Don’t worry about hotels anymore – the latest travel trend is to just embrace La Dolce Vita of home exchanging. We spoke to HomeExchange.com‘s new Chief Operating Officer, Jim Pickell, for some advice.
From Sony to OpenEnglish and now HomeExchange – what made you leave a major, universally known company to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I left Sony in 2007, after seven years. I was ultimately responsible for the digital distribution of film, music and eBooks. This was an exciting time as the traditional means of distributing physical products was being fundamentally transformed, and I am proud of what we accomplished during that period. While at Sony, I found the evolution of Apple’s educational content offering via ITunes University to be compelling. Using a personalised platform that would offer online English learning presented an exciting opportunity. My wife was born in Italy and learned English the old fashion way – by watching television. That’s where the concept was born. Making learning entertaining and accessible with personalised edu-tainment. OpenEnglish now has over 2000 employees.
Ironically, home exchanging is how I met Ed Kushins. I realized the most effective way to relocate my family for a short period was with an exchange. I sent an inquiry to Ed through HomeExchange.com, not realising that he was the CEO! While the exchange with Ed didn’t pan out, we got together and realised we shared a vision for the concept. My wife ended up giving birth to our child while on my first exchange so it certainly has had an influence on our family in more ways than one.
With your background as a digital business expert, do you think technology will allow pure players such as HomeExchange to revolutionize the travel industry?
I recently read that more than 10% of weddings in the United States were initiated on dating websites. Services like this have changed the way we make one of the most important decisions in our lives. With home exchanging, you’re trying to find a perfect “match.” The cost of a mistake can be high and establishing the trust of the intermediary is critical – and yet we’re getting far more sophisticated at suggesting prospective matches. HomeExchange now has members in 150 countries and supports 16 languages. This is a trend that I certainly don’t see ending anytime soon.
Is HomeExchange a player in the sharing economy, and how?
Well, HomeExchange has been a leader of the sharing economy before anyone called it the “sharing economy.” Our CEO Ed started the company over twenty years ago. Homes are the largest personal asset class in the world. With a home exchange, you release value that’s otherwise constrained. This is increasingly important, as homes are not always the piggy bank we thought.
What are some of your favourite places to visit, or ways to use HomeExchange?
In the past two years, we’ve arranged about six trades. All of them had unique motivations and have facilitated friendships I expect will be life-long. For example, my four year old son is just learning to ski. I was shocked how expensive the sport has become to learn. We have a second home in Baja in Mexico and worked out an ideal situation with the owners of a beautiful, four bedroom family home in Mammoth Mountain in California. In fact, this week the owners are staying in our primary residence in Newport Beach while we’re at our second home. This is a prime example of how these relationships can evolve if you’re a bit creative.
We’ve also exchanged with Palm Desert, California. This is a great weekend escape for us and we expect to repeat this. We love Hawaii and traded last year with professional chefs in Kauii (what a tremendous kitchen!). We spent a month last summer in Sardinia, off the coast of Italy. One of the owners was having some health issues before our trip and couldn’t come to the U.S. when the exchange was scheduled. Instead of cancelling, they rented a home for us down the street. It was certainly over and above what we expected. Our families spent much of our month together and we saw what living in Sardinia would be like. This Christmas, we received five pounds of fresh salmon in the mail from an owner of another swap we arranged in Alaska, even though we’ve yet to make our trip! The generosity of exchangers never ceases to amaze me.
The key today lies in the internet, which mixes our dynamics and sense of adventure, bringing out the flexibility of work and life. We all use technology to our advantage in our contemporary lifestyles, and in fact, we have just recently seen the launch of an all-new Definitive Guide to HomeExchanging, created as an E-guide by global travellers Chris and Hannah. They are long-standing home-exchangers, and I feel they depict how the new world is developing, allowing work, family, freedom and travel to co-exist.
We typically take a number of local trips every year and one larger trip. I can work while I travel, so pretty much anywhere that has the internet is on our list. Our next exchange is to the San Juan Islands off the state of Washington in the U.S. As a sailor and someone that loves the outdoors, this has always been the top of my list. In the future, we have plans to visit Vietnam and Tahiti as well.