How This Host Achieved a $7 Million Business Exit: Unveiling the Mystery

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In this episode of the Boostly podcast, Mark and Isaac French discuss Isaac's journey from growing up in Texas to founding Live Oak Lake, which he recently exited for seven million dollars. Isaac shares the story of Live Oak Lake, a unique collection of modern cabins in Texas. The venture achieved significant success, grossing a million dollars in its first year and amassing a large social media following. 

The discussion highlights the critical importance of direct bookings and leveraging social media for marketing in the hospitality industry. Isaac's experience with an Airbnb suspension underscores the risks of reliance on third-party platforms.

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Timestamps (audio)


[00:00:00] Mark: Literally today. At about 12 o'clock my time, I jumped on a call with a, a host who had booked a call with us and he was panicking because he, his listing, his Airbnb account has just been suspended today. It's happened. Uh, 56 listings, 90 plus reservations. I'm looking at the message he sent me now.

[00:00:19] Having a blast, gonna

[00:00:20] Isaac: get it on the Boostly podcast. Boostly like Bruce Lee, cause it's so hard and the T is loose leaf. Licking up those rhymes, don't write it, just do it loosely. If you want my respect, you better book directly. Here are the words in the podcast, that's what comes next.


[00:00:35] Mark: I was thinking about the title of this episode of the Boostly podcast.

[00:00:38] It could be, bought a book for 99 cents, and it ended up selling the business for 7 million dollars. There'd be so much story to tell around that. So instead, what I wanted to do is I wanted to introduce you to Mr Isaac French. For those of you who don't know who Isaac is, you are going to after this. He founded a company called Live Oak Lake that he has just exited for seven million dollars.

[00:01:04] Of seven properties. He's now moving into another venture. He's excited to launch experimental hospitality, but he's going to tell you all about it. So without further ado, let's flip over, have a chat with Isaac and thank you so much for tuning into the podcast. This is one you're going to want to like comment and share.

[00:01:22] Isaac: I grew up, uh, here in central Texas on a farm with, uh, nine siblings, actually a very industrious family. We had lots of home biz, home-based businesses, and my dad had a construction company, so I started working there in high school. I also learned accounting, was always interested in, uh, art and architecture, and studied some of that.

[00:01:46] And. Yeah, a couple of years ago, uh, 2021, I got this idea to build this property of really just a collection of cabins that was, uh, unique to something unique in Texas. And I had lived in Idaho for about 10 years and had seen some cool modern designs like Scandinavian style, uh, A-frames and cabins up there and realized there wasn't.

[00:02:12] Any of that here in Texas. So when I got to Texas, uh, moved back down in 2020 and then started looking for land, stumbled across the little five-acre parcel. It was just a jungle with a cow pond on it. And, but when I walked on the property, I realized there was something special about this piece of land and it was just waiting to be discovered and sort of excavated away, almost like a sculpture that, you know, you just have to chip the marble away to see the true.

[00:02:41] Figure of, of what it really could be. There were these gorgeous, huge live oak trees. And so we bought it and nine and a half months later, after a whole ton of work, planning, designing, building, furnishing, we opened Live Oak Lake up. It's seven modern cabins nestled around the lake. Um, there are, you know, hiking trails and kayaking and fire pits and hammocks.

[00:03:04] It's just a beautiful nature immersive, um, micro resort. And then. Fast forward another year, uh, we had an incredible launch, grossed a million dollars in one year, net over 500, 000, built a social following on Instagram to 100, 000 followers the first 12 months, now we're over 150, 000, and then a quick little Story in there about two or three, well, two stories, about two weeks after we launched, we got kicked off of Airbnb.

[00:03:38] And so I just now spent 2. 3 million to build this property. And, you know, it had just gone all out with all of the details. And then it's just this. The awful, awful feeling when I realize I am completely beholden to this mega-billion dollar corporation that I can't even get through to their customer service.

[00:03:55] There was no warning. There was no reason there was nothing I could do. Thankfully about seven days later, we were restored, but in the meantime, there had just been some glitch with their algorithm thinking that we had false reviews in the meantime. I was like, we have got to figure out some way. I didn't even know, you know, direct booking was a term.

[00:04:12] I was just like, we got to find some way to market this apart from Airbnb. Got in touch with this travel blogger. I didn't even really know anything about Instagram. And we ran a giveaway in seven days. And 950 is what I paid the account. We got 5, 000 followers from scratch and 40, 000 of direct bookings in seven days.

[00:04:35] And so from that moment on, I was like, this is what we're going all in on as a marketing strategy. We pivoted hard. We invested heavily, probably 30 different. Partnerships or that first six-month period or so about 20, 000 put poured into that. You know, we gave away somewhere North of 40 or 50 free nights, which was perfect because we were launching from, zero and we hadn't pre-booked anything.

[00:04:59] So we had a lot of vacancy and yeah, it just supercharged this incredible brand and audience and ended up being a massive blessing in disguise.

Advice for host

[00:05:08] Mark: It's, it's so crazy because today. At about 12 o'clock my time, I jumped on a call with a, a host who had booked a call with us and he was panicking because he, his listing, his Airbnb account has just been suspended today.

[00:05:22] It's happened. Uh, 56 listings, 90 plus reservations. I'm looking at the message he sent me now. And, um, this is where you were 18, 20 months ago, right? When, when you were, when you were properly launching, it's happened to you. So I guess the first question is what piece of advice would you give to this host right now, the one who's going for the same thing as you were a time ago?

