When Sabrina Bethunin left Venezuela for Australia in 2012, she has no idea that, six years later, she would be an entrepreneur leading one of the country's most successful startups. As co-founder of MadeComfy, Australia's first performance-based, short-term rental (STR) management company, Sabrina manages $600m worth of property, and recently raised with co-founder Quirin Schwaighofer over $6m in equity funding - the largest yet in the local STR sector.
Growing up in Venezuela, Sabrina was from a family of dreamers and entrepreneurs. After school she gained a degree in Accounting. She first came to Australia in 2008 on a short-term assignment of six months with Colgate-Palmolive, for whom she was working at the time, as part of her professional pathway to CFO level. During that visit she was captivated by the warmth of the people, and how open Australia was to diversity. She felt at home from day one, and decided she to relocate independently.
Landing in Perth during the mining boom in 2012, with only her suitcases and limited English, Sabrina secured a job with Rio Tinto as an accountant. She admits that understanding Australian slang was baffling at first - she had to ask a colleague what her boss meant when he said "g'day" every morning when passing her desk. After a few years in Perth, Sabrina moved to Sydney, where the sharing economy was beginning to take hold.
Sabrina's introduction to the concept of short term rentals came about unexpectedly, when her friend Quirin asked her to manage key handover of his Cremorne apartment, which he had listed on Airbnb while he was travelling. When she turned up to his apartment, what she found was less than appealing: dark, unattractive bedding, a cardboard box as a bedside table, and absolutely no flair. Sabrina set to work restyling the flat, uploaded new images and watched the booking price soar. She had a new business idea.
Sabrina teamed up with Quirin, who had a background in sales, operations management and strategy. Together they recognised a gap in the market – the need for a company to manage end to end services for short term rental properties. They saw the need for furnishing and styling, guest management, housekeeping and listing optimisation.
Three and a half years later, MadeComfy is Australia's leading short-term rental business, managing a property portfolio of over $600 million in Sydney and Melbourne, welcoming over 4,000 guests per month, and they are about to expand into the Queensland market. They have been financially backed by investment company Investec and former Linkedin Managing Director Cliff Rosenberg, and they have an advisory board with a number of industry disruptors, including the co-founders of Amaysim. They employ a staff of 70, have recently formed an exclusive property management agreement with Belle Property Group and Raine and Horne Real Estate in Dee Why.
Sabrina has always been inspired by the power of positive thinking. She is an Accountant, MBA and CPA, and has studied Australian Corporate and Taxation Law, photography and marketing. Sabrina is always keen to learn new things. Her favourite quote is from Maickel Melamed, a famous Venezuelan marathon runner who suffers from a rare muscular disorder: "Nothing is big enough to not try".
Question: What is MadeComfy?
Sabrina Bethunin: MadeComfy is a fully integrated property management solution for short-term rental that combines property management with hospitality. For property owners and property investors, MadeComfy offers the opportunity to get maximized income for their properties, hassle-free. MadeComfy's guests enjoy superior experience and service from check-in to check-out.
Question: What inspired the idea of MadeComfy?
Sabrina Bethunin: 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 did new photography 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.
Question: Where do you find inspiration to keep MadeComfy fresh?
Sabrina Bethunin: My main source of inspiration is our customers, understanding what they need, their problems and pain point to continue working in creating the best experience possible for them.
Also, our team that is quite diverse, they always see different angles to things and always come up with different ideas.
Gathering with other entrepreneurs from different industries and understanding what they are doing. Also reading, I am always reading something, books, Industry news, biographies, this helps me to keep developing myself and to bring new ideas on how to improve our business.
Question: What's a typical day like for you as CEO and co-founder of MadeComfy?
Sabrina Bethunin: There is no typical day, no day is the same, what makes my job very interesting.
My job as CEO and Co-Founder has changed as the company has grown, a start-up CEO is like a normal company CEO on the level of responsibility that you have with all the stakeholders, but the day to day responsibilities are quite different.
The first year was about getting the business started and I was quite hands-on in the operation, bringing in customers, onboarding new team members, working on the strategy and business planning.
These days we have a large team and specialists for most of the areas within the business, my job is more about supporting the team to enable them to achieve their goals, driving the vision, making business decisions, strategy and planning, liaising with Investors, representing the company, thinking and working on what's next for the business.
Question: Can you talk us through the biggest business challenge you have overcome?
Sabrina Bethunin: Product to Market fit – Developing a service that satisfies a real need, that solves a real problem. Allowing the business to grow by acquiring new customers and retaining current customers.
Raising Capital – Just a small proportion of startups get funded, and there is a lot of competition for funding.
Attracting talent – A company is made by its people, for start-ups is very difficult to attract talent, at the early stage of the business the brand is not recognised and there is a lot of competition for talent with larger well-funded start-ups that can offer high salaries and lots of perks. Building a high performing team is fundamental to start-up success.
Question: What would you say has been your biggest MadeComfy success, so far?
Sabrina Bethunin: Our Team – We have managed to build a high performing team that will drive the business to deliver our vision. This includes our team members as well as our business advisors and investors. We are now ready to scale our business and we have the right people in the right seats.
Growth – We have experienced significant business growth as a result of delivering a service that property owners need and benefit from.
Brand Recognition – We have achieved building a brand that is recognised within the Investment Property Community, this is helping us to build trust, attract new customers and deliver sustainable growth.
Question: What advice do you have for other women with big business ideas?
Sabrina Bethunin: - Try to get customer validation of your product or service early
- Be flexible while developing that idea, it might be that what will solve the problem you are targeting is a completely different idea
- Be strong and very focus on your big vision, there are so many challenges faced during the start-up phase and the founders that succeed are the ones that persist
- From the very beginning think your business will be massive, and it will be a success – This will empower you to be very thorough on how you distribute the business equity, how you value the business, the terms you accept.
Question: How do you personally achieve a work/life balance?
Sabrina Bethunin: In my experience there is no division between my private life and MadeComfy, I don't see MadeComfy as "work", wherever I go I am still connected to the business I am accountable, and I care about it.
One of the things I have learned to value whilst building the business is "sleep", I really need to sleep well a reasonable number of hours to then be at my full capacity, to be sharp.
I also take advantage of the flexibility of managing my own schedule to find time to go for runs, do yoga and meet with friends, is when I am relaxed that I am more creative, and I can see things from a different perspective.
Interview by Brooke Hunter