This ensured that no-one had to pay us any money if they didn’t feel we had earned it.

We tried everything to convince people we were legitimate - we thought that if only people would join us they would see we were genuine. It didn’t help that our user interface could be intimidating to first-time users, who couldn’t understand why it was so different from the websites they were used to. So we even offered to design the advertisements and set everything up ourselves. This wasn’t an automated process - each advert was designed individually, by hand - it was a lot of work.

It wasn’t enough.

We were out of ideas, energy and money.

We knew at that point that we were never going to win. Our competition had millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of customers, and we were a tiny group of people trying to do things in a new and unfamiliar way. We discovered that contrary to myth, in David and Goliath battles, Goliath wins most of the time.

Without a critical mass of advertisers, we could never generate a critical mass of traffic, and without traffic our advertisers weren’t going to get enough enquiries to make it worthwhile for them. It was a Catch 22 we were never going to escape.

Since that time we’ve kept the site running for the sake of our customers, not wanting to let down the people who did believe in us and hoping that we would have a new idea that could change everything. But despite some possibilities, the miracle never happened. It costs hundreds of pounds each month to keep the servers running and a considerable amount of effort in technical support. The total income ever generated by Rentability would barely pay the server bill for a single month.

Finally, last month, we conceded that we simply can’t afford to continue running the server any longer. It was difficult for us to admit we’d failed, but we have to face reality.

In parting, we’d like to thank those of you who have supported Rentability and especially anyone who recommended us to your friends - we’re deeply sorry if you feel we’ve let you down and wish you the best of luck with your bookings this year.