Featured Founder: Robert Geller of FabStayz
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Robert Geller, Founder and CEO of FabStayz, an LGBTQ+ travel platform aggregating recognized inclusive accommodations from established short-term rental booking sites.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
The inspiration for FabStayz came from my own personal experience as an Airbnb host since 2015 combined with my ten years in the LGBTQ+ travel space as the founder of Outings & Adventures Gay Travel.
Prior to leaping into the travel and accommodations sectors I founded a small specialty retail chain based in Tampa Bay that grew to five stores including locations in Ybor City, WestShore Plaza and trendy South Howard Avenue’s entertainment district. After exiting my retail stores I joined the Melting Pot Restaurant Support Center in Tampa where I oversaw the creation and development of a spinoff sub-brand, a freestanding kiosk that would go into malls selling personal sized fondue and chocolate treats.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
I felt the pain point as a gay Airbnb host, as a traveler using their platform and heard stories from LGBTQ+ travelers all over the world sharing their experiences along with ally hosts too, the anxiety and wonder, the concern for safety, is the host truly welcoming to members of the LGBTQ+ community?
When I would host guests there was always a common sequence of dialogue; how was your flight, what brings you to town and here are my recommendations of things to do while visiting. The next question although benign was always the same from my guest, ‘what do you do for a living.’
I was faced with ‘coming out’ to a total stranger, a person who would be staying in my home for the next 3-4 nights, do I tell the truth, do I blurt it out? They’re standing two feet away from me, the answer, ‘I own a gay travel company,’ how would that go over.
My goal was to remove that anxiety and that concern of safety while booking and utilizing short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo, HomeAway and TripAdvisor.
What gets me excited is knowing we are making a positive impactful in the lives LGBTQ+ travelers and hosts. Meetings travelers and hosts virtually, attending conferences and hearing their stories from around the world of how what we are creating in bringing joy to their lives, that’s what gets me excited.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
The expected answer here would be funding or building a two sided marketplace where it’s a chicken versus the egg dilemma, both legitimate real life challenge for my scrappy startup. However the bigger challenge has been navigating every aspect of building a business ground up as a solo founder with me and a laptop at the helm of every decision. It’s not unlike the self isolation each of us experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having a sounding board and the presence of other viewpoints is important especially when building a platform to appeal to a diverse community. I’ve courted potential partners however my vision has been very clear through the development of the platform and branding. It just hasn’t made sense yet to bring on a partner.
I’ve overcame the challenge by enlisting ‘brand advisors’ who represent all the letters of the acronym LGBTQ+ ensuring the FabStayz brand internally and externally speaks to and represents truly diverse perspectives. I’m extremely proud of the diversity, inclusion and equity representation we’ve created.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Next is our website relaunch marketing campaign set for July. The new site, up now, has been under development to replace our original beta site with enhanced enduser experiences from both the perspectives of hosts joining our platform and travelers discovering FabStayz for the first time.
To fuel the relaunch we’re partnering with LGBTQ+ travel influencers highlighting FabStayz during their summer road trips. Other initiatives include; co-producing a vlog speaking to queer women travelers, FabStayz original travel blog content written in the voice of our drag queen flight crew and summer travel giveaways.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you’d share with another founder just starting out.
Be great at networking. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be great at networking. If you can stalk an ex on social media or find the best pizza delivery during a pandemic you can network with the leaders and influential in your industry. The six degrees of separation theory is more like 2-3 degrees, which is practically family. When you hone your LinkedIn skills combined with actively connecting to those key players in your sector you’ll be amazed at whose inner circle you can infiltrate!
Keep up with the latest in Tampa Bay startup news, local talent interviews and founder resources.
Delivered to your inbox every Thursday.