Killing the reviews and going aggressive on pricing.

The good reviews have arrived and they feel good.  The skeptic in me now wonders how much they matter because when I look at similar listings they all have perfect review scores too.  Either all our competition is being awesome (I doubt this), or bad ones have quit (maybe), or guests all feel like they have to write good reviews.  It might be a little of all three.  Our first month was the best month so far for income as we only had 2 guests for the full month so there weren’t very many days blocked off for cleaning.  This month we have 7 days blocked off to clean in-between guests.  This accounts for the reduction in money that we are getting.  Our income per night rented is going up but our overall income for the month took a huge hit by not being able to rent an entire week out of the month.  I wonder how much a good cleaning service would cost (and if it would cost less than the money we are loosing cleaning it ourselves).  I’ve started to wonder if we have a friend or sibling who would be happy to do the work.  It is hard to find someone you trust enough as quite a bit depends on them being dependable.  To help compensate for this loss of income I changed the setting on our pricing (we use the website usewheelhouse.com for automated pricing) to aggressive, increasing the base price by $11/night.  I struggle with if this is the right decision and if the only result will be that we will just get more last minute bookings as our pricing comes down as unbooked days approach.  That being said, we have gotten several booking since I’ve made this change.  I would like it if there was some nice metric I could look at to know how this is affecting our listing.  Views have been going down for a while now, however that can just be a function of being about 50% booked through Christmas as the days people search for are not available.  I really wish Airbnb would offer a A/B testing system for their hosts, it could really help me know what is working and what isn’t.  Without science it is just guess work and faith.

Building a better desk controller

At work we have AMQ height adjustable desks.  They use a controller some corporate type probably thought was really cool.  It is that one on the left and it screws into the underside of the desk.  The problem with it is the capacitive touch buttons.  They are unreliable when you want them to work and they often react when you just get near them with your chair causing most people in the office here to set their desks to one position and then unplug them.  They get away with this because they appear to work in a demo and when they sell them to businesses and they are cheaper than the competition that probably makes a better controller.  The rest of the desk is fine so I decided to make my own controller.

To start off I need to figure out how the controller works.  To do this I used a Analog Discovery USB scope.  It was easily the best tool I’ve bought for my own electronics hobbies and is worth double what they charge for it.  The software is awesome and works on mac, linux, and windows.  There is even an API so you can use it with your own code.  Using a breadboard and a couple Ethernet jack breakouts I made a way to sniff the lines driven by the controller.  With this I drew this diagram:

If you are smarter than me you will see a problem with this diagram that I discover later.  However you can see that it is relatively simple.  Each of the buttons pull one or two of the lines to ground when then are pressed.  Also, I figured out how the number display works.  It is just a UART line.  Here are my notes on how the UART works:

When the numbers are displayed there are short bursts of 4 8-bit values sent over the UART line.  When height number is displayed it sends two 1’s and then the height value as a integer.  This then translates to a fractional value by dividing by 10.  Secondly, when you press the memory button to set memory it sends 1, 6, a bit that corresponds to the memory setting, and then 0.  Lastly there is an error state that displays A,S,and most of a F on the screen.  This happens when the encoder has lost it’s place and you have to run the thing all the way to the bottom for it to zero again.  Here is an image from the software for the logic analyzer showing a burst on the serial line:

One thing I really like about the Waveforms software is how easy the cursors are.  Expensive rack mounted test equipment usually doesn’t have this useful of cursors.  My next step was selecting the components I was going to use to build my controller.  Here is what I chose (some of these were used because they were parts I had on hand from previous projects):

To build this here are the tools I used:

First I drilled out and test fitted my face plate on my enclosure.  Here is a few pictures of that process:

I then cutout the space for the display by drilling the corners and then cutting the plastic with a razor blade.  If I were to do this again I’d use a smaller drill bit for the corners and cut using a dremmel.  Doing it this way took a long time.For the buttons I soldered stranded wire onto the leads and crimped female 0.1 headers onto the other side.  Here are some pictures of that process:

One of my buttons was too close to the pcb mounting point to screw on the nut.  I used an appropriate sized drill bit to cut it away:

With all that done the next step was to prototype the circuit and program the microcontroler.  To do this I used a breadboard and prototyping wires.  Here is where I learned I missed a few things before.  For one the power connection.  Before I was a bit confused about pin 3 and 4 which both seemed to be connected to power.  By using the scope I discovered that pin 4 was only high when the other controller was plugged it however it was at a slightly smaller voltage than pin 3 which was always high.  This lead me to believe that the controller was pulling it high to let to motor controller know it was plugged in.  I tied it to the high line using a resistor and all seemed to work on the power front.

