Frontiersmen in the Work Staycation Revolution

2020 has been a hugely transformative year for Pass the Keys, a product of LBS's distinguished Incubator programme

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Pass the Keys is a fast-growing tech start-up that manages short-let properties. A product of London Business School’s distinguished Incubator programme, it has rapidly secured funding from big-name private venture firms such as Talis Capital, and today the company is already the largest Airbnb property manager in the UK. But that’s just the start of the journey - 2020 has been a hugely transformative year, promising to make the company a leading agent of societal change.

Alexander Lyakhotskiy is in a philosophical mood. The CEO and co-founder of Pass the Keys, a short-term lettings management company that was established in 2015, is outwardly at ease with conceivably becoming one of a growing number of zeitgeist figures in what promises to be a new world order of business. The biggest shift in cultural, collective behaviours in nearly a century has produced a company which promises to completely alter the boundaries of what used to be termed, the work-life balance.

The unassuming manner in which Alexander talks about his company and his own private and professional experiences in recent months - the radical overhaul of his business; moving from a physical office to “operating in the cloud”; facing off a massive redundancy bill – might lead one to suppose that he is describing a mild seasonal adjustment, and not a global economic and societal convulsion.

With so many changes, occurring in just a few months, Alexander is even thinking about changes to his own domestic situation. “Recent experiences have got me thinking about my own home life. I like looking at barn conversions, and the thought of living in beautiful countryside in the middle nowhere, but with all the modern conveniences, is very appealing,” says the Londoner who, armed with a London Business School MBA, began Pass the Keys in 2015 with his fellow shareholder and co-founder, Zoe Vu.

Alexander’s seemingly laid-back approach to running a business during the seafaring equivalent of a Force 11 storm belies the fact that fact that he has achieved a successful roll-out of his franchised business, enabling his company to grow by 15 new cities across the UK in just a few months.

The impact of the national lockdown in the UK, precipitated a number of swift actions by Alexander and his team that resulted in, not least, the closure of the company’s London office in Old Street and a series of savvy recruitments hires around the country. Altogether the biggest change for the Pass the Keys teams in recent months has been anticipating an imminent surge in staycations, which will drive demand across the UK.

Staycation is, in Alexander’s estimation, not a big enough term with which to characterise the new shape of his business since its rapid transformation since April of this year. ‘Work Staycation’ is a better term he reckons, conjuring with the idea of a business exec who takes her family up to Scotland for a two week vacation and then decides to add on a further week in order to benefit from working in a new environment.

“For many, the stimulating impact of working in a new environment can’t be underestimated. I can envisage more and more people blending the boundaries between our working and leisure lives – there are clearly productivity and health benefits.”

Another exciting development, partly borne out of necessity from the Covid pandemic but promising to become a model for future employers, is Pass the Key’s growing band of geographically dispersed employees. The company’s franchisees are necessarily dispersed because the company relies on local knowledge to grow its building stock, but its employees had previously mostly been located in London.

Today, as the Pass the Keys business grows, Alexander is looking for talent wherever he can find it, including engaging a partially blind and exceptionally talented member of his team in Cornwall, a newcomer to the company who works in Halifax, Yorkshire, and a new head of guest support manager in Brighton.

“We look for talent wherever we can find it, which is great for the business and also great for people who can command good salaries which can be better than the average salary in their local region.”

With backing from big name companies such as Talis Capital, a presence in 25 city locations around the UK, Pass the Keys now lists across numerous platforms, including Airbnb, and is growing at a rate of 300% year over year, the future for the company is not only bright, but positively exhilarating.

As for Alexander and his own personal plans? “Well, I need to convince my wife to buy into the barn conversion”.