Leasetool - Building a Vacation Rental Management Product

A blog post about building a web product with a grand vision and a shoestring budget

I started building websites for small businesses over 10 years ago. A couple hundred websites later I felt a few things:

  • I was getting tired of the “website hamster wheel”. I was finishing one project while sowing the seeds for the next. I was always building something for someone and had no choice but to continue this pattern.
  • I could never pour enough love into one project. Because I had built up such a large client list, I had to spread my time thin. I was never able to really put extra time into any one project. I had to finish each job and get them out of the door ASAP.

At the same time, I watched the landscape for the freelance web designer change. In the beginning it seemed my clients appreciated my work more. By 2011 most people were expecting much more while expecting me to charge less.

I was forced to try and juggle price point vs. what I provided and it began to get to the point where I was feeling I had to charge a little less for the same work I could have charge more for just a few years earlier.

You could say it was the economy. Or the larger pool of web designers out there. Or the people who slapped Wordpress sites together with a lousy free template for a few hundred dollars. Or even the fact that larger businesses were staying away from tiny firms like mine and going for larger agencies.

Many of these may or may not have been true. Maybe I was just getting a little burnt out and not fighting as hard knowing I was making enough to get by. I never really spent time marketing myself much. Or focusing on any real product offering on my website - though I had quite a few. The real problem was my web design studio business model - it sucked.

Why I started to build Leasetool

In 2011 I was offered a position with Edvisors, Inc. After considering my above dilemma I decided to try out normal, corporate full time employment.

I was fortunate that Edvisors was a really good fit for me. We used the same tools and they were dealing with the same problems I had been solving for clients for several years. This was good. The income allowed me to relax with the freelance work. Eventually I stopped accepting any clients at all. This too was good. I again had free time and it was mine to enjoy.

I started to look around myself and think, “Awesome, I have time to start enjoying web design again - but what do I want to do?” I’ve built a number of different products, each worth some consideration.

Eventually this thought process took me back to the beginning - why I got into web design and development in the first place - and that was Real Estate. Real Estate rental management to be specific. The very first product I built with my dad was a small rental management tool, and it was pretty good. Heck, people are using it 10 years later!

Compared to other products I’ve built, this particular market seemed to have the most potential - and the greatest need for something better. More to the point, people I care about need a good product in this space. The same clients who were using the old system I built with my dad would be my first customers - and the driving force to reveal what my minimum viable product had to be.

Focusing on one thing and doing it well

I imagined making websites as a way to ultimately never get ahead, unless I decided to expand the studio - that would still leave me having to not only manage a team, but manage every project as well.

With a single product there’s one project. When the time comes to expand the team it seems much simpler. I already know what roles I want to fill. I know I’ll need an additional programmer. I know I’ll need a customer service rep. I know I’ll need a marketing person. Obviously it isn’t really that simple - but it’s certainly more straightforward.

Starting this product also lets me start a new business model - and hopefully learn from my mistakes in the past.

Leasetool gives me the simplicity to charge a monthly fee based on number of properties - very straight forward. No coming up with custom proposals for every project. It is what is. And what it is can be continually improved upon.

Money, well of course, but I’m trying to keep it cheap

Since I’m starting small, my earliest customers are going to be smaller independent offices that don’t have huge inventories - or budgets. These are the people I’m really aiming for. These are the offices who now have a pretty steep expense that comes along with managing their rentals. These are the offices who probably hate the system they’re using now. A tool that brings them into the modern age, that seemlessly integrates into their existing website and that comes at a fraction of the cost they pay now - this is a huge win for them.

I can grow this into something amazing

The seashore vacation rental market, while a niche market is pretty huge. By focusing on making Leasetool into a great product I think I can truly make a positive impact on the working lives of thousands of real estate agents.

Check out my progress so far:

About Joseph R. B. Taylor

Joseph R. B. Taylor is a humble designer/developer who makes stuff for screens of all shapes and sizes. He is currently the lead UI/UX Architect at MScience, LLC, where he works to create simple experiences on top of large rich datasets for their customers and clients.