Written by Deena Douara
Switzerland was Devesh Modi’s favourite travel experience of 2014. He travelled through Europe that year with family, staying in apartments throughout. What he comments on isn’t the scenery or the food, but the fact that their host was welcoming and accessible, making the rest of the trip easy and worry-free.
It was not long after that trip that Devesh began working towards his own short-term rental business in Toronto that would focus on good customer experience, including being available to guests and providing local information and advice.
Casadell lists and maintains properties on behalf of clients, aiming to provide a pleasant experience for the visitor, while ensuring clients can earn some extra cash and the peace of mind of knowing that Devesh vetted visitors before rental.
“My primary responsibility is to (clients). I’m not going to compromise their units. I’m not going to rent properties if I’m not sure about it.”
While anybody can post a unit on Airbnb or other homesharing platforms directly, Devesh explains that hosting can be a lot of work. The advantages to using a service like Casadell is that it screens guests, sends in cleaners (using Toronto startup SixMaids), regularly monitors and adjusts pricing, and stays in touch with guests – often even being there when they “check in.”
While some clients buy properties with short-term rental in mind, others live between two properties or go away on long holidays, paying a mortgage for an unoccupied space. In such cases, they are entrusting Casadell with their homes.
For this reason, Devesh says he mostly relies on Airbnb to list properties due to the transparency offered through public profiles and reviews. He will take extra measures as well — checking social media accounts and phoning visitors — to help ensure that units will be in good hands and not be used for partying, for example.
“Incomes are stagnant and the cost of living is increasing. So homesharing is a convenient way to … help pay off rent or a mortgage, or to fund your personal adventures. And it’s also a way to globalize yourself, meet other people and learn about different cultures.”
Devesh says he has a 70-80 per cent average occupancy rate (and over 90 per cent in the summer), with most users being business clients traveling through for meetings, conferences or to pursue expansion into Toronto.
Indeed, Toronto has been exploding with opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business and Devesh himself has relied on some of the city’s offerings. He started the business while working in the financial sector, but coming in third at Schulich Startup Day and first at Rotman’s FinTech hackathon led to more doors being opened. He received support from MaRS, through an intensive four-month entrepreneurship workshop, and later from the University of Toronto’s Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL) and Kinetic Cafe.
“The different resources available like the funding sources, the meetup groups, advisors; research, support is all why Toronto is really good; you have that whole nexus around the startup community,” he says.
While he already had his MBA from the Schulich School of Business, he says MBA programs tend to focus on the corporate sector rather than on building a business from the ground up, something he’d been interested in since his earliest days, growing up in Bombay (a.k.a. Mumbai).
Key lessons Devesh learned through MaRS and DSCIL were sales, marketing and market segmentation, areas he hadn’t dealt with in his past careers in engineering, banking or technology.
It is that kind of learning that inspired him to start a business in the first place.
“You get to do so many things. You get to do marketing, you get to do the technology, you get to do the financial piece. That’s what I liked about (entrepreneurship). My skill set is a mix of everything,” he explains.
“It’s challenging, but very fulfilling.”
Next up for Casadell is building a repository of high-end properties and a scalable tech solution addressing challenges faced by hosts and guests.