Next I discovered that if I wired up the buttons as I had drawn in my first diagram current would flow back through the lines I’d connected together and buttons that pulled only one line low (up and down) no longer worked after I connected those lines together on one side of some of the memory set buttons.  To fix this I used electronic one way valves, aka diodes with a circuit like this:

This worked great and I was on to programming the microcontroler.  This proved to be a bit challenging because the trinket I had chosen was so limited in pins and codespace.  Because it did not have a hardware UART I had to use the SoftwareSerial library.  For controlling the LED display I used the I2C connection and Adafruit’s library.  However, because of the limited code-space to get my binary to fit I had to comment out parts of Adafruit’s library that was for the matrix displays.  Here is the code I wrote for the trinket:

Here is the final circuits and a picture of my prototyping setup:

Once I proved that it all worked I soldered it all together on a prototyping board and assembled the box.  To mount the pcb I used hot glue to secure some standoffs.  I also used hot glue to secure the display in it’s spot.

Lastly I cutout the spot for the ethernet jack with a dremel and screwed the whole thing together.  I now use it on my desk at work and it is awesome.

Two down and still no reviews

We’ve had two wonderful guests and our third is in the house.  Both left the house in great condition and were easy to communicate with.  However we don’t have any reviews yet.  I wrote good reviews of them.  I know it will work out in the end, I’m just anxious and am wondering if there is anything we could do to communicate to our guests how important reviews are too us without asking for reviews.  I hate it when people ask me for reviews.

I shouldn’t really worry because the real measure of our success is our bookings and on that front we are doing great.  We are booked through the end of October, once in November and the week over Christmas.  So far that is great, because we have yet to have an unbooked day.  Percentage of booked days over time and the average nightly price should be the real measure, not reviews.  However a review really would feel good.

What we learned from our first guests

Today we cleaned the house after a guest for the first time.   Because we booked back to back with a guest checking out at noon and another checking in at 3pm we only had 3 hours to clean.  This was a bit stressful thought we got through it just fine.  The guests that checked out were nice and left the house relatively clean.  However, there was a couple extra things we had to address.  The new washer and dryer needed a stack kit, I needed to adjust one of the gate sensors, and we wanted to install a key lockbox on the house.  That last one is because our first guests managed to lock the door handle on the front door and there was no key down there for it.  This way if a guest does this we can tell them how to get into that lockbox and they can get back into the house.  We also put a key in there for the deadbolt in case somehow the electronic parts of it fail.  One thing this made us realize is that doing this on a weekday could be really difficult and if a guest leaves the house really dirty or something breaks of no fault of our guest there would be no way for us to fix it before the other guest can check in.  As a result we enabled a feature on Airbnb that blocks off the day before and after each reservation to allow us to clean the place easier and fix things if need be.  I’m a little sad about this because it will mean we make less money but it will probably make our lives less stressful.

The second thing that our first guests taught us was that our automated messaging from Smartbnb is too spamy and they don’t read it, that is because it sounds automated.  Also, if they don’t have the airbnb app it texts them the first little bit of the message and they probably just ignore the rest as it would show up in their email.  We are going to have to find some way to shorten these messages or get them to read all of them in their email if they don’t have the app.

Also, they were awesome and left a couple pins in our map:

Here is a link so you can check out the listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19534111

We keep changing the title of our listing, here are a few of the ones we’ve tried:

  • The Hideaway — quiet/comfortable/private
  • Designer Renovated Secluded Adventure Hideaway
  • Modern Updated Hideaway w/ Patio and Firepit
  • The Hideaway: Whole Home w/ Private Patio, Firepit

Custom Emergency Contact Card for our AirBnB

I wanted unique signs for our AirBnB so I used Photoshop to create these.  They are very simple but look great on the fridge at our place.  Here they are.  There is an emergency contact card, quick reference to where to find the fire extinguisher and first aid kit, wifi login, and lastly our house rules.

 

A blur of excitement and preparation

The first few days on Airbnb have been a blur.  We listed on Sunday evening and are already booked through the end of October.  The next real challenge will be on Sunday when we have our first guests checking out at noon and our next guests checking in at 3.  On Monday we got our first booking, Thursday through Sunday and our first “Verification Pending” booking for the next couple weeks.  That booking fell through and we got a second booking on Tuesday almost as soon as the pending one went away for Sunday through Friday.  Then we got a couple of booking inquiries for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The one for thanksgiving found a larger place that’d work better for their family.  They wanted some place with multiple bathrooms as that made it easier “traveling with girls”.  The one for Christmas asked if we would be ok with two well trained rotties and I responded saying that rotties are awesome and they are welcome to book the place.  When I do that it starts a 24 hour counter.  After 24 hours they had not booked it and the pre-approval expired.  They messaged saying that they are trying to coordinate with 4 people and will give us an answer by the end of the week.  In response I sent them a special offer to book the place at the rate in the first pre-approval.  I did this because we increased our cleaning fee form $40 to $75 realizing that resetting the place after people stay there with pets and children is going to be a lot of work.  Then we got a booking for 25 days starting on Friday.  This time with a picture and a verified account.  I believe it is the same person as before as the first name for both accounts is the same.   In short this week has been crazy already and we are super excited.

