Prior to founding onefinestay in 2009, Greg spent 3 years on the technology investment team at Index Ventures, the venture capital firm behind Skype and MySQL. Previously he had management roles in operations, business development and product development at logistics marketplace start-up GF‑X, latterly as the firm’s Product Manager. Greg has an MA from Christ’s College, Cambridge, and an MBA with high distinction from Harvard Business School where he was a Fulbright Scholar and graduated top of his class. He also works with Amnesty International and is elected to the charity’s Finance and Audit Committee.
How did you get into the Hospitality/Tech industry?
Prior to founding onefinestay, I spent three years on the technology investment team at Index Ventures, the venture capital firm behind Skype and MySQL. Previously I had management roles in operations, business development and product development at logistics marketplace start-up GF-X, latterly as the firm’s Product Manager.
I was confident in investment and had learned to spot a good idea, and the one behind onefinestay occurred to me in 2009, shortly after a holiday in Italy. On my way home after work one evening, I was walking through Mayfair and noticed that all the lights were off. One of the most beautiful residential streets in London, and there was no one home. Londoners are often out of town and my own place had been sitting empty during my trip. As I looked at those pristine homes with the lights off, I realised that I was looking at the antidote to soulless travel.
Tell us about onefinestay. What is your vision for the company?
We’re pioneering a new brand of upscale hospitality, giving discerning guests the chance to stay in the finest homes with an attentive service – everything from a warm welcome to pristine sheets and towels. We started out in my home town of London and have now expanded to New York, Los Angeles and Paris, so I currently spend most of my time in between these cities.
Five years after the idea for onefinestay came to me, we now exclusively manage thousands of homes. We do all the hard work to curate these homes, visiting and inspecting each and every one before accepting it. They’re paired with our own carefully crafted hospitality service giving guests the assurance they’d expect from a boutique hotel. This authenticity, individuality and the freedom to create your own experiences on your own terms is a new definition of ‘luxury’ travel.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to onefinestay's success?
Our early success attracted partnerships with a number of leading hospitality brands, for instance Virtuoso, the leading global network of luxury travel advisors. We were delighted to achieve preferred supplier status, working with top travel agents to offer their clients a new upscale hospitality experience.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of a new category of consumer, the ‘creative class’. They’re well-travelled and like to travel well. Self-confident from previous journeys and countless business trips, when it comes to leisure they’re seeking independence, authenticity, and something that appeals to their elevated and international tastes. This change is evident throughout the travel industry, from the increasing prominence of boutique hotels to the emergence of new upscale accommodation choices, like onefinestay.
onefinestay doesn’t have an official motto, but we are all about creating exceptional experiences for our guests and hosts through our craft of handmade hospitality – time and time again.
Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of onefinestay? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
The most rewarding part for me is hearing stories from our guests, from family memories of seeing the Eiffel Tower light up from a Parisian balcony, to a newfound love of jazz music inspired by a host’s record collection. Building an operationally intensive business at this scale is hard. It involves toil, sweat and tears. To realise that our service generates industry-leading satisfaction scores, and see that our guests are returning to stay with us again, gives me a great sense of confidence as we look ahead to launching in new destinations.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
You can’t do this alone – building any business is always going to be a team effort, so find yourself a team. Attracting amazing and talented people is always the hardest and the most important challenge. It is also what makes the long hours worthwhile. Working with brilliant people is its own reward.
Describe the ideal experience using onefinestay.
The experience starts long before you arrive on the doorstep. Our 24/7 Reservations team can guide you through your booking, on hand to recommend homes and neighbourhoods to best suit your stay, or you can book instantly online. Our local teams prepare each home with pristine sheets, towels and toiletries, we’ll meet you in person on arrival and we’re available around the clock in case you need us.
This assurance sets the stage for you to delight in the individuality of the home, and there’s one in particular that encapsulates the experience for me. Having visited LA a bunch of times before, I can’t claim to have had a lot of love for the city. But on a trip there last year, that changed. I stayed at a home in Venice and realised how special it is as a guest to benefit from the myriad design decisions that an owner has made, the home that they have shaped around their taste and style preferences. In this case, it was made even more memorable by the fact the home was on a canal and the owners had left a note that read, “you are welcome to use our canoe!”
How do you motivate your employees?
With a 700-strong team, we’re a people-led business, and were delighted to welcome Dan Atkinson as Group VP, People earlier this year. Building a successful team is about finding the brightest and the best, and building an environment and culture that enables them to excel. With some of the top technology, operations and commercial talent already on the team, Dan will be bringing his extensive HR and leadership experience from the likes of eBay and LEGO Company to build on our training and development agendas.
While free-flowing coffee, yoga classes and get-togethers help the team to stay fuelled, the brightest people are interested in tackling big problems and creating something extraordinary. Our job as a leadership team is to ensure they have the opportunities, training and resources to do so.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Our headquarters in London has a La Marzocco coffee machine, which makes the perfect flat white.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I’m great at starting books but terrible at finishing them, so I surround myself with good intentions! At the moment, I’m particularly enjoying Patrick O’Brian: fun, escapist stuff, infused with the wonder of discovery and travel.
Role model - business and personal?
Marc Andreessen. He is the founder of Netscape, Mosaic and Loudcloud among many other things, and is both a technology visionary and a world-class entrepreneurial manager.
Craft inspires me. Watching a master craftsman at work – a potter working a wheel for instance – is mesmerising, and I think this resonates with me because we treat hospitality as our craft. We take tremendous care to deliver an exceptional experience for our guests, handpicking the homes we list on our site, servicing them ourselves, and being on hand to welcome guests and resolve issues. Doing this time after time, challenging ourselves to achieve the same meticulous level of excellence, that is hard but enormously rewarding.
Favorite travel destination?
I tend to love neighbourhoods where people actually live and work, rather than tourist locations – it’s where you get the best local shops, restaurants and characterful street scenes. That’s one of the reasons I also like the West Village in New York.
What's next for onefinestay?
It’s been five years since we welcomed our first guest in London, and it feels like we’re barely even at the end of the beginning of our journey to transform an industry and create a new category of upscale travel. We’ll be continuing to focus on delivering outstanding experiences for our guests and hosts, scaling our operations in our four key markets of London, New York, Paris and LA, and expanding our horizons to exciting new cities soon.