[00:05:48] Isaac: Well, the number one thing is. Well, two things. Number one, you have to have a functional direct bookings website. I mean, if you don't have that, then no matter how many eyeballs you get, you're not going to be able to convert them. So you've got to figure out how to create what I was talking about.

[00:06:04] Something that's extremely user friendly, something that works, that's proven, that's tested in just the basic booking function and mechanism. Assuming you have that in place though, I would say. You have to lean into social media, Instagram primarily, but the other channels, the whole space has blown up.

[00:06:25] Actually, the story of Live Oak Lake has gotten so much attention. I think that's been a big catalyst for the whole part, you know, partnering. We certainly weren't the first to do it, but there's, it's like a whole industry now partnering with influencers and all that, but I would say. Invest in that like it's everything because it is in 18 months, we created almost 5 million of value from nothing.

[00:06:50] And I would attribute 80 per cent of that to simply the audience and the brand 80 per cent plus of all of our bookings. And we were 95 percent occupied overall 80 percent plus of. All the bookings came directly from Instagram. So Instagram is the best booking platform ever. So go all in with influencer partnerships, creating quality content and posting that consistently.

[00:07:14] And then just approaching all of that with a very experimental mindset. These things are changing. The algorithms are changing. The trends are changing. You're going to have some duds along the way with some of these influencer partnerships and you're going to have content that you put a lot into but doesn't get a lot of traction, but you got to have that fire in your belly and that experimental attitude that we're going to keep trying stuff, but a situation like the one you're describing, you're right, it's what I found myself in and it's the best kind of situation because you are backed into a corner now.

[00:07:47] Thankfully for me, that happened Two weeks into the entire journey. So it's not like we had to make some hard pivot, but in other ways, it was even more scary because, at that point, I didn't even know if it was a proven model. I didn't know anybody else who was doing what we tried to do. I didn't even know about you.

[00:08:04] Thankfully it worked out, but the fields are ripe for harvest. Yeah. Lean into Instagram.

Approaching influencer partnerships

[00:08:10] Mark: So, uh, I want to just go down that sort of little Avenue. So you, you, you were very fortunate. You, you, uh, were approached or you approached one of these travel bloggers, Instagrams, and what I love is that you call them a partnership.

[00:08:21] And I feel that one of the biggest mistakes that. Hosts make, property management companies make is that they look at it as a spent or they look at it as, Oh, I have to give a free stay away, but you're talking about this as a partnership. So how do you bridge these partnerships? How do you approach them?

[00:08:36] Uh, have you got any sort of little tactics and tips you could pass on to another host who's thinking, Hey, I want to get in front of the Instagram crowd. I want to get in front of the TikTok crowd, the influencer crowd. How do I have these conversations with said influencers?

[00:08:49] Isaac: Yeah, so first things first, you have to find them.

[00:08:52] In my case, somebody found me and they sent me a DM. But then that was sort of like, that was just the window into this whole world. One thing led to another. I then got connected with a fellow host who was just sorting to, uh, sort of starting the same journey herself. And then we started sharing tips, so.

[00:09:12] Excuse me, find other hosts in your region or in your just general locale that, uh, have done this before and then give value to them, exchange value with them. And that was the most, um, effective way of vetting these folks because they know if they're legit or not. Now, in addition to that, if you're going to be super aggressive, don't skimp when it comes to investing in the partnership.

[00:09:40] So I would rather. You know, give away 30 free nights and 50 and let's just say 20 of those or 25 of those do not yield any results, but the remaining five completely blow it out of the water and you never know. So treat everyone with respect treat them, not as a transaction, treat them as a long term relationship, because when you do find the gold in these parts, in these.

[00:10:06] Creators, you want to establish a long-term relationship. So then you want them to come back every six months and they'll be happy to do it. And you may pay them. It's, it's an ongoing service to you. Uh, but this is a long-term relationship with them and their audience is going to continue to grow most likely if they're a good creator to begin with.

[00:10:25] And you know, one of the creators that we partnered with early on, they were like, I don't know, 150, 000 followers. And then 12 to 18 months later, they're, they're at over 500, 000 followers. So you're always building the, you're building the, um, the funnel. You're they're building their funnel and then you're just skimming the cream off the top, so to speak, and leveraging that over time.

[00:10:48] But that only happens when you trust each other and have that long-term relationship. And I've certainly made mistakes and learned this lesson the hard way. And it's, it's sort of like, you know. How much do I need to pay you? And then inevitably there's some expectation that's, uh, that's missed either direction.

[00:11:05] And that's another point I would, I would raise here, which is unless it's someone who is extremely dialled in and this is all they do and they have abundant fruit and a track record to prove that I would handhold quite a bit and set clear expectations for the travel influencer say, Hey, we want. created.

[00:11:29] We want in this style, show them, show them an example of what you're talking about. Um, we want to give away that's going to be two nights. This is how we're going to run it. This is how you're going to promote it. Maybe we're going to do a collab post, whatever it might be, but set the expectation expectations.

[00:11:44] Cause a lot of these folks just, they're the creator type anyways, and they work better. You're going to be happier with the results too. If you have a part to play now, they're going to have very valuable input because in some cases, maybe you're starting from scratch like I was, and you don't know anything about it to begin with, maybe they have worked with these other brands and they know what works and doesn't work.

[00:12:02] So definitely listen to them, but treat it as a long-term relationship and it will pay huge dividends. Having a blast. Can I get it on the Bruce Lee podcast? Bruce Lee is like Bruce Lee. Cause it's so hard on the T is loosely making up those rhymes. Don't write it. Just do it loosely.