While running a growing business as his day job, Ed Kushins began HomeExchange.com in the early ‘90s as a way to combine his love for travel and his enthusiasm for the home exchange concept. Now retired from his main business, Ed has made HomeExchange.com into the wildly successful business that has been featured the hit movie “The Holiday”.
“This is going to be a way I can do something I really like.”
In the first of a three-part interview, Ed discusses his career path leading up to Home Exchange and his first home-trading experience.
See how Ed addressed:
Read the full interview:
Avocationist: Ed, could you tell me what you do for a living right now?
“The sale has allowed me the ability to work full time on the thing that I really, really love to do, which is HomeExchange.com”
Ed:Well, I am in transition right now because I had a company that was basically my day job that we sold three years ago. The sale has allowed me the ability to work full time on the thing that I really, really love to do, which is HomeExchange.com; a company I started in 1992.
So what do I do for a living? I really don’t actually have to do it anymore for a living, because I don’t need the money, but I totally love what I am doing, and that is managing and growing HomeExchange.com.
Avocationist: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about HomeExchange.com?
“Comfortable vacations using the concept of ‘you stay in my house while I stay in yours.’”
Ed:HomeExchange.com is a website that essentially provides people the ability to take incredibly inexpensive and interesting and comfortable vacations using the concept of “you stay in my house while I stay in yours.” We are the largest home exchange agency on the web. We have right now over 24,000 listings in over 100 countries and we are pretty much recognized as the leader in the industry.
Avocationist: So you started that company in 1992?
Ed: I started the company in 1992 and at that time we called it “Trading Homes International.” It was pre-internet, printed directories; it was a laborious chore to contact people to post your listing and to get the directory, but it was the only thing available at the time and the Internet wasn’t even really on the horizon at the time. I started that company in 1992 because it was a concept that I really believed in.
“My objective in starting the company while I was actually working full-time at my other business was to give me a transition into doing something that I really, really loved to do.”
My objective in starting the company while I was actually working full-time at my other business was to give me a transition into doing something that I really, really loved to do. I saw Home Exchange as a way to travel, to travel inexpensively, and while I was traveling, to spread the word about the concept of Home Exchange and at the same time make a little money. So to me, it was going to be the perfect transition into retirement.
Avocationist: Can you walk us through your career and how you got started and how you got to where you are now?
“As a marketing manager, I had five years of extensive marketing and travel; two things that I really loved to do.”
Ed: I graduated from UCLA in 1968, which was the absolute height of the Vietnam War. I chose to go into ROTC so that as soon as I graduated from UCLA, I had a three-year commitment for the Navy, which I absolutely loved every single second of. I went to Navy supply school as an officer and after six months, I went to submarine school and then spent two years on a submarine. That was my Navy career. I always liked to travel before that and even though I was in the service during the Vietnam War, it really wasn’t that kind of war experience. I had a great experience. I was based in Hawaii and we did a number of very interesting operational patrols, but we also got to make stops in Japan and Hong Kong and Guam, so we had some very, very interesting traveling and it just whetted