5 Year Anniversary Interview With Our CEO David Whelan

5 Year Anniversary Interview

With Our CEO David Whelan

5 Year Anniversary Interview

What started with a handful of apartments, setting out to challenge the Serviced Apartment world, has now grown into hundreds across the world in just a few years. Urban Rest has had an impressive journey over the past years (even if we say so ourselves) and we are thrilled about where we have come and the exciting future that lies ahead.

This November, Urban Rest celebrates its 5-year anniversary.

To mark the occasion, we’ve interviewed our founder and CEO David Whelan to reflect on Urban Rest’s success, what he set out to do and how the company evolved from the start in 2017 and what’s to come in future years.

This year we celebrate Urban Rest’s 5th anniversary. What thoughts and emotions come to mind when you think about that?

I think, by far, the strongest emotion that springs to mind is pride. Reflecting on the past 5 years, I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve, especially having been so directly impacted by the global pandemic and travel shutdown, which started about 2 years into the life of the company. I’m proud of the amazing team that we’ve got, the incredible service and product that they consistently deliver, and the positive impact that’s had on the thousands of customers who have stayed with us. It’s sometimes hard to believe how far we have come considering 5 years ago, it was just me driving around in a van picking up second-hand furniture in between making beds and taking bookings, and now we have a global team with a client base of blue chip companies, providing a service widely considered one of the best in the market and yet we’re only getting started.

The other main feeling that comes up is the hunger and excitement of how much more there still is to do. We’ve done so much on very few resources during a very difficult period for travel in particular, so with the team, we now have in place and the opportunity ahead of us, I’m incredibly excited to see what we can do over the next five years!

What made you start Urban Rest? Where did you draw inspiration from to build this incredible business?

I travelled a lot for work in my previous career in finance, often being in other countries for weeks at a time, so I was directly aware of the physical and mental toll that can take on you. I was also aware that the alternative options were either a very expensive hotel room (if you wanted a larger space) or a soulless serviced apartment, neither of which was particularly palatable. There was an emerging product called Airbnb at the time, which looked great, but we were strictly prevented from using it for travel as there was no reliability in the standards, no fixed rates available and no account managers to speak to in case anything went wrong.

So wanting a combination of the best of each of these products led me to see if one could be created in a way that gave you a cost-effective, full-sized apartment that someone could (and more importantly, would want to) live in for extended periods and that also met all the criteria required to be considered for corporate travellers.

In your opinion, what has driven Urban Rest’s success?

We’re a very value driven business, and the way we operate comes through in our product and service levels, which ends up generating a way of doing business that really resonates with our customers. We have a genuine desire to put sustainability, quality and wellbeing above profits, as well as wanting to provide flexibility and prioritise long-term relationships in dealing with all of our stakeholders. This translates into an unrelenting focus on quality, design, wellbeing and customer service that end up making the properties so great to live in and so easy to organise. I believe this has been key to why we have had so much success in such a short space of time.

What have been the most significant accomplishments and milestones since the start in 2017?

There have been so many it’s hard to choose, but some of the key ones for me include:

– Hiring Izabela, the first employee and eventual co-founder who rolled up her sleeves and wore as many hats as I did in the early days. I would never have been able to get the company to where it is today without someone so like-minded joining at such an early stage.

– Closing our first funding round and having the support and belief of external investors in what we were trying to achieve (who have subsequently backed us through other later rounds in a continued show of support).

– Getting through the global pandemic through sheer dedication, sacrifice and belief in the product, then emerging as a better business ready to thrive when travel did resume.

– Hiring an executive team who are all more experienced than me in their areas of expertise and watching the business flourish under such an amazing group of leaders.

– Hitting our first month doing more than $1m in revenue. It took over two years to get monthly revenue from $400k to $500k due to the pandemic, then we crossed the $1m threshold less than 4 months after we hit $500k for the first time, so that was a huge milestone. We’re on track to go above $2m less than 6 months after that, so the rate of growth has been incredibly exciting to see.

– Launching our first international locations in Ireland and the UK and planning on further locations in NZ and Singapore, hopefully within the next 6-12 months. I certainly did not expect to be describing Urban Rest as a global business this time 12 months ago, when domestic travel wasn’t even possible!

Urban Rest has worked with a number of charity partners over the years. Can you mention a few and explain why giving back to the community is important to Urban Rest?

We’ve primarily worked with the Make a Wish Foundation and Dreams2Live4, both of whom provide experiences for either children or adults suffering from terminal illnesses. Recently we’ve also started supporting more mental health charities, including Bottle.It and Movember.

There are so many people out there who have suffered misfortune in various areas of their lives, which can cause a devastating amount of emotional, physical, mental and financial trauma, not only to them but also to the people around them.

We want to be a business that encourages physical and mental wellbeing, not just amongst our clients and staff but also in the broader community. As long as we’re in the privileged position of being able to support people who have been affected by misfortune, we will continue to do so.

How is sustainability reflected in the business model, and what are Urban Rest’s future sustainability goals?

Sustainability is such a major part of what we do, and we’ve always been focused on reducing the carbon footprint of the traveller in as many ways as possible. This includes everything from recycled toilet paper and refillable amenities bottles made from reclaimed ocean plastic to education pieces in-room around minimising emissions during the stay. Our aim is to help companies reduce their carbon footprint by enabling their staff to travel less but for longer periods, and the overall aim is to eventually have a separate category of fully-carbon neutral options for travellers to choose from, which would cover everything from the building itself to the service provided within.

What are your goals and aspirations for Urban Rest in the future years?

This is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. What we’ve achieved to date has already surpassed my original goals for the company, so it’s quite difficult to set a target regarding the size or scale of the company as we continue to get presented with bigger and more exciting opportunities as we grow, win major new clients and gain brand recognition. For now, the goal is to become the preferred accommodation provider of choice to the corporate travel industry in the markets that we operate, offering an environmentally sustainable service that genuinely benefits the mental and physical wellbeing of the traveller.

Longer term, I’m confident the brand will end up with a significant presence across APAC and Europe (potentially other markets too) and that we will continue to set the standard for what travellers expect while always sticking to our core values.

Read more

24 Hours in Barangaroo - Sydney’s Newest & Trendiest Waterside Precinct

Relocation and Life as an Athlete With Chloe Logarzo

Make-A-Wish – How Archie Became the Australian Cricket Captain