Pablo Jimenez Godoy and Arturo Ferrando are co-founders of Staller, an Airbnb-inspired app for horses. Launched in December, Staller aims to be the solution for horse owners so that they can find housing for their horses during competitions and shows. Staller expanded its coverage to new properties in Gainesville, Ocala and Orlando earlier this month.
In a video call from Connecticut, Godoy discussed aspects of what led to the creation of Staller, how it works and why Florida horse and barn owners should be interested in the app. This is what he had to say:
WUFT: Your original launch market was Wellington, Florida. Why?
Pablo Jimenez Godoy: We targeted Wellington as an initial launching market because the need is so obvious there. There’s like over 5,000 horses that go to Wellington for the Winter Equestrian Festival.
We saw the market for actually renting stalls online because it’s such a hassle to actually be able to rent stalls today. We definitely think that there is a need everywhere in the U.S., but Wellington is the most obvious market and strategic. We strategically decided to launch there because the rental prices are pretty high. It’s a good initial market.
WUFT: An “Airbnb for horses” is pretty specific. Did you know anyone personally that was complaining about the high prices?
PJG: Both of our families, who are partners in the business, have barns in Wellington. So we know the market. They’ve rented their stalls in Wellington for a very long time, and the realtors were the ones that were really dominating the market.
There wasn’t any transparency at all, which leads to high prices. If there’s no transparency and no benchmark, then you can put the price at whatever you want.
WUFT: I’ve read that Ferrando is a show jumping competitor. Are you into that kind of stuff?
PJG: Actually, I’m not. I don’t ride anymore. I used to ride a lot when I was younger, but I’m involved in the sense that my parents ride every day. They go to competitions. Right now, they’re at the Sunshine Tour in the south of Spain. They travel a lot for horse riding, so I’m pretty familiar with the environment. It’s just that it takes a lot of time to ride.
WUFT: You’re traveling all the time, so I bet that it’s a little difficult nowadays.
PJG: Yes, especially because you need to have a horse, and if you have the horse, then you need to ride them every day. It’s pretty complicated.
WUFT: Are you fans of Airbnb?
PJG: Yes, yes, 100 percent.
WUFT: Are you in an Airbnb right now?
PJG: No actually, I’m staying with the family of a friend. But normally, yeah. Every time I travel I use Airbnb.
WUFT: Are you trying to follow in their footsteps, even in a more niche market?
PJG: In a way, yes, because it’s a proven business model, and we’re going to do the same thing. However, I think there’s intricacies to our own business that make the platform difficult.
Because their horses, there’s services that you need to include. Barn owners are used to the process that once they rent, they’re given a certain set of services to their clients, so that’s something we need to comply with. We need a platform that offers everything that barn owners are currently offering in an online solution.
WUFT: What kind of services are you talking about?
PJG: Right now you have, for example, grooming, shaving and whether it includes food or not. So its very specific because when you rent for a week, you want to make sure that everything is taken care of. And so through the platform, the barn owner has the option to include a dry stall or full board. In full board, he has a list of services, of items that he can add to your reservation so that the experience when you arrive there is the right one.
This is actually the first version of the app released. It’s kind of like a pilot. It’s a soft launch. You can still perform rentals, but we haven’t done a full advertising campaign because we are getting a lot of user feedback in order to improve the experience for them before rolling out the real campaign.
We have, for example, an e-commerce platform that we have built that we are going to release. Horse owners are going to not only book their stalls but also buy products. Whatever they want related for horses, they can buy it online, and it’s shipped to the stall.
WUFT: Issues with hosts sometimes pop up with Airbnb. What do you do right now to make sure that these hosts are vetted and qualified to run a barn?
PJG: We verify all the barns in person. We take the picture ourselves with a professional photographer and take all the pictures for them. We ensure that everything that is advertised on the platform, like for example the fitting room, is real. Only then are they approved by the admin.
WUFT: What makes Staller superior to the traditional way of finding a place for your horse to stay, beyond transparency?
PJG: Transparency includes prices, but also increased visibility with this platform. Before when you went to rent, you would call a realtor who is going to show you three or four properties that he manages, whereas here, it’s an open platform. You have all the barns. We have over a hundred barns in Wellington, so you have more choice. You can actually compare one property to another. It’s not the same thing to have three options and choose one and having a list of properties you can browse through with professional pictures so that you can get a real grasp of what you’re going to get.
And the good thing about that is that having more barns in the market visible to everyone gives a benchmark and stabilizes the prices, which is something that is meant to happen. On top of that, we take care of everything for them. Lease agreements, all the legal paperwork, everything is done by us. You can even customize the lease agreement. There’s a lot of functionality to it.
We become a one-stop-shop for everything they need for their rental. They can pay online, there’s no back and forth with the broker or lawyer that needs to make the lease.
WUFT: How do the hosts and the users communicate to each other?
PJG: There’s a messaging platform. The host needs to send the initial message, and they can even schedule a tour.
WUFT: When did you guys start working on Staller?
PJG: It was like a year ago. It was pretty fast. We also had a big engineering team that helped.
WUFT: Your press release says that you plan on expanding outside of Florida to places like North Carolina and Kentucky. Are you being funded by a venture company?
PJG: We’re self-funded. As I said, it’s the two of our families that are in the product together. So we had a good amount of capital for a startup. We are able to take it forward. We are actually starting a round of financing with institutional investors within a month. A banker in New York is actually leading the round of financing. We’re looking to raise a good amount of money to get to the market fast.
WUFT: Is the app generating any money for you guys right now? Does Staller take a cut of the transaction?
PJG: Yes, it is. We take a cut of the transaction, and it is generating money. However, our focus isn’t really on the rentals. Our focus is more like building brand awareness and expanding our inventory.
Barn owners across the U.S. and even outside the U.S. have been calling us because they love the idea. They love the opportunity to list their stalls. It doesn’t cost anything for them. It’s just the way it should be, so we have put our efforts and resources into that. Of course, there’s a lot of funding and marketing and strategy, but that’s been our focus to get a lot of inventory.
WUFT: How widely used is the app?
PJG: We have almost over 1,500 stalls on the platform.
WUFT: Five years from now, where do you see Staller?
PJG: Acquired by Airbnb.
PJG: No, no. I still value what the company can become because you’re listing all the equine real estate in the country. But also you have a big number of clients that are actually very wealthy, and you’re actually making a lot of cash too, so it’s an interesting business model. And it’s a niche market. In order to get into that market, you need to know it. You need to know where they’re going, who to contact, who to use as brand ambassador.
We started it because we really, really think there’s a need and because we’re very involved in the equestrian world. If we can keep the business and we can grow, I would be more than happy. But the objective is in five years to be pretty big. I mean we’re planning to expand to Europe by the end of the year.