Sabrina Bethunin founded MadeComfy in 2015 with the dream of creating a customer-focused property management service for short-term rentals where both hosts and guests were at the heart.
It all started when she was left in charge of managing her friends Airbnb and realised the whole place needed to be refurbished. As a result of the changes, the performance of the property improved and Bethunin saw the opportunity for a business idea. The entrepreneur decided to quit her corporate role and to start working on MadeComfy. The business has now taken off!
Dynamic Business had a chat to Bethunin about how her company started and what she has learnt so far.
How did Made Comfy come about?
In early 2015 I was looking for a business idea as an alternative to my corporate job when my now Co-Founder Quirin Schwaighofer asked me for help to look after his Airbnb in Cremorne Point whilst he was travelling. During his absence, I re-styled his bedroom and took new photos of the property. As a result of these changes, the performance of his listing improved massively. After seeing these results and identifying the Australian market was underserviced and potentially there were thousands of people needing help like Quirin, Quirin and I decided to found MadeComfy.
Had you always had an interest in business? What were you working in at the time you thought of the business idea?
Yes, I have been always interested in business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and starting my own business was always my ultimate goal.
At the time I came across the idea of MadeComfy, I was working for Kellogg’s as a Commercial Finance Manager, working on improving ROI for business strategies and sales investments.
Did you have any prior experience in property management? What is the relationship between your company and Airbnb? Is there an official partnership or prospects of that?
I am a CPA and MBA, and my background is in FMCG mainly with a focus on Finance. During my career I had a lot of exposure to sales, marketing, and overall business strategy. I had no previous experience in property management.
MadeComfy is independent from Airbnb, for us Airbnb is one of the distribution channels for our properties. We don’t have an official partnership with Airbnb, but we work closely in partnership with them on different matters.
Was it a slow progress or did you drop everything straight away to make your idea a reality?
I dropped everything straight away to make my idea happen.
I tried to start other businesses in the past, but by not having the courage to focus on my ideas I always ended getting bigger and better opportunities in my corporate career, and leaving my business ideas behind. This time, I really wanted to make it happened.
One day taking to a friend of mine, a successful entrepreneur, told me “what’s the worse that could happen? If it doesn’t work you go back and find another job” that was the real light bulb moment for me, it was as simple as that. The next day I handed in my resignation and left the comforts of my corporate job.
Talk us through the process of getting that initial investment. You have some pretty great backers such as Cliff Rosenberg and Investec- how did you create these relationships?
Even when we were very busy at the early stage of the business my Co-Founder and myself valued the importance of going out, meeting people and talking passionately about our business. Not necessarily pitching for money, just building genuine relationships.
By doing that we got a lot of people interested and sharing that passion, some of them became advocates for what we were doing, when that happens they also share information of your business with their networks (is exactly what happened with customers and word of mouth).
That’s how we engaged most of our high-profile investors including Cliff and Investec, I think you need to engage, connect and show how great opportunity your business is.
The opportunities involving big boardroom pitch presentations didn’t work out for us. There is no connection, no real trust, and a lot of competition for capital in the same room.
What advice do you have for those who have a great idea but are unsure how to get funding?
First of all, make sure you are solving a real problem.
For investors, it’s important they see that you are targeting a huge market potential, it’s a good time for that business idea to be implemented, it’s a growing market, and there is proof of success of this idea somewhere else. Additionally, and most important of all – the founders you partner with must have complementary skills, and align with your own interest and passion for the business.
Be confident and know how to tell your business story, for early stage investment (apart from proving the potential success of the business with all the above), you need to have a personal connection with the investor, you need to build that trust. Our early investors have built rapport with us and had been really interested in our values and who we are as individuals (my co-founder and myself).
You also need to make sure you target the right investors: investors that are used to investing in early stage start-ups, that have an understanding on how it works, and who are also investors in the specific industry that you are in (ie. Tech, Property Tech, FinTech). This will save you a lot of precious time.
Tell us about positive thinking and how that has helped you in your success?
Your thoughts define who you are and what you can achieve.
If I think of anything I have ever achieved, that started with me thinking “I have got this, I can do this, it’s not easy but we can get there”.
Being positive has allowed me to act from a space of creativity and inspiration this helps me constantly to find solutions to problems, find new ways to do things, engage other people in my journey and enjoy what I do no matter how difficult it is or how problematic it is at the time.
Why is “nothing is big enough to not try” your favorite quote?
In my opinion there is no biggest failure than not trying, taking on challenges that scare you, that intimidate you make you stronger, gives you the opportunity to develop yourself, to build confidence, endurance, and resilience no matter the outcome. Even the times when you think you are losing, you are winning.
This quote is for me a reminder that things are possible, but we can only find out if we give it a try.
Maickel Melamed, the author of the quote, reminds me that inside us we have even more that what we think we have… we just need to try.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced while in the beginning phases of your business? How did you overcome it?
I think the biggest obstacle I faced was that starting a business from scratch was 10 times more difficult that I anticipated, you have no money, no people and you have to build everything from zero yourself that included doing marketing, sales, accounting, running the operation, liaising with suppliers, taking phone calls and so forth. There are so many things that don’t go to plan.
Without any technology at the beginning our business was very labour intensive, and we had no option but work really hard to make things happen. During our first year in business I used to work at least 120 hours a week.
When did you know that idea was going to become a booming business?
The first quarter we launched the business we got 50 properties under management, as soon as our website was up, and we had some advertising going there was a lot of interest from property owners. This gave me the confidence that we were working on a real market need.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice three years ago, what would it be?
I think I have a few:
- Be prepare financially to bootstrap your business and yourself for at least one year before leaving your paying job
- Find a Co-Founder that have complementary skills and build a diverse team (my original idea was to partner with one of my best friends who is also an accountant and is very risk adverse – that was going to be a big mistake)
- When you secure funding make sure within the terms you have a clear deadline for payment to happen, if funding is delayed vs plan that puts a lot of pressure in the business, it delays targets and it can risk the whole business
- Forget perfection, get things done and try, try, try
- Take your idea and make it happen, you need to keep focused, have tolerance for risk, be flexible and keep agile.