The crazyness hasn’t just been the booking though, we’ve been doing a bunch of work up to the last minute to prepare for the first guest.  Beth took Tuesday off work and did an amazing job cleaning up the yard.  I came over after work and we spent a couple hours cleaning and then while we doing a home depot run for some mulch for the planters we realized that our guests that are staying for a while will probably want to use the washer and dryer.  And while we lived there for the last 4 years and used that set to do laundry we realized guests probably wouldn’t appreciate how poorly the dryer works.  For one it just doesn’t work that well at drying clothes so you have to run it for a very long time and be careful to not overfill it.  The second thing is that it causes a ton of humidity in the house when it is running resulting in that humidity condensing on the walls in the bathroom and hallway and causing those walls to become grimy.  As a result we hopped on craigslist and looked for a new set.  We found a couple we liked and sent out emails asking if we could buy them either that night or the next day.  One that we really liked responded saying we could get it that night so we went and bought it.  It took till 1:30 am before we finally got home, but now the house has a new washer and dryer that the guests won’t have to fight.  Also, we are super stoked about the fact that this dryer uses a condenser to remove moisture and has a drain output.  On the next day Wednesday we finished up cleaning and setting the house up for the first guests after we got off work.  This morning I sent our guest a message letting them know the house is ready and they can check in when ever they want today.  Now we just have to sit back and wait for any messages from our guests and new booking requests.

Here is a picture of the new (to us) washer and dryer we installed:

Once again, here is a link to the listing for all the details on it: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19534111

Here we go!

Last night we listed our first property on AirBnB.  This was really exciting and we were holding our expectations in check.  For pricing we are using wheelhouse and it recommended a base price of $155.  We thought this sounded high as we are just getting started and have no reviews so we set it at $124.  When we woke up this morning we had couple real surprises.  The first day we set to be available was Thursday and  someone had booked our place for Thursday through Sunday.  For messaging we are using smartbnb.io and in less than a minute of them booking the place it had sent them a message thanking them for booking the place.  They responded thanking us for responding so quickly.  So far we are off to a great start.  We decided that maybe we should block off Monday as this is our first booking and we want to make sure we can clean the place before anyone else books it.  I log onto airbnb to do this and discover that someone has booked Sunday Oct 1st through Oct 15th.  However instead the status shows Pending Verification.  Looking this up it means that they have about a day to finish their reservation and confirm their info.  We are really excited about this whole process and the fact that we’ve seen such immediate success at getting a couple bookings.  After that I blocked off Monday Oct 16th to make sure we can clean the place before anyone else shows up.  There are still a few small things we need to button up here before we are ready for Thursday.

How to connect a data API to your react app

This is something that seems like it should be obvious and it probably is to those who create websites regularly, however I struggled with it for a bit.  This tutorial from Fullstack React is awesome and helped me figure this out.  The TL;DR version is below.

Use two nodejs servers, one to serve the client application (that can then be bundled by webpack) and one to serve the api in development.  To run these at the same time use the tool concurrently.  Then when you are ready for deployment you can pack the client app (that you built into a static asset with webpack) and then serve it by the api server with this code:

Then you just copy the code to run the api server and client/build folder to your server and run it how you would normally there.  As to a example of how you serve data to your react app here is an example.

Server:

Client:

React Component:

For a more detailed example refer to the article listed above.  This is something I learned recently while improving rallyscores.com.  You can find the source of that site on GitHub.

 

How to learn something you’ve been struggling with

If there is something you want to learn, instead of trying the brain-dead method taught in schools where you try to read a textbook and take tests, find something you want to do that requires that topic.  This has been a useful heuristic for me.  By doing a project I learn what I want in a deeper way.  The natural next step is to answer the question what project do you want to do instead of what do you want to learn.  Then go do those projects and learn new things.

You don’t want to learn something for that thing anyway, you want to learn because that learning gives you new power to do things.  I find that it is just best to do things and learn what you need along the way.

Go forth and hack something, it’s good for you.