Ep.43 Ashley McCullough - MoblHom & The Remote Working Rental Market

Ashley McCullough loves to travel. She wants to live somewhere for a couple of months, and check out what it was like to live there. She doesn't want to go on a vacation; she wants to go in and buy groceries at the same grocery store for some months, learn the language and talk to people. But a few years ago, finding a place to live for a short period used to be a hassle. And Ashley wanted to create a solution for temporary housing needs. She wanted anything longer than a vacation but shorter than an annual lease. Therefore, she founded MoblHom as a solution to this problem. In this episode, we have Ashley McCullough.She is the founder of MoblHom, a rental marketplace that connects renters to homeowners offering furnished, midterm stays with flexible leases and a streamlined application process. She is also a brand strategist, product specialist, content queen, and athlete.
 
In this episode, we talked about:
●       How and why Ashley started MoblHom
●       The demand for mobile home.
●       What MoblHom is
●       What was the strategy behind the launch of MoblHom in the Montana market
●       Is there going to be a tipping point?
●       The difference between Airbnb and MoblHom
●       And MUCH MORE!
 
 
Resources and Links:
Ashley -:
 
MoblHom -:
website


Transcription: (Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.)

Ashley: [00:00:00] What makes you succeed in a corporate environment often doesn't make you do well in other places and also vice versa. 

Eric Malzone: [00:01:19] Ashley McCullough. Welcome to the black diamond podcast. My friend, how are you?

Ashley: [00:01:24] Hi, good. Thanks for

Eric Malzone: [00:01:26] having me. Yeah. We just had a wonderful conversation about one of my favorite things, which is skiing. So you're down in the Bozeman Montana area. I'm up in ,  the Flathead Valley in Whitefish.

And I guess for people who ,  maybe are curious about what. The resorts feel like right now. And haven't got up to a mountain. Describe what it's been like for you at Bridger bowl now. And it's open. What's a what's different due to COVID.

Ashley: [00:01:49] ,  today was opening day. So you could get a parking spot, our right by the lifts, but they're only letting 750 people ski today.

So it's really pretty empty. And it's not much of the mountain is open. Cause I don't know if you guys have what we have, but there hasn't been a whole ton of snow yet. And then it's masks in line. It's no, no singles joining you, so it's a little bit of a slower line. Reservation system to get in at all.

It's a lot of planning.

Eric Malzone: [00:02:21] Yeah, it's going to be an interesting year. I think it's just, we'll get used to the mild inconveniences. And I think everybody who loves to ski is whatever it is, it's worth it. Totally.

Ashley: [00:02:29] I think for a lot of people, it's like the one thing that might keep them sane, sure.

Eric Malzone: [00:02:33] Yeah. Yeah. Especially up ,  up here where the winners get a little dark and gray and cold and days get short. You gotta have, you gotta have something to do.  , 

Ashley: [00:02:43] I always wonder how anyone really can live in Montana. If they don't ski. I don't

Eric Malzone: [00:02:48] know, you gotta have something, you gotta either be seasonal or you gotta have some other kind of winter occupation.

Something to, just to keep you busy. I guess that sounds to me that sounds like drinking, which I'm not sure. I think it's a euphemism for drinking. Yeah, that was pretty funny. But anyway ,  let's talk about you, Ashley. I'm really excited having the show. You're doing such a, talk about a very timely.

I guess need in the market that you've located and what that is in mobile home. We'll obviously talk about that, but how did you get here? How did you get to that point of starting this company? And ,  yeah, just, I want to hear your backstory.

Ashley: [00:03:25] Yeah. I worked in corporate for almost 20 years.

I worked for a women's sportswear company because I came out of being a professional athlete. And corporate is great, but it's not for everyone. And I realized pretty early on that I'm ,  What makes you succeed in a corporate environment often doesn't make you do well in other places and also vice versa.

