Hawaiian beach vacation from hell sparks Urbanspoon co-founder to start Dwellable

Adam Doppelt

Urbanspoon helped transform the way people discover new restaurants. Now, Adam Doppelt, one of the co-founders of that Seattle entrepreneurial success story, is looking to tackle another consumer pain point: vacation rentals. Doppelt and Rob Currie just launched Dwellable, a new startup which faces big-time competition from some deep-pocketed rivals.

The idea for the startup actually started when Doppelt, along with Urbanspoon co-founder Ethan Lowry, traveled to Hawaii with their families for a much-needed vacation.  The two geeks spent hours researching properties online, finally picking a house on Oahu.

Unfortunately, when they arrived, the house was less than advertised. I’ll let Doppelt take the story from here:

The photos made it look nice, but inside it was literally rotting to pieces. Half the light switches were out of order. The “sandy beach” consisted of waves washing over rocks against a stone wall. There were rodents scuttling in the ceiling. The front door had no lock and refused to close. The house next door was being rebuilt, so there was loud construction from 7am to 5pm every day of the week. Also, the owner forgot to mention that he lived on the property! Not exactly the dream vacation we were paying for.

Ugh. We’ve all been there before (Let me tell you the story about the “Tree House” my wife rented along the Columbia River a few years ago).

From Doppelt’s miserable Hawaii experience, Dwellable was born. At this point, the site offers vacation rental listings in four markets: Cape Cod, Lake Tahoe, Maui and The Outer Banks. (Doppelt promises that the San Juan Islands will be coming soon).

Of course, there’s no shortage of competition in the vacation rental sector. And there’s one very, very large player: HomeAway.

Doppelt is quick to point out that Urbanspoon also entered a “crowded space,” grabbing market share by moving fast and staying in front of the big rivals. It eventually sold to IAC. Like Urbanspoon, Doppelt and Currie are taking a “bootstrap” approach to the business.

Currie, who lives in Santa Cruz, California and is serving as CEO, says that it’s still pretty early in terms of consumer awareness of vacation rental sites. HomeAway has done a good job of “legitimizing the market,” Currie says. But, as a paid listing site, he said they have limited inventory and also charge to post photos. Furthermore, he said the technology and design at HomeAway is “more targeted at the AOL dial-up generation.”

“Dwellable is targeting the modern broadband consumer who typically is shopping for a family vacation on a broadband connected big LCD screen,” Currie tells GeekWire. “Big pictures, fast browsing, broad inventory and great ways to search, slice and dice – this is what they expect from the other sites they go to on the Web and we’re going to bring them the same power for their vacation rental search.”

In addition to high resolution photos, Currie said that they offer a “price heat map” which allows consumers to see all houses across all sites in a particular area. Furthermore, he said that there are a number of small regionally focused sites that offer vacation rental properties, but oftentimes they lack a sophisticated design and user experience.

And then there’s the new powerhouse: Airbnb. Backed by Ashton Kutcher, Sequoia Capital and others and reportedly raising capital at a $1 billion valuation, Currie said that they tend to focus on people looking for hotel room replacements rather than $3,000 to $6,000 vacation homes that can accommodate the entire family.

Despite all of the competition, Doppelt thinks there’s room for a new entrant.

“Personally, I find that the existing vacation rental sites generally do a poor job of meeting the needs of travelers, ” Doppelt says. “The existing sites are clunky, biased, non-comprehensive and generally ugly. This is a space that’s ripe for competition. We can do better.”

  • http://twitter.com/delwilliams Delores Williams

    OOOO, the line “more targeted at the AOL dial-up generation.” made me go Ouch! I do agree though.

  • Anonymous

    Thank God! I use VRBO to book ski condos and hate it so much I’ve been tempted to start my own competitor. Look forward to watching this one!

  • Guest

    Congratulations and best of luck to Dwellable! I’m glad to see more lodging sites targeted at the iPad generation. Great technology cuts out traditional middle-men while empowering consumers.

  • http://www.jrotech.com/ Jeff Rodenburg

    Sure seems like there are lots of opportunities to revolutionize different businesses with better UI, tighter operation and improved product quality.  It’s as if we’re just now seeing the REAL Web 2.0.

    Good luck guys, hope to see you succeed in this space as well.

  • FTL Vacation Rental

    AirBnB is not that great for vacation rental owners.  We were on it for a short time and, although we got some inquiries, none turned into bookings.  Plus, with the “BnB” in the title, most people looking for vacation rentals probably wont use it. 
    Check out our website, http://FTLVacationRental.com if you are planning a trip to Fort Lauderdale.

  • Mike Mathieu

    I have to agree that there’s still plenty of room for improvement in this market. Just booked an apartment in Paris and the HomeAway/VRBO user experience is really off. Ended up talking to an actual human being in Oregon who located a great place for us. How old school is that?

  • dava

    I’m happy to see competition to the existing sites. Owners want it, renters need it. I say GOOD LUCK! I think Il sign my property up!

  • http://twitter.com/thebestbeachnet Lisa Dworkin

    I’m glad to see there’s an alternative to HomeAway/VRBO. I booked an apartment in South Beach through VRBO and despite doing extensive research and talking to actual humans, the apartment was nothing as advertised. On the other hand, I’ve booked rental homes the old fashioned way through local agents and always had a good experience. I hope Dwellable fills the gap in the online rental market by bringing quality products (the rentals) to the internet.

  • Dandrews

    I would have loved this when looking for a vacation rental over a hotel for 2 when visitng San Francisco!