Small businesses deal with a lot of challenges, and I feel proud that Edward Kaul did not make this a reason to falter. Instead, he pushed hard and made a name for himself by making his initiative a trusted source of information. And he is enjoying the time of his life as well! As Founders, it is our grit and stamina to endure all things that will lead us to success.
Edward Kaul is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and has been living in Europe since 2005. He has a background in sales and inventory management, marketing management, and tourism. He worked as an International Business Development Manager for an eCRM platform company artegic AG in Bonn, Germany, where he enhanced the company’s presence in Italy and the UK.
He left the artegic in 2015 to work full time at his luxury vacation rental company Smeralda Holiday, which then was focused solely on Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, Italy.
In 2016, he expanded to Tuscany, Italy, Croatia, and the Caribbean islands of Aruba and St Barths, while adding experiential planning, after understanding the new trend in the market. He has also started a new project with his partner, running a bed and breakfast, Le Ginestre Bed and Breakfast Assisi, in Assisi, Italy
What inspired you to create Smeralda Holiday?
Quite a few factors. A friend of mine really wanted me to move into the rental villa niche in Costa Smeralda, Italy, and after a year of pushing, I decided to give it a try. I loved working with guests, and the fact I had freedom to work from anywhere in the world was a huge plus. It has been a lot of fun, but a lot of work.
How long have you been running your initiative and what have been the biggest challenges you have faced? How did you overcome them?
I have been running Smeralda Holiday since 2013, but was also working as an International Business Development Manager for a German eCRM company. In 2015, I left them to push my business full time. My biggest challenges would be the sheer competition in the industry, with Airbnb, Homeaway, Tripadvisor really taking over the market, and making it extremely hard to bring new clients to my site. There is also the issue of financial power, which most small businesses deal with, that kept me from being able to really operate at the level I felt was attainable. Overcoming the giant platforms was more about accepting them in the space, and pushing to try and use them as marketing tools, while building myself as a trusted source for information and accommodations.
Can you tell us about experiential planning? How does it amplify your customer service experience?
In the current market landscape, customers are looking for one stop shopping so to speak, and my experiential planning allows guests to not just find and rent a luxury villa, but also for us to plan the entirety of their trip, from travel to activities. We have a conversation with the travelers, discuss what they are looking for, and what they like to do. From there we put together a list of options, and build their dream vacation. It lets them enjoy the whole vacation process, and we can usually offer experiences they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. This is invaluable for people that are very busy in their lives, and just want to enjoy their time off.
What risks are you currently facing and how do you deal with it?
For me the major risk is always having one of our brokers or vendors not fulfilling their obligation. Most guests worry about last minute cancellations or problems, and we have to stay on top of everyone to ensure these don’t happen. Nothing can ruin a great vacation like the villa not being ready, or the car service not at the arrival gate, so it is important to work with people you have experience with, and have the same customer centric views.
How does being a Founder affect your personal life and space?
Anyone that has ever founded a business knows that it takes a lot of time and energy to build. I personally love what I do, and want to see my businesses succeed, but I have found a good balance between the two. Smeralda Holiday is online, and is mainly service related, so I can work anywhere and at anytime, which means I am flexible. Because of this flexibility, I can spend time with my partner when she isn’t working, and have been able to travel quite a lot. Now this of course has slowed the growth and profitability of the site, but I think the money in my pocket isn’t as important as experiencing what life has to offer me at any given moment.
Where do you see yourself and your business in the next 5 to 10 years?
That is a very hard question for me to answer. I am currently interested in entering into a new project, not as a founder, but as someone that can help build and grow someone else’s vision. As for Smeralda Holiday, I don’t have a clear idea of what the next 5 years will look like, with the market being shaped more and more by the big vacation platform companies, and making us smaller businesses less attractive to travellers. I do, however, see more niche targeting for us, and that is something I would find rewarding, so bring it on.
About Smeralda Holiday
Smeralda Holiday is an online service offering luxury rental villas in Southern Europe and the Caribbean, along with experiential planning, which revolves around helping clients design and organize the vacation of their dreams. They can arrange every aspect of a client’s trip, so they can relax and experience their holiday.