Getting to know the founder and CEO of UnderTheDoormat, Merilee Karr.
Why did you set up your own company?
I’d been working for Shell for 12 years and during that time it gave me so much, but I wanted to create something new – something which could really change how people do things.
I’ve travelled a lot in life – I lost count of how many countries I’ve visited after I hit about 70. And throughout all of my trips the best stays have been those that gave me a chance to really get under the skin of a place – to see it like a local person would.
Then living in London I could see how many homes are sitting empty while people are away, and I realised that we could let these homes to visitors and to give them a much more authentic local experience than a hotel would offer, but without the homeowner having to take care of everything themselves. And it just went from there.
Why did you call the company ‘UnderTheDoormat’?
It goes so well with the idea that when you go away you leave keys for your friends under the doormat. It’s personal and welcoming and those are two things we really want our guests to feel when they arrive. And the concept works across all cultures.
Do you actually leave the key under the doormat?!
Haha, no! We personally check all of our guests in when they arrive and out when they leave.
What are you proudest of achieving in UnderTheDoormat’s first two years?
Oh it’s got to be the team.
Starting up a company by yourself is daunting, but I’ve been so lucky with the support I’ve had. We’ve now built a great board with huge experience in this sector and the team itself has gone from just me to 8 people now.
The most important thing for me has been to build the right culture. I want to work with people who believe in and share the company values and I’m very grateful that I do.
And the most exciting moment in a start-up?
That’s a hard one… The thing about a start-up is that everything is happening for the first time and that’s what makes it all so exciting. Our first booking, our first employee, Olesya, our first office, even our first global insurance policy – you never think of insurance as exciting but when you’re building something for the first time it is!
What do you love most about London?
Oooohhhh. Well it’s got to be the diversity and opportunities, hasn’t it? I know lots of people say that, but the possibilities seem endless in every direction in this city. London is one of the leading cities for managed accommodation in the sharing economy, and that’s because it’s a place where people are always looking for new things, for new opportunities.
What do you hate most about London?
The mayonnaise [laughs]. Seriously, what is it with English people putting Mayonnaise on everything?
Where do you want to be living in 5 years’ time?
I have no idea where I’ll be living but wherever I am I want to keep on travelling. Travelling is like an accelerated learning experience and there are still so many places I haven’t been able to visit.
What about UnderTheDoormat – where will that be in 5 years’ time?
Everywhere I hope! [Laughs]. No the natural first step is Europe – there are a lot of cities where UnderTheDoormat would thrive – my dream is to build a global brand. The concept works everywhere and with a bit of luck we’ll get to take it around the world.