Onefinestay launches as an 'unhotel', lets travelers stay in other people's homes

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Calling itself an ‘unhotel’, Onefinestay, which launches first in London, lets travelers stay in someone’s real home while the owner is out of town. For guests, it’s being pitched as a better value alternative to a premium or boutique hotel with the attraction being that they can “live like a local” (or so the marketing goes), while for house owners the service is a way to generate “hassle-free income” since it’s fully managed with Onefinestay doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes, such as inventory, insurance, and even providing towels and toiletries. The contract, however, is between the guest and home owner not Onefinestay, so in that sense they are simply an intermediary.

Its founders are Greg Marsh (CEO), Demetrios Zoppos (COO), and Tim Davey (Head of Technology). Marsh was previously on the investment team with venture capital firm Index Ventures, while Zoppos has held leadership roles at several companies, most notably at GF-X, the trading exchange for airfreight capacity which raised £50m and was acquired by Descartes, where he was co-founder, Ops Director and later CEO. Lastly Davey was previously  co-founder and CTO of SnapTalent, the web recruitment ad marketplace, which raised funds from Y Combinator and Index. So it’s an experienced team with form.

Along with booking a place to stay through the site – from a luxury apartment “in aristocratic Mayfair”, a family home in “stately Holland Park” or a bachelor pad in “leafy Primrose Hill” – there’s a further technology tie-in. Guests are loaned an iPhone for the duration of their stay so that they can make local calls and get info about the local area and the home that they are staying in. The latter is made possible via barcode labels that have been placed around the home, such as on a painting or a set-top box.

“You press the scan button in our app, point the phone at the barcode, and a short video plays automatically of the host explaining e.g., the history of the painting, or how to use the TV”, explains Marsh.

That’s pretty neat and certainly demonstrates the versatility of smartphone platforms like the iPhone in providing bespoke audio/visual experiences that would have been harder and more expensive to offer in the past.

Despite Marsh’s VC experience and contacts (or perhaps because of it), Onefinestay remains boostrapped aside from funding from friends and family.

  • taige

    this is very ambitious :)

    • James

      Yeah maybe too ambitious. Pulling this off at scale sounds like its going to be tough. Its not like they’ll be able to just kick back in an office somewhere and just market the crap out it. Its lots of people all over the world. And how do they make sure my stuff doesn’t get stolen?
      It maybe an interesting idea but so easy to mess up

      • Greg Marsh

        @James, fair questions. Concerns about security exist in a much stronger form for services like Craigslist and Couchsurfing, but have not inhibited growth. For our part, we spent a lot of time thinking about issues of trust and security before we launched, and I think we have some great practical solutions, some of which we explain on our site.

        As for scaling-up, we think that’s the secret sauce of our business. It’s definitely the most exciting challenge we are working to solve! :)

        (Co-Founder & CEO)

      • McKay

        It does look a very interesting idea and I’m sure you can solve the security issue, but just to clarify the point, when I use something like, people are staying in my home while I’m there not while I’m away on vacation, so it isn’t the same thing. Plus the profile system and social network of a community like Couchurfing is likely different than those choosing hotel-like services. So not apples-to-apples, but again, that doesn’t mean you can’t make yours work too. Interested to see how it goes.

  • annacod

    I love the premise of the idea: living like a local. There is no question that when travelling there is no better way to get an authentic experience than by living in a “real” house in a residential neighbourhood. I personally would love to stay in another person’s house – but then I’m nosey….

  • dan

    Sounds like a great idea. I bet it beats a Holiday Inn any day :p

    The iPhone idea sounds cool. I wonder if you can download the app and use it on your own phone? That would be pretty neat. Don’t want to be carrying around two iPhones…

    • KristanLondon

      I think so. My family visited this summer and stayed in…. Holiday Inn. It was way too expensive for what you get. No iPhone either…

  • Diana

    Love this concept and these places look exceptional. I want to live like a local in homes like this!

  • phil

    Most of those homes look beautiful. I wonder what kind of quality control they do or if there any lemons.