And I figured out that I don't really play by the rules very well, and that ,  that works pretty well in entrepreneurship. And doesn't do that when you're. Gunning for promotions and following up kind of prescribed path. So that was my history and work stuff. And I always, I had worked for myself early and then I always said, by the time I was in my mid forties, I would work for myself again.

And I made sure to do that even before the goal. But the whole thing with mobile home, part of. The impetus to start mobile home is that, I had started a business maybe eight years ago. That was like a luxury textiles importing business. I went over to Turkey and I was designing textiles and bringing them in.

And it was a. Model that gave back to traditional artisans and the plan was to go to different countries each season and do a different line. And what I ultimately realized from that experience was that I'm not that into luxury goods. I like luxury goods. Don't get me wrong. I, I like a nice car and all that stuff, but ,  I feel like with mobile home, there's something really fundamental and.

And necessary about housing, right? It's like on the bottom of the, Maslov's like a hierarchy of need triangle and it's ,  it's something that no matter what happens out there in the world, you absolutely need a home. You need food, you need clothing, all those things that are essential. And so there's something about working in the housing industry that makes me feel much more motivated to do something that.

Creates value. ,  and I would say that probably the original, the start of the idea I moved, I've done a lot of moving around and I think a lot of people have now again, but ,  I just don't see that the trend in, in this country and maybe worldwide is for people to stay rooted in one place forever, there's ,  there's a much easier.

Path towards moving and being a foreign person anywhere and getting a job, getting a house, making friends, doing whatever it is. It's like we don't live in this sort of village ,  communities anymore. And so I've moved a ton. And when I think the first time I made a major move that I just wanted to live somewhere for a couple months and really.

Check out what it was like to live there. I didn't want to go on a vacation to, this place. I just wanted to go and buy my groceries at the same grocery store for a couple months and learn the language and talk to people. So I moved to Berlin when I was ,  in my mid twenties and finding an apartment in Berlin when you don't speak German for a couple of months, like before the beginning of short-term rental companies was really very interesting.

And by interesting, almost impossible. So that was the start of, it was feeling like there wasn't a good option out there for people that want to go and dig into a culture and be somewhere for a couple months at a time, there's no way that you're going to move and. Sign an annual lease and move in furniture and then sell it all before you go and do the whole rigmarole of the traditional rental market.

And then multiply that by 20 times in my life of moving to different places and saying, Hey, I'm going to live here for a few months. And I don't know exactly where. I want to live in this town, or I don't know if I'm going to stay in this place. And just feeling like it, it still hadn't become even five years ago.

It hadn't become easier really to find temporary housing. It's easy to find a place for a week or two with a vacation rental company. It's also easy to find a place to live for a year, but I was having trouble finding places for. Two to six months. And I found that almost everyone I talked to who had moved recently said the exact same thing.

Oh, like what a hassle. I, the exact same situation. I needed that too. And I kept saying like, why isn't somebody doing this? And then I just realized that they weren't going to, so I did. That was the beginning of mobile home.

Eric Malzone: [00:08:08] Yeah. So many great businesses have started with just solving your own problem.

And I immediately understood because when my wife and I decided to pick up and leave California back in 2017, the famous kind of conversation well famous in our small little tiny world between my wife and I was at  I came home one night and I was like, ,  we always talk about living in that mountain town.

Why don't we ,  why not now let's just do it. Now. We always talk about someday. What if that was today? And, I told her I'm ready. I'll sell my businesses. And we'll. We'll go pick one and we'll go there. And she's ,  why don't we live in a bunch of them? I was like, ah, that's awesome.

Yes, let's do it. And then the DMV interest started, right? It was like, we got a map of the Western United States and Canada. And we started putting little needles in there where we wanted to visit. And ,  it was up on the wall and it was just, it was a ton of fun. Started doing a lot of research in what towns we want to go to.

And then the reality starts to hit it. We both have to work, so we can't just live in a van or do the super nomadic coffee shop thing because that's actually really challenging and very frustrating and ultimately highly stressful. So we're like ,  let's, we pick a place to live for a month.

