I recently had a chat with Nick and Linsey Minnella, founders of Vegvisits, on what inspired them to create their home-sharing platform. Their marketplace is similar to Airbnb but tailored for vegetarians, vegans and other niche-diet practitioners. Although in its beginning stages, the business is already receiving a great response so I wanted to pass along their insights.
Hi Nick and Linsey,
Thank you for connecting with me so our audience can learn more about your hosting marketplace, Vegvisits. Could you share a little about yourself and what brought you to where you are now?
The two of us have been together since 2006 and both graduated with degrees in finance. We worked on Wall Street and the corporate world for a few years, but weren’t quite cut out for it to say the least. We would always talk about ideas we had for new startups, but much of the time they were too difficult to get off the ground or required a lot of money. As we were settling into a new finance job Nick had in Florida and spending the last year traveling, we realized there was a huge need to accommodate the vegan/vegetarian travel community that sites like Airbnb just weren’t fulfilling. We used Airbnb tons when we were traveling and while generally a pretty awesome experience (especially compared to a hotel) it was far from ideal in many cases. We thought about it some more, searched to see if it was being done and then started to formally pursue creating Vegvisits. We’re essentially a home-sharing platform for the global community of vegans and vegetarians, where travelers can find overnight accommodations or kitchens on an hourly basis to rent. Host accommodations need to be at least vegetarian for 3 months or more prior to listing and while travelers must always respect the meat-free or vegan ethos of their host, you don’t necessarily have to be a strict vegan or vegetarian to use the platform to travel. There are many practical elements to the community and platform, but the heart of it is the shared lifestyle and thinking of this community of people.
I love the idea that your platform links like-minded people together who want to host or stay in in homes equipped with vegetarian, vegan or other niche-diet kitchens. What has been the response so far from those who have tried it?
The response has been very exciting for us. We both know it’s a great idea simply having traveled so much and just wanting something like this to exist. We’ve stayed with Vegvisits hosts in Bangkok and really loved it as well. We generally get a pretty emotional and excited response when people first hear about us, which is such an awesome feeling. For those that have used the platform, we hear nothing but great things, whether in comparison to using a site like Airbnb or simply just having a really great time. It seems to simply be a matter of letting people know about it (especially to interested hosts in our beginning stages), and we’re doing our best to get the word out there.
Many people are familiar with Airbnb and how technology has enabled people to open up their homes to others. How is Vegvisits similar/different?
Airbnb and the world of sharing has simply made the 21st century lifestyle better. It empowers individuals, exponentially increases optionality for people and just makes for more creative experiences in general. However, the simple reality is that when it comes to sharing a home, much of the time regardless of how many stars a traveler or host has and how clean their home, it still may not be the best experience for everyone. In this light, Vegvisits is similar in basic mechanics of other home-sharing platforms, but it is ultimately a response to this diversity. You can always rent out an entire space, but outside of this, there are many people you may get along with but ideally may not want to share a home with. We can see the home-sharing world becoming more fragmented with lifestyle themed communities simply because it makes traveling/hosting easier and a better/ less stressful experience. This is especially relevant in the world of vegans and vegetarians.
There are the practical elements for both hosts and travelers whether it’s having a host that knows of the relevant and high quality restaurants, produce markets, grocery stores; not having to carry your entire kitchen with you as you travel especially if you’d prefer cooking (i.e. blenders, processor, spiralizer, big bowls etc.); not wanting to look at raw meat in the fridge or being defrosted in the sink (we’ve seen some pretty disgusting things on our travels), share plates/utensils/pots or pans with non-vegetarians or smell something rather disagreeable as you prepare your meal; or not wanting to spend hours answering shallow nutrition questions (i.e. where do you get your protein) or the other typical questions.
But the real heart of the community is more subjective or psychological. There is simply a comfort level of sharing a home with someone where you “speak the same language”. Especially in the world of vegans/vegetarians who generally adopt the lifestyle for ethical, health, environmental reasons or are simply just grossed out by eating a dead animal, it is just a breath a fresh air to stay with someone who shares this lifestyle or rest at ease of who will be in your home. Rather than spending hours searching through listings or panicking about your new guests from across the world who speak very little English and their potential cultural practices, you just feel a lot more at ease knowing you share something that is important to you both.
It sounds like you are expanding rapidly only a few months after launching. What do you attribute most to your success?
We’ve been on a tight budget, so marketing has been limited mostly to social media in the first few months. Facebook has been very helpful and we’re beginning to explore other avenues more recently. But ultimately we think it’s just a really great idea, which is why we’ve really committed to it. We’ve traveled so much and in so many different ways (i.e. tent-camping, Airbnb, hotels, car-camping). We’re the target audience for this community and we know there are lots of others who wish something like this was around. There is a huge level of excitement when people hear about the community. We thought we’d have grown a lot more than we have actually, but it’s cool and we’ve been more focused on just making sure it’s a good experience first and foremost.
Now that you have gone through the initial stages of creating a marketplace, is there anything you would have done differently?
There are perhaps a few layout changes we may have considered, but other than minor things like that, we feel like it was a pretty smooth experience (especially considering we have no technical background).
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to build a marketplace?
Try to understand your community as much as possible. If it’s a good idea, just be patient, keep an open mind and always have integrity.
What’s next for Vegvisits?
We’re still in the beginning stages. There are still tons of people out there who don’t know about our community yet. Right now, we’re focused on exploring alternative ways of getting the word out there to interested users.
Where can people find you?
Thank you for taking the time to fill in my curiosity!