20 Questions With Matt Sommer, CTO & Co-Founder at Space Agent

Interview Series 6

Matt, along with his startup team, created Space Agent after he saw a need in the vacation rental market. Marketing a vacation rental home is one of the most time-consuming tasks for vacation rental managers with dozens of properties in many destinations.

Space Agent is a new ‘push button’ tool to help both vacation rental managers, as well as homeowners with little to no online advertising experience, run targeted promotions.

The company is designed to extend reach, and drive bookings. Moreover, their social advertising and marketing platform provide property managers and owners an easy to use, cost-efficient way to promote homes to targeted travelers.

Who are your ideal clients?

Space Agent is an advertising tool built to give property managers and vacation rental owners a way to efficiently market their properties to interested travelers. Our ideal customers host on Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, or on their own listing sites and want to get targeted reach extension beyond the travelers that find their listings on those platforms.

Is this your first business?

No, had a previous startup in the enterprise search space that was acquired in 2005, and Space Agent is a vertical application business that came out of our parent company, MarketChorus. 

What is the biggest reason for your success so far?

Hiring smart, driven people and doing what I can to help them succeed while staying out of their way.

What were the earliest indications that this business could be successful?

We were featured on Product Hunt a day after our soft launch. It took off from there. Within a few weeks, we were having partnership discussions with one of the largest property rental sites on the web. Within a few months, we had customers in more than 20 countries. It's been a fun ride. 

What position did you hire first?

Software Engineer. We started with a hacked together proof-of-concept demo, a go-to-market strategy, and a really good story, but getting started on a commercial quality product was a big need.

What is working best for your marketing right now?

Using the ad targeting technology from MarketChorus to find and access people reading and sharing about travel, property management, and hosting. We run ads on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to these targeted audiences both for our customers and ourselves. Word-of-mouth referrals and sound strategic partners don't hurt either. 

What is your biggest differentiator?

A combination of marketing efficiency and unparalleled targeting. Owners and Property Managers are not necessarily digital advertising experts. The Space Agent platform abstracts all of the complexity of that world into a 3-click ROI machine. We use the underlying core technology we built at MarketChorus to identify audience engaged with content about events, activities, attractions and other travel-centric activities in the corresponding properties locations. Next, we then create dynamic targeting sets for promotions on social platforms that drive interested travelers back to their listing site. We power active marketing for Property Managers instead of, as we say, waiting for guests to find them. 

What is the toughest decision you've had to make in the last few months?

Actually, it was how to build a new pricing model. Because of Airbnb (and now HomeAway), property managers/owners have become very used to the commission based model of fees. Airbnb only gets paid by and when a guest completes a booking. While that is an excellent model for everyone, it requires being part of the transaction and having no external media costs. As a service that compliments those sites, we're trying to align ourselves with the way those customers like to buy. 

If it was possible, what advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

Trust your instincts more than some know-it-all time traveler. Also, find those Airbnb kids trying to make a business out of air mattresses and spot them $50.

How did you meet your co-founders or business partners?

Through a mutual friend.

Do you ever use coworking spaces?

Yes, and early on we spent time working at coffee shops. 

What book are you most likely to give as a gift?

Probably Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. But after reading Go Dog Go a few hundred times to my kid I'm starting to think it's actually a brilliantly subtle commentary on market research and product iteration. May switch to that. 

dolphins in siesta key beach

Favorite place to travel to?

Siesta Key Beach, but really anywhere without internet access is nice. 

What is the best small business in your neighborhood?

Tie between Eiland Coffee Roasters and Free Play Arcade.

Do you have a favorite freelancer you have worked with?

Yes, Jennifer Sommer, freelance graphic design (also happens to be my wife).

What is your favorite app or online tool?

Google Photos by a mile. In addition to its simplicity the "assistant" feature that creates movies, trip stories, and animated gifs is just amazing. 

What was the best event that you recently attended?

Rezfest, vacation rental managers conference sponsored by HomeAway for our Space Agent platform. It was an amazing opportunity to chat with real customers that helped shape the product. 

How did you finance your business?

Equity investment from seed investors.

What advice do you have for new founders?

Do something you love with people you like and trust. For product start small, focus, iterate, talk to potential customers but always try to imagine how to scale both vertically and horizontally.

Twitter: @matt_sommer

Thank you, Matt, for your time and energy. We appreciate your passion. Best of luck to you and Space Agent!

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