  • Saliz

    The offer of living like a local with a bit of luxe is extremely compelling

    From a business perspective the model ensures everyone wins – hassle-free income for the owners is a great proposition

    Barcode app = inspired

  • Saliz

    The offer of living like a local with a bit of luxe is extremely compelling

    From a business perspective I like the fact that everyone wins – hassle-free income for the owners is a great proposition

    Barcode app = inspired

  • Tommy

    Being a tourist is one of the most tiring activities. With a comfortable house the resting time can be an enjoyable experience and a good commitment to have dinner at home and save some money too!

    I really like the idea and I look forward to share my house in Italy!


  • Kay

    Sounds great! Personally I’m sick of boring hotels. Would be keen to know how soon they can expand to other cities.

  • LoveintheDumps

    First of all, I like the name. Onefinestay (presumably a take on one fine day) is 100000 times better than something like “estay” which is (still) all the rage. I like the concept too, and would definitely use it. As long as I didn’t open a drawer looking for the remote only to find a bunch of skivvys.

  • @vcwatch

    Having stayed with them in London (in a flat which they’ve stopped marketing) I can confirm that they do pay attention to feedback – I thoroughly enjoyed my stay with them and will try to use them again.

    ‘My’ flat had DSL connected WiFi, so I could work in comfort at a good desk with an excellent chair.

  • zac

    Really cool idea and it looks really easy to become a host. I might register my house…

  • LoveintheDumps

    I wouldn’t wish my NYC one bedroom flat on my worst enemy.

  • Damien Tanner

    This is the future of travel, for some time now I’ve always stayed in private apartments over hotels. Similar sites have tended to opt for quantity over quality. Onefinestay on the other hand seems to have got the knack; absolutely superb looking places and service to match.

    Now we just have to look forward to their expansion overseas =)

  • A new kind of hotel

    […] they are having a party in Dublin tonight and I will be there with some MAXROAM goodies. I see in Techcrunch today that this area is also hotting with the launch of One Fine […]

  • Jack

    yeah i’d really go for taking a holiday like that because it makes so much difference staying somewhere which is meant to be lived in rather than stayed in. but how can they properly get the amenities of a hotel in somone’s house, like room and maid service?
    that sounds pretty difficult to pull off and might be too ambitious on a larger scale

  • Sarah

    I definitely think this is a response to a wider fashion for ‘going off the beaten track’ on holiday. It is no longer enough to tour a city like a local, you now have to go and stay where local’s stay. Tourist has become a swear word. Thankfully, the hotel services on offer here mean you don’t have to slum it to stay in vogue. Looking forward to see how international expansion goes.

  • Rosie

    I like that a lot of properties are in neighbourhoods that tourists might not otherwise hang out in. There’s so much more to a city like London than many visitors realise.

  • gcaspar

    Good idea positioning themselves as an intermediary, they’ve got a small downside and a huge upside. The website and one person willing to rent out their flat is all it takes to get started, but it can be scaled up massively if there is demand.

  • Joni

    The properties look great. I hope they get Paris sorted soon – I use this rather than a hotel any day. Good luck to them!

  • Joni

    The properties look great. I hope they get Paris sorted soon – I would rather use this than a hotel any day. Good luck to them!

  • Anna

    Love the idea of the barcodes and iPhones! The whole thing sounds really well thought out, would love to stay in one in New York or something…

  • MMG

    Are they taking homes outside of London? Anyone know? I tried doing the ‘host questionnaire’ but it says something about ‘coming to your city’ soon. Do you know the dates?

    • Greg Marsh

      @MMG, thanks for your comment. We want to see unhotels in other world cities, but are starting in London to get the infrastructure, processes and services right before we move overseas. Watch this space! (And in the meantime, if you’re interested to help, then I’d love to hear from you —

      (Co-Founder & CEO)

  • Jasmine

    Brilliant idea. Hotels are all the same these days and all they provide is a standard room and the same overpriced food.

    These properties provide a flavour of the city you’re staying in, a sense of what it’s like to live there as a local and the comfort of your own home – all in one. Onefinestay really seem to understand their market and are being very meticulous and thorough in their approach – iphone app for example. I look forward to using them one day. Good luck guys!

  • Rob

    onefinestay, not much different to a holiday rental.

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