And then we realized wow, this is really hard. So I created this like checklist almost of ways to find places. Cause we want to live in places two to three months, which is like the sweet spot of, the mobile home ,  platform. And it was like, okay ,  I'll start my research by looking at Airbnb and just get an idea of prices.

Then I'll look at Airbnb. I'll look at  all of those, the short-term rental websites, but then those get really expensive and sometimes you can't find what you want. So then I started, the next thing was to post on Craigslist and look on Craigslist. So I posted as someone looking for a rental and then someone  obviously looking at what rentals were available and then I call all the ,  Local ,  vacation rental places.

See if they had any deals they're willing to work. So it turned into this process that we had to, I had to redo every time we picked up and moved and we lived in, gosh, 10 different places over three years. So it became very tedious. And I saw this, I was like, Oh my God, finally, Someone did it. So I get it.

I think it's, I think there's a market now. I would imagine now that COVID has shown that, Hey, the remote working thing is now actually a thing and it's probably not going anywhere. I'd imagine the demand for something like this is pretty high.

Ashley: [00:10:27] Yeah, the demand is huge. I'm not sure that everybody knows how to locate it.

And we're only in a couple locations so far, but I think it's huge. I've read quite a bit, a few articles that are talking about, where are people going? Where are they moving to? How are they doing their moves? What is the average length? You can look on. Air DNA and find data on average stays in different places.

And there's definitely a trend towards ,  for one mountain towns. Obviously you were a pioneer, but I think there's plenty of places in this country that are, everybody thinks. Oh, that would be a great place to live someday. Once I don't have to work or once I'm not tied to San Francisco or Seattle or New York.

And I think that the interesting thing that we've all seen just happen is that maybe nobody's tied to those places anymore.

Eric Malzone: [00:11:19] Yeah, that, that's always been. The question for me is, I. One of the things I love to help people do is realize that someday can be today. And it's, if you just think about it differently.

Okay. If I did want to, for us like living in a mountain town or spent, living on Hawaii or some, Fiji or one of these, destinations that people dream about ,  people like ,  I'd have to wait. Why? And what's in your way. And are those obstacles movable because Hey, life is just a bunch of choices and yeah, some choices may seem inconvenient or challenging or scary, but when you boil it down, you could totally do it.

And I think people are, at least in the short term, I think people are realizing that now I just have a strong feeling that people are going to there's always going to be a certain population that are going to be like you and me are like ,  I want to check out new places. I want to experience it.

I want to take a deep dive into an area more than just a four day weekend. But I just wonder, and that's the big question is like how mobile are people going to stay? Or is this just, are people gonna go back to their ways?

Ashley: [00:12:16] I have some thoughts on that. It's there, obviously some of the big tech companies are making, roads that are showing some of the other companies how that can work.

A lot of them are just saying, okay, you don't have to come back until end of next year or maybe ever, ,  and if they're going to build that infrastructure that not enables more people to do it, there is. Like you're saying, it's it's a choice for sure. But for some people that choice might be becoming unemployed, and I'm not sure that's a choice that some people are able to make. But what I think is so interesting about the time right now and the movement towards this stuff is as the office culture, as we know ,  as it began, it was like people needed to be in the same place because there wasn't an ability to.

Interact and collaborate from afar. And now with. The internet and with all the tools and with everything that's out there ,  there's so much less need in many professions to be in the same room anymore. And ,  I remember reading this article about, are we all getting dumber because we rely on our phones to grab information for us that we used to keep in our heads, like nobody knows anybody's phone number anymore, and nobody knows how to drive anywhere anymore.

And does that actually make us dumber? But. What this article was talking about is that there's this integration between the brain and the machine, right? Like for better and for worse, but ,  yeah. And sorry, my dog is groaning. He's kinda

Eric Malzone: [00:13:45] loud. We love dogs on this podcast.

Ashley: [00:13:47] We love dogs.

