It’s a story as old as the Internet. Ideas are now funded on the mere existence of the idea itself. Where once businesses were built one metaphorical brick at a time, today they are often built before they have actually built anything. A brand is a brand before selling a product. A business has value before consumers have decided whether it has value. It’s a common story of the 21st century, but it’s not the one told by MW from Mexico City.
Carlos Weber and his brother Enrique Weber started Mr. W, a booming vacation rental business, by listing a simple sofa bed on Airbnb. Slowly but surely they grew their business which now manages over 100 properties and has hosted thousands of guests without any upfront investment. Right time, right place? Of course you could say that. However, their story paints a much more deeply rooted picture.
Their story isn’t just the story of using technology to foster a pre-Silicon Valley way of growing a business, it’s also a love ode to Mexico. Meeting Carlos, I felt that Mr. W is a company that remembers its mission: to offer people a home away from home and make them fall in love with all the wonders and mysteries of their country. . Their properties in Mexico City and Valle de Bravo focus on eye-catching design and a hospitality experience that feels all-Mexican while catering to modern, remote labor markets. With expansion plans in Guadalajara, Tulum and San Miguel de Allende, I caught up with Mr. W to learn more about their humble beginnings and, even more, how they came to the slogan “Hotels are boring “.
Natalie Stoclet: Let’s start at the beginning, how did you start Mr. W?
Mr W: After college, a friend of mine told me I should take a look at the vacation rental space in Europe. It was just about to become a trend. It was years ago, when I lived alone in the La Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. I ended up listing my extra room with a sofa bed on Airbnb. There were very few listings on Airbnb in Mexico City at the time. My brother started doing the same with his apartment and we started living for free just by renting out our extra rooms. It was my light bulb moment, I realized there was a real opportunity here. Another apartment in my building became available. I rented it out, invested in furniture and design, and started subletting it. We grew up very slowly and thoughtfully, and at first it was just me and my brother. We have done everything from welcoming our guests to designing the spaces. We first proved the idea, then we made it successful. Today we have 150 apartments, some in properties like Casa Uma which has only nine suites and others like Miravalle which has 25 units.
NS: How did others view your business when you started it?
Mr W: Everyone doubted us. They didn’t understand how we were letting people we didn’t know into our house. People were uncomfortable with the idea. But we continued. When we got to 20 apartments in three years, my family and friends started to change their minds and asked us to invest. Before that, we had never accepted money from others to expand or start our business.
NS: How important has interior design been to Mr. W’s success?
Mr W: It was vital, especially to make our customers feel comfortable, whatever their age. I never want anyone to come into one of my apartments and tell me they loved it, but for their daughters or their sons. It was also a way to present the best of Mexican culture to guests from all over the world. In most of my spaces, I only use Mexican artists and designers. We source our supplies largely from Guadalajara, the best furniture companies and the design comes from there.
NS: How did you get into the design world?
Mr W: At first I never thought I would be in the design world, but I think it’s just a matter of taste. Thanks to my mother’s job as a flight attendant for Mexicana Airlines, I was able to travel all over the world as a child. When you have that education, you end up getting the best details out of everything you see. I think everyone can learn to have good taste. It’s a mix of practice and something you have inside.
NS: What do you see as the biggest opportunity in vacation rentals?
Mr W: The biggest opportunity for me is that you don’t have to be a millionaire to turn a bedroom into a source of income. In Mexico City, before Airbnb, there were only a few hotel chains, and all the money went to those families. Today, anyone can put a hammock or a tree house on Airbnb and make money from it. This money can help them pay their rent or their mortgage. It’s a huge opportunity. Businesses like mine, which started with a sofa bed and are now a large group, also have the opportunity to help other people. For example, we only hire housekeepers who are single mothers. If they work for a family, they have no benefits. If they work for Mr. W, they do.
NS: What is your responsibility towards Mexican hospitality?
Mr W: My team, I call them property managers, personally go to every check-in. We give you local recommendations and make sure you can see the best that Mexico City has to offer, whether in the apartment through the design or in the neighborhood. I like to pamper guests because when they leave Mexico they will speak well not only of my property, but also of the country.
NS: Where does the slogan “Hotels are boring” come from?
Mr W: I got it from my guests, they traveled a lot and they were tired of the same room service, the same menu, the same offer. They told me that there comes a time when you want to feel at home. You want to be able to make your own sandwich or quesadilla in a kitchen that’s uniquely yours. This is where hotels get boring. In our apartments we let you be yourself. If you don’t want to know anything about us during your stay, then you won’t know anything about us.
NS: Have you ever seen yourself opening something more like a hotel?
Mr W: Some of my properties like Miravalle on Avenida Mexico are more like a hotel, except they’re not boring. That said, who knows! I actually changed my tagline to “Hospitality Experts” instead of “Hotels Are Boring” because I don’t want to speak badly of hotels. There is room for everyone. During peak hours in Mexico City, such as Dia De Los Muertos or Formula 1, there is not a single room left available. Not in hotels, not at Airbnbs. I remember twenty years ago hotels were complaining about timeshares. Now, hotels have entire departments dedicated to timeshares. There is room for all of us to grow.
NS: How has COVID-19 affected Mr. W and the Mexico City landscape?
Mr W: Just like you, most people are now working from home. Before 2020 my average length of stay was five nights, now it is five weeks. It’s incredible. It’s logical too. In California or New York, you pay that much rent for a small room. You also pay a lot for Uber or any other transportation. A cocktail is $15, a beer $12. Then you come to Mexico and you can pay the same rent but for a two bedroom with a balcony in a prime location. Uber is really cheap here, and cocktails and food are at incredible prices. It’s a big time for Mexico City, and it’s a culture that cares deeply about hospitality.
NS: What advice would you give to first-time entrepreneurs?
Mr W: Start simple, no matter what others say. Trust your feelings, trust your heart and be a good person. Be kind to your staff, respect the environment and support the locals. You can make all the mistakes you want, but if you do it without any bad intentions, people will give you another chance. If your business goes bankrupt but you have treated your staff well, they will join you when you open a new one. It’s about being honest about your mistakes. I have an amazing job, I meet so many different people every week and I see the opportunities are endless.