Passepartout Homes: Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande

Boutique members online property and concierge club

Name: Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande
Age: 41
Company: Passepartout Homes Ltd.
Staff numbers: 1
Company description: Boutique members online property and concierge club
Tell us what your business does:

Passepartout Homes is a boutique property and concierge club where membership is strictly by invitation only. Passepartout Homes caters to the high-end holiday rental market, matching private home owners to like-minded guests. Our approach is unique and personal. Catering to the most discerning travellers, our portfolio features some beautiful private homes, many of which have never before been made available for rental. Passepartout Homes also provides a bespoke holiday service, to find clients the perfect property outside of our own portfolio if necessary.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea came on a flight back to London from our holiday home in Apulia, Italy. Although it’s a much-loved destination for our family and friends, it remains empty for long stretches of the year. We approached a few holiday rental agencies but we didn’t feel at ease having a constant flow of strangers in our home. Talking to other friends in a similar position, we decided the only viable option would be to create a network of trusted individuals to whom we would feel comfortable opening the doors of our private home, while covering some of the running costs of the property.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I spoke to friends and family who owned holiday homes. I then researched the market in search for direct and indirect competitors and found out there were many indirect competitors but no real direct ones. Moreover, official statistics suggest there are millions of second-home owners in Europe, whose properties remain closed for most part of the year, missing out on useful income to cover the expensive running costs.

What were you doing before starting up?

After living in both Germany and Belgium, I moved to the UK 13 years ago and have been working since then for major international publishing and news companies, most recently for Bloomberg.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I never imaged this in a million years! But I was encouraged by a very supportive husband and some marvelous friends, to which I will be eternally grateful.

How did you raise the money?

I used our savings to hire a web designer and web developer and pay for some marketing/PR consultancy. I will soon require some external investment to take the business further.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

A big challenge is to source the right properties around the world but the biggest challenge is to grow the membership base. Our business model relies on word of mouth and on members introducing other members. It is crucial to offer an excellent service so that clients will feel inclined to spread the word and recommend us.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Membership to Passepartout Homes is free of charge. Owners can apply online to have their property listed on the website, and a commission fee is only charged when a property is successfully booked. Charges vary, and property owners can reduce their commission fee by recommending friends to become members. The minimum commission chargeable is 7% on the rental accommodation. We also charge a small fee for additional Concierge services.

What was your first big breakthrough?

When one of the most luxurious and unique properties near Bordeaux approached me asking to promote their home. Their support and encouragement humbled me but gave me strength, knowing I was proceeding in the right direction.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Follow your dream and go for it! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice, mentoring. You would be surprised how many people out there are willing to give a free hand.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I’d love to see my business grow to become a recognisable brand.

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