We love dogs, period. But yeah, there's like this integration between all of our technology and our brains. And I feel like there's ,  an evolution of what we're capable of. In our own thinking, but also in our collaborative productivity, right? It's if we are now in separate places and we're able to have this sort of separate sphere of thinking going on, but then we can come together only as we need to and interact and collaborate and then spin off into our own sphere.

Again, I feel like there may actually be more productivity and this may be the trend forward.

Eric Malzone: [00:14:26] Yeah. Yeah, I totally agree. I think it is. Now that it's proven people are, I started to see a right by, I guess back in February, March, like the period, the place we were renting, which we rented short-term for six months and over the winter and, someone came and checked it out in there, as a young couple from Seattle, she's I just realized that, we can live here.

We are gonna come visit for a weekend, but now we could just live here for a few months. I was like, Oh, here we go. Okay, here we go. It's going to be an interesting ride. So I would imagine people are probably wondering exactly what mobile home is. So tell us now we've outlined the problem and the opportunity.

What is it? What do you do?

Ashley: [00:15:05] Oh, okay. So we are a platform. We work a lot, like a vacation rental platform. We are a marketplace where homeowners can put their houses on and renters can rent their houses directly. So it basically makes renting. Temporary housing, say two to six months, like you're talking about, about as easy as ordering dinner.

Eric Malzone: [00:15:28] I love it. It's so simple. And you guys, so you started in the Montana market, right? We

Ashley: [00:15:34] did. Yeah.

Eric Malzone: [00:15:36] And is that just because of where you that's, where you live or is there a strategy behind that? Or ,  what made that, what was that choice?

Ashley: [00:15:43] ,  it's helpful that it's where I live. Part of our model is ensuring that we have.

A human being that can verify properties, talk to homeowners, even talk to renters. We do a little bit of a matchmaking actually, which is  a prize, but not ,  not ,  not that surprising, it's ,  So starting in Bozeman was easier for me because I live here. But also because it is a small mountain town that has seasons, it has a vacation ,  vacation, rental climate that, so it has a lot of inventory already.

,  and then it's a destination that while it was already growing for the last 10 years, it's a place that's really. Prime to continue growth quickly. So th the strategy going forward is picking places that are of a certain size, and we're leapfrogging in our sizes, but Bozeman is a 50,000 person town.

We're moving into now places that have more like 200,000 and then we'll continue to get bigger, but also have ,  Vacation rental homes available. So you need to have some stock of furnished rentals that are not already occupied. And then also places that have high. Growth that is not just due to ,  birth rate net migration based on jobs and opportunities.

Eric Malzone: [00:17:11] Yeah. Interesting. Yeah, that was what I was going to ask you. What is the kind of the checkbox criteria for, as you guys enter in new markets? Is there any, so you guys are now where else have you guys have expanded to?

Ashley: [00:17:21] We're in Idaho now. So we went out outside of Bozeman and we moved into Missoula and we're also up in ,  In big sky and Livingston.

So we're spreading out all over Montana. And then Boise was our first foray out of state. And then we're now in all of Idaho. After that we're doing Utah in Colorado. I also like places that I can drive to. So that's just purely selfish, but, I like to be able to like scope out a place.

As we're starting to launch it and go in and meet everybody. We've been doing these Boise trips and we're meeting all the realtors in town and all the lenders and get it. And, people who know the people who are coming in and they know the people who need housing. And it's just fun.

It's fun. It's almost well satisfies that need, I used to have of wanting to wander as much as I did. Without needing to pick up and move again. Right now

Eric Malzone: [00:18:20] you have the, it's starting a two-sided market, right? Because you need the rentals and you need the renters. I knew it, I've talked to a lot of people who, do similar models, but in different kind of niches ,  there's unique challenges to that.

Walk us through that.

Ashley: [00:18:38] So it's almost like having two businesses where you're trying to do acquisition to two totally different groups simultaneously. Everybody I've ever talked to who started a marketplace has said, I will never do that again. But I find it really interesting.

