Quick Q&A: Roman Bach, co-founder, 9flats.com

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• What's your background?
I studied law, and started to work in a media agency to fund it. I then started an internet division of Gruner+Jahr in 1996. Since then I have been consumed by the startup business world. I co-founded my first e-commerce site (toyzone) in 1999 and sold it to RTL/Metro-Group.

• How did 9Flats start?
My partner Stephan Uhrenbacher (founder of qype) was looking for a new opportunity and we looked at several ideas in 2010. To launch a European couch-surfing equivalent seemed to have great potential. In my role I added the commercial model and we started building 9flats in December 2010. Just a few months later we went live in March 2011.
 
• How many short term rental listings do you have?
We constantly add new properties but also remove properties that are not meeting our expectations (active users who actually like being hosts) - we currently list about 150,000 properties, plus 300,000 from third-party providers.
       
• What's the most popular booking and why?
A long weekend in the heart of a top city (London, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, New York etc) where people have an entire apartment for themselves at a reasonable price. The benefit is mainly to have more space and privacy than available in a hotel - usually also at lower costs.
      
• What's the split in business / leisure / bleisure bookings?
It´s still 75 per cent leisure travellers but business travel is picking up fast. Last year it was 90 per cent leisure.

• What's the geographic split of your inventory?
We are focused on the European traveller and on the intercontinental guest coming to Europe. We offer approximately 20 per cent of our properties outside of Europe.

• What's the business model and commission split ie. guest and owner?
We are a marketplace and take a percentage for our services. This varies from destination, season and time to book. On an average we receive 15 per cent.

• Why should a serviced apartment list with you?
We can fill the gap for serviced apartments and thus optimise the yield management, especially for weekends.

• What innovations are you adding to the 9flats offering?
We were the first to introduce the insurance for host, the first to offer child discounts etc. We have just launched payment on arrival, a feature which is especially useful for leisure travellers. They simply book with us, paying only a small reservation fee and pay the trip when they arrive at their destination.

• What do you foresee as the challenges short term rental companies will have in the future?
We have private hosts which are absolutely fabulous. But their occupancy is only around 100 days a year. We have professionals (partly from the serviced apartment industry) who are completely aware of the traveller's needs and expectations. And we have those who are neither professional nor private. This group is causing a lot of disappointment right now and will eventually vanish or become more professional. They will understand that nobody wants to stay in a characterless IKEA-furnished home at a steep price. We are helping them in our host education to deliver a great experience.

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