Interview by Chris Holman, (Current IMBA student and President of the IE Entrepreneurship Club) to Chema González (co-founder of Alterkeys.com and IE Alumni)
Comments by Chris Holman: “I was able to hear his story of working a number of years in banking, being inspired by traveling the world, and the moment when he decided to make his dreams a reality. It was great speaking with Chema and to hear about his story. It sounds like the company is gaining a lot of traction and competing heavily against their main competitors. It will be fun to watch them grow and I encourage everyone to check out their platform at Alterkeys.com.”
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? Who is Chema González?
“I am 28 years old, originally from Sevilla in the south of Spain. I received my education in Madrid, where I received a double degree in Business Administration and Law. After school, in 2009, I decided to take a break, as many people do, and traveled the world for one year. I visited many exotic places around the world and really had time to reflect on my life and aspirations.
Once I returned back from traveling I began working at Santander UK in their London Head Quarters. At this time I met my future co-founder of Alterkeys.com, Joan Muni. With the life of a busy banker, working in the City, we were both living out of hotel rooms for the next 12 months, which ultimately helped cultivate the idea for Alterkeys.”
When did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
“Throughout my life I always had a passion for entrepreneurship and I started a number of ventures before Alterkeys. For example, I spent 1 year studying in Argentina and I started running my own exporting business. I spent time searching out and buying clothing in Argentina and shipping it back to Spain in order to sell. It wasn’t the most successful venture, but it helped me get some treats.”
What is Alterkeys.com?
“Alterkeys is a play on words, ‘alter’ refers to change, while ‘keys’ is fairly straight forward, so ‘Alterkeys’ is your other keys, in order to experience someplace new. It is the Alternative to hotels, we allow people to search and rent properties around Europe, while also offering their own property for rent to others.
We have created a meeting place for people who want to make the most out of their unused property and travelers that want to get to know a city from a more local perspective. From a villa in Tuscany to a chic apartment in London, there will be something to suit your needs.
We are more than just a property renting market: we represent a community of travelers who may act as a host to somebody today, but may be the one using Alterkeys to find a place to stay tomorrow.”
Who is your team?
“Our founding team is comprised of Joan Muni, who is COO, Patricia González, who is a computer engineer, and myself. We currently have offices in Spain and the UK, from where we run the company on daily basis.”
How long did it take you to launch the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), from beginning to end?
“After having the idea for our company it took us around 5 months to develop an MVP and launch it to the market. Looking back at this, one of the key mistakes we made was that we did not have an in-house development team. This was mainly due to the same reason that other startups have, which is a lack of cash, but looking back on this, it definitely made our lives more difficult in that we were not as proactive as we would have liked.”
What sort of traction do you currently have?
“Our main marketing efforts were focused on Spain and the UK when we launched. We needed to identify two locations where people traveled often and would be interested in renting properties. We have now expanded our efforts to all of Europe and within 12 months we expect to focus on the entire world. Currently, we have over 100,000 properties listed around Europe.”
Who is your typical customer?
“While Alterkeys is used by a wide variety of consumers, we’ve noticed that a large portion are comprised of women, aged 30-55, who are married and have kids. They are looking to arrange their holiday for their family. Also friends who travel together are an important part of our regular users.”
Who are your competitors and what is your competitive advantage?
“Well, the obvious competitor is Airbnb as they operate a very similar platform. However, we offer our users a more secure renting process, we offer those hosting better insurance coverage, we focus on renting entire properties, and the best part is we don’t charge travelers at all, which means around 15% savings on every booking for them.
We are also competing with hotels and hostels, though they have a different model than we do. Other sites such as Homeaway are very similar, but we differ by taking care of everything related to payment and guarantee, which is key to ensuring a safe & secure trip.”
What is your vision for alterkeys.com in the future?
“We have an aggressive plan for Alterkeys and in 3 years we aim to be the top online vacation rental provider in Europe.”
Alterkeys is working down in Area 31, so I’m interested in how IE has assisted in the success of your company?
“I think it has been incredible working in Area 31. We have been down there for 6 months and have just received an extension for another 6 months. The support they have provided is great and participating in the IE Challenge Week will be a huge benefit for us as we will be able to leverage ideas from a number of different MBA students. We have also managed to take advantage of their network and facilities which has been a huge advantage for us. You meet great people around here daily and this could be a tremendous advantage when needing something from the community.”