It's, ,  it's a multifaceted challenge as you're, as you mentioned, at the beginning, You have to have enough renters and you have to have enough homes, and not too many of either. Like you can't just focus on one side of the equation, even though everyone always says with marketplaces hack one side and know, you know how to do that one.

Still you can't just fill one side. Because then if then those will leave you and you'll have too much churn if you can't get enough of the other side to match. To me, it's been this unique dance of kind of saying, okay, let's try to get just enough. And then Justin, on the other side, that they're all getting traction.

And they're all getting actually, ,  they're making sales and then add a little bit more and grow them organically. At the same speed and. That's hard.

Eric Malzone: [00:19:47] So as business, right? The easy part is always coming up with the idea. And the hard part is the 10 years of execution that come behind it.

Totally. Yeah. Yeah. That's that's one of my favorite things. People, ah, I think I want to be an entrepreneur. I got this idea. I make these cookies. I'm like ,  that's a great idea. Are you ready for 10 years of execution? They're like, Ooh ,  no, I'm good. All right. Great. I just, did you a huge service?

I know

Ashley: [00:20:13] I have a few friends. I have a few people who are like, Oh, this isn't a billion dollar idea. This is a trillion dollar idea. I'm like, okay. That's awesome. Can't wait to see it happen.

Eric Malzone: [00:20:26] So is there, what's the goal here? Do you think there's going to be a tipping point? Where it just gets to like  a certain level of awareness and both parties on both sides of the fence, both the rentals and the rent, the rentees I guess, ,  are coming to you or what's, what do you think is going to get this thing to scale?

Ashley: [00:20:45] Yeah. Yeah. I think, right now we're on a model where we launch every location. And that's, I think necessary because we're doing mostly organic growth. I think there is a point where once there's enough awareness, there will be. We won't be launching any location anymore. It'll just be every location is launched and we'll make sure we have people that can get to every place that are on our team.

But yeah, the way I see it progressing is that right now it seems like a novelty ,  Ooh, I'd love to go live in Bozeman for three months this year and see if I like it, or Hey, wouldn't it be fun to go? Live in Colorado or whatever Sedona, but I think that as we go forward into the future, I think the whole rental market is poised to change.

And I think that's where we are leaning into ,  like we're less of a vacation company than we are really looking towards how to evolve the rental market. Completely. I, it just, I believe that the 12 month leases and the moving in and out furniture and all that stuff that, that you do it's too much waste and it just doesn't suit the majority anymore.

Eric Malzone: [00:22:05] Yeah, I think so too. And I do believe that there's a certain. Age bracket that is now moving on. And as younger generations move into, needing places to live ,  it's more about access and less about ownership. And, you look at all these things. ,  for the pandemic, if you live in a city, most young people in their twenties would be like ,  I don't need a car.

I got Uber. Right or, shared bicycles or you just pick them up at one spot, write them somewhere and drop them off at another. It's not ownership, it's just access to the thing. So I think it is a big trend. The big shark tank question is, of course for you is what stops an Airbnb or a VRVO from, just extending their service a little bit or offering something different.

Is it a matter of you getting your speed to market or what's, I'm sure that crosses your mind all the time, right?

Ashley: [00:22:55] Sure. Yeah. People want always to bring up that as the main problem. And sure. Th those big companies have all the resources to really do whatever they want. Airbnb can become a film production company, they can do whatever they want at this point, but I think that what differentiates us in model ,  is. Something that I don't think they're interested in and who knows, ,  it's remains to be seen, but ,  I think that a lot of these big tech companies have built their whole model around making sure that everything is automated and easy.

And I, when I'm noticing. In all of my interactions with ,  homeowners and renters is that most people are saying, sorry, dog

flipping and Christmas presents. I'm sorry. I don't know if you can

Eric Malzone: [00:24:03] Odin the dog break and we're back. So yeah ,  That's the joys of working from home as well. Cats, dogs, you got everything, you got all of it. But yeah, we were talking about the difference between Airbnb and what you're doing and where the, where your potential advantages.

Ashley: [00:24:19] Yeah. And I think the point I was trying to make a minute ago was that ,  I think that some of these big tech companies have built their models on being convenient and being automated and making everything really easy. And while that is absolutely essential, I think that there's a lot of people who are getting tired of not being able to have a human that they can interact with. And one of the things I hear over and over again, and no harshing on Airbnb. I love Airbnb. And I think the best thing that ever happened was that they made it not weird to sleep in somebody else's bed. I think that when I talk to people often, what they're saying is that these companies like Airbnb and BRBO, they're stuck with them, but they hate them.

Like they, they feel like they're. You hear a little bit about, Facebook too, people just are, they don't feel like there's another option. So they're still using the option that they have, but it isn't the option that they like. And so we're really listening to people and what they want. And with our model, we're.

Ensuring that there's always a human being and there's kind of interaction that is involved. So I think that, we're not going to take over Airbnb's market share, but I have a feeling that we can have market share that won't. It won't really ,  conflict with what they have.

Eric Malzone: [00:25:46] Yeah. Awesome. Yeah.

That's an interesting positioning and I do see something else that's happening as well is, that service and then  many markets like, where we're building a home is there is no short term rentals available. You have to do at least one month. And  there's a lot of.

Places that are really, neighborhoods that are very much over the overnight stay, like the typical kind of bachelor party or, that type of stuff. And this, you just don't get that with the monthly rentals. So it's, it is, there is a unique advantage there

Ashley: [00:26:17] there's definitely a better for the community aspect to it.

You don't have the people that are partying and leaving their garbage in the street. You don't have people like. Trashing places and you definitely have more of, ,  quality of people interacting and becoming part of a neighborhood rather than just using something and disposing of it. Yeah.

Eric Malzone: [00:26:40] Yeah. So today's recording date is the 17th of December. And I say that because I'm curious, your business is changing and growing and it's very dynamic times for sure. But what's the biggest need that you have in your business right now? What are the, what's the immediate challenge that you're.

Tackling.

Ashley: [00:26:57] So I need to raise money now. I think I was on the fence when COVID hit. I was on the fence between, do I go for making this thing profitable as fast as possible? Or do I continue with looking at it as like a startup model where I'm going to grow and scale as fast as possible, and I'm leaning towards the growing and scaling.

Raising money. ,  we're a low margin business and we like it that way. It's partially because it's just the way that the numbers work out and in our model, but also partially because I want this thing to feel more like a service, not like something that you. Are paying a ton of money for, but then wouldn't want to use again, like I would like it to be a service that people would keep using.

And so if anything, I would love to lower our fees, but that puts us at a very low margin. And then the only way to make it make sense is to scale it. So financing is going to be the next big challenge. But, Hey, ,  what challenges,

Eric Malzone: [00:28:00] If it was easy, everyone would do it. And ,  yeah. So you're out there in the arena making it happen.

,  this is, it's really interesting. I really like what you're doing. ,  where do people get in touch with you? Ashley? Where do you send them?

Ashley: [00:28:12] So you can email Ashley. At mobile home.com and that's M O B L H O m.com. You can go to our site if you're looking for a house, if you need Instagram and you love pretty pictures, then you can just find us at mobile home on

Eric Malzone: [00:28:33] Instagram.

Awesome. Ashley, thank you so much for coming on. This is really interesting and I ,  I love, you're going for it with us and ,  it could go big. ,  with a lot of energy, a lot of strategy and a little bit of luck, I think ,  I think it could be big, so appreciate it. Yeah.

Yeah, exactly. So yeah. Thanks for coming on. People. Go check out mobile home and look up Ashley, if you need her, and she'd be happy to chat with you. So ladies and gentlemen, Ashley

Ashley: [00:28:58] McCullough

thanks. Thanks Eric.

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