There’s an oft-perpetrated stereotype; one that’s destructive, with no place in today’s society. It’s none other than the belief that women can only ever be envious of one another. We see it often in popular culture: sisters trying to outdo each other; best friends fighting over the same man; and difficult bosses (notice how they’re usually women?) who make life difficult for their female co-workers.
Thankfully, women are stepping up to reshape this narrative. We’re beginning to hear a lot more about women supporting women, and the friendships that blossom. This is one such story.
Wendy Liew and Sharon Oo first met when Wendy provided professional cleaning services for Sharon’s home-stay business. Sharon previously worked as a software engineer, while Wendy was a former banker and insurance consultant. In 2018, a few years after meeting, both women combined their respective areas of expertise to become Hosts on Airbnb. Today, Wendy and Sharon are sought-after hosts – managing 26 units in Penang!
They may have started as business partners, but it’s their fast friendship that continues to be the foundation of their success. Here’s how they bring out each other’s strengths, and their tips for aspiring hosts.
1. Why do you think you’re able to work well as business partners?
Wendy & Sharon (W&S): Business partners should always share the same values and vision, as it’s easier during times of friction to follow the adage “two heads are better than one”.
Both of us share the same values and will back each other up. For example, we have the same goal of working as a host in which we treat everyone just like our friends and family. Instead of hosting for the revenue, we love doing this as it lets us broaden our social circle and meet more new friends from around the world.
We also have a healthy give and take that allows each of us to use our strengths, while also benefiting from the other partner’s valuable insight and experience.
2. How has being business partners, and successful ones at that, empowered the both of you?
W&S: Since becoming full-time Hosts, we’ve been able to have greater flexibility and control over our time, not to mention economic independence and less external pressure.
Sharon: There’s no doubt in my mind that I made a right and wise choice, as I now get to live my own way and be my own boss.
Wendy: Similarly, I also feel that ever since I was introduced to being a Host, I’ve been able to be true to myself more. I’m glad to have expanded my social network while benefiting from financial gain.
3. How do you decide whether a property has the potential to be a short-term rental?
W&S: Location is the most important factor for us, as most of our guests are travellers and holidaymakers who will spend roughly 1 to 3 months holidaying or enjoying their retirement in Penang.
Other than that, we also take the environment of the unit into consideration. A quiet and peaceful environment near to the beach and shops are a priority for many guests. Interior, quality fittings and furnishing, and amenities also play a major role in determining the potential success of a property as a short-term rental.
Lastly, service from hosts is equally important. Guests always prefer to book with a familiar host over a new host.
4. What are the hidden or unexpected costs to running short-term rental units?
W&S: Damages, or loss of items, that a host may have missed out on checking upon a guest’s departure. Electricity costs can also spike up. And of course, last-minute cancellations due to unexpected cases do happen, whether it’s due to something low-scale such as renovation noises from our neighbours, or a greater issue such as the recent Covid-19 outbreak.
5. What do you do to ensure your units stand out on Airbnb, among the many other rentals available?
W&S: Instead of just offering a place to stay, we treat our guests like friends and family. We try our best to accommodate them and make them feel comfortable staying here. We’re also willing to offer help, especially for guests that wish to stay for the long term.
For example, we will recommend eateries places that locals patronize and bring our guests to tour around Penang as we know that some of them are not familiar with the place.
6. What’s the best experience you’ve had as Hosts?
W&S: One of the best experiences we’ve had was from when we hosted an African lady of Caucasian descent for a month. She ended up becoming a really good friend!
In fact, ever since we started hosting, we’ve gotten to know different guests from different walks of life, which is one of our favourite aspects of hosting.
7. Do you employ a team to ensure guests have the best experience possible? How do you keep your team committed to treating guests like family?
W&S: Yes, we do have a team to handle housekeeping. Meanwhile, Sharon handles our listings on Airbnb; dealing with case managers, price monitoring, etc. Wendy works on liaising with Airbnb guests for all booking-related matters. Both of us work together to inspect and improve the quality of our housekeeping team.
Sharon: We treat our team just like how we treat our guests: as one of our own. We provide training, and follow up with their work from time to time – to ensure that their workload is manageable, and they’re providing good service to our guests. Most importantly, we would like them to work with us as a family and team. We work together, learn from mistakes and work better. Not to forget, checking on guest reviews is one of the important measures to ensure our work is always up to guests’ expectations.
Wendy: We train and encourage our team to grow and progress together with us. We always share a spirit in which no man is left behind.