David Whelan, founder of Australian corporate accommodation provider Urban Rest Apartments, has world domination on the cards for 2023. But as his business grows, so do the challenges with talent, security and rising costs.

Kochie’s Business Builders last spoke to David earlier in 2022, just as Urban Rest started to feel the windfall of the return of corporate travel after two years of pandemic interruption.

“We’ve probably grown the business fourfold since then, from a revenue perspective,” David tells us. “Price has obviously gone up with inflation… [but] we had some big projects we were waiting to come through starting to go live in the market now. It’s been pretty transformational.”

Urban Rest recently took its first step into Europe with a property in one of the world’s major tech hubs: Dublin, Ireland. With London, Singapore and New Zealand next on the hit list, David shares the most pressing challenges of taking his brand from local to global.

Urban Rest Apartments Dublin

Griffith Wood, Dublin: Urban Rest Apartments’ first European property. Image: Urban Rest Apartments.

The realities of finding the right talent

To get a foothold in the European market, it helps to have a trusted person on the ground. Urban Rest co-founder Izabela Szumierz, is based in London and is managing director of the European operations – including building teams in numerous locations.

“Finding talent in a market where you don’t really have a brand presence can be challenging,” David says. “It’s still significantly difficult just in terms of understanding salary expectations and what the differences are. The cost of living differences. Sydney’s expensive but London’s even more.”

There’s also the consideration of how to make remote teams feel connected as one, offering a consistent level of 24/7 service to Urban Rest’s properties.

“Our customer service team are expected to be able to service people based in Sydney or anywhere remotely in Australia, and should be able to service our properties in the UK and vice versa,” David explains. “So they need to all be singing off the same hymn sheet and being able to collaborate really effectively but based in different time zones. We’re a technology-focused business that does run all of these buildings remotely and that’s how we keep our margin. So considering one department as a global team has been one of the interesting things we’re working through.”

Technology roadmaps and security concerns

As the business scales (the headcount is currently 38 in Australia with plans for small teams to spring up around Europe), so does the need for robust technology. David says Urban Rest is focused on “executing on a technology roadmap” in the coming months to best deliver on its customer service promise, from booking to checkout.

Another hot topic is security. From handling customer data to ensuring strong cybersecurity protocols across a hybrid workforce, David says security is becoming “much more of a focus” for a number of reasons:

  1. Meeting the needs of Europe’s stronger GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations). “In light of the breaches we’ve had in Australia recently – if you have a presence in Europe, any sort of breach of data could have pretty catastrophic consequences,” David adds.
  2. Attracting funding. “As we go through larger funding rounds, you’re expected to just have better security and processes across the board,” he says.
  3. Having a remote global workforce. “They may have different devices that they’re accessing things from in the office or at home or in different locations,” David says.

For Urban Rest, that’s meant investing in more devices for staff to use for work purposes, as many were using home devices that didn’t have consistent security protocols. David’s teams now use Windows 11 modern devices powered by the Intel vPro platform as they’re enabled with built-in security from software to hardware.

Some of the latest Windows 11 security upgrades include enhanced encryption, improved phishing safeguards and AI-enhanced ransomware protection.

“The phishing attempts are getting more and more sophisticated, which means you need better encryption software to take that worry off staff,” he says. “We’ve found that Windows 11 is a great help with the built-in tools. It’s also helped us save costs on not having to have expensive third-party software that we’ve had to install.”

While upgrading to new devices, David learned that buying from the big retailers isn’t the only option for small to medium businesses like his. IT resellers offer businesses of all sizes special pricing arrangements with manufacturers and can assess your device needs to ensure everything is fit for purpose. “As a small business owner who’s always conscious of cost, that’s been a real eye-opener,” he says.

Watch: Tech tips with Urban Rest

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Cost and efficiency, without compromising values

Scaling up may be full of excitement and change, but David stresses that it takes a steady hand to not get caught up in the whirlwind that leads many a startup astray.

“The fact is, we’re going from having very recently been a relatively small business and growing quite quickly, which brings a whole heap of learning curves,” he says. “You have to be very careful to make sure the wheels don’t fall off if you’re just chasing growth at all costs.”

David says that Urban Rest doesn’t need to ‘throw money’ at marketing overseas, leveraging existing relationships to steadily grow the brand. The same goes for technology – if you’ve taken time to set up the right systems, all you have to do is execute.

“Having a focus on cost and efficiency has never been more important,” he says. “And understanding the benefits that your technology providers in particular can add to that and having the right software set up in the backend which will allow you to scale in the most efficient manner possible.”

This never means compromising the unique selling proposition of Urban Rest: high-quality properties with a focus on sustainability and wellbeing. From making sustainable choices with amenities used in apartments to business-wide goals of reaching net zero in their operations, Urban Rest is seeing the power of corporate responsibility in action.

“One of the key drivers between clients wanting our model in other locations is the fact that we do put such a focus on sustainability both in the buildings we’re in but also in the service that we provide,” he says.

“I think an ever-increasing focus for companies as a whole is to make sure they’re minimising their carbon footprint, particularly when they’re travelling, as well as keeping in mind the mental and physical health of their employees when they’re travelling. That’s a big part of why clients are choosing us as their preferred partner and want us to be expanding our model into other locations.”

Learn more about Urban Rest here.

Discover more about the latest security features of Windows 11 Pro on modern devices powered by the Intel vPro platform here.

This article is brought to you by Kochie’s Business Builders in partnership with Microsoft.

Feature image: Supplied.


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Urban Rest Apartments’ global move