Daj’Anique Staples, president of Workbnb, in a workforce model rental in Orlando, Fla.
Seth Alexander, area manager for Ames Construction, used to struggle to find workforce housing for his out-of-town traveling employees — at one point, Alexander was juggling the logistics of a dozen different apartments.
Managing all the leases, ensuring utility bills were paid on time, and renting or buying furniture, dishes, cookware and other important household items for each property was a huge hassle, Alexander told NNBW in an interview last week.
A Reno-based travel booking platform that caters to the traveling workforce ended many of those headaches. Workbnb, founded in 2021 by Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Yeves Perez, functions a bit like vacation rental sites such as Airbnb or Vrbo. However, instead of providing short-term vacation rentals, Workbnb clients register their properties as long-term workforce housing.
The concept was a huge hit with Alexander.
“I used to struggle with housing multiple employees and multiple leases at different properties, owning and renting furniture, making sure I paid the cable bill, so it didn’t get shut off,” Alexander said. “We were dealing with that for a multitude of individuals, and it can get pretty complicated very quickly.
“(Workbnb) made my life a lot easier because now we have a company that will take care of all of that,” he added. “They give flexibility in length of stay and what part of town you want accommodations to be in. When you sign an agreement with them, they take care of all those ancillary things for me every month. It has made my life much easier and has improved the process for our employees, so they are happier (as well).”
Workbnb is planning a beta launch in the next few months, Perez said. The company spent the past year validating the business model, testing booking and payment processing systems, and refining the platform and user experience. Ames was part of Workbnb’s alpha testing phase.
“We want to prove to clients that we can give them what they need in a labor crisis,” Perez said. “We also are a tool to boost employee morale because instead of getting stuck in a hotel or motel room for months, traveling workers can be housed in more appropriate accommodations.”
Perez stumbled upon the idea of providing a booking platform dedicated to workforce housing after coming to Reno to help his mom set up apartments for traveling workers. Ames’ Alexander was seeking a two-bedroom condo to rent for more than two years.
“You can’t book on Airbnb for that long, and that’s where we found more examples of special-use cases where the workforce is not based on the travel season but instead based on projects,” Perez said. “Once we tapped into that it showed us we didn't just create our own lane, we created our own highway. We can get this app to scale with hundreds of thousands of properties throughout the country where workers can get what they need wherever their projects are.”
Finding people willing to list properties as long-term rentals on Workbnb was low-hanging fruit, Perez added. During the depths of the pandemic, he said, the vacation rental market was at a near standstill and Workbnb found no shortage of available properties during its earliest stages.
And since the many travelers during the shutdown were essential workers such as construction workers, journeymen linemen and other tradesmen, many property owners got their first taste of renting to the traveling workforce, Perez added.
Yeves Perez“We showed them in very early introductions to the idea (of Workbnb) that success doesn’t have to be a whole lot of little bookings – it could be one big, long booking,” he said. “Our platform is turnkey – you don’t have to buy furniture or sign a lease. It’s very simple – you just get on the app and book.”
One key aspect of the user experience, he noted, is that travel managers can book multiple sites for multiple employees at one time rather than having to book each site separately. Workbnb’s beta launch will likely bring a fresh round of growing pains as the company searches for a chief operations officer, chief financial officer, and customer support staff. Projections are for a fully remote staff of 50 to 80 by year’s end, Perez said.
Executives for Workbnb most likely will relocate this summer to Las Vegas to capitalize on the large amount of construction earmarked for Southern Nevada, Perez added.
“Las Vegas has $18 billion in construction on the books, and that’s not including the Oakland A’s franchise expansion if that goes through,” he said. “We are going to be doing our best to market Workbnb to those people – it’s a huge opportunity for us to convert a ton of short-term rentals over to workforce housing.
“Those workers have to stay somewhere, and historically they are put in the casinos and motels. They stay there for months, and it’s miserable. We want to show the world that Nevada can have its own startup in the travel space with a blue-collar focus.”
Workbnb is a 100 percent minority-owned business. Perez is not a technical founder; rather, he’s a confident marketer. He said that when Workbnb changed its marketing messaging from “vacation rental” to “workforce rental,” the company started getting bookings and that’s how it attracted Ames Construction as a client.
Workbnb thus far is a self-funded venture – Perez said he’s avoided taking venture capital as he works to prove the concept so he can get better terms from the VC community.
“We serve an underserved niche in the travel industry,” Perez said. “The blue-collar worker is typically put up in a motel or hotel for months, and (Workbnb) gives them access to better housing.”
Ames’ Alexander said one of the ways Workbnb helped the most was that he no longer needed to pay to store multiple household items.
“The biggest help was taking care of all the furniture, pots, pans, and dishes – stuff I would consider consumable items that I used to buy over and over again,” he said. “Now I don’t have to do that anymore. It was a happy day when I started using (Workbnb) and was able to donate all that furniture to charity and not keep it in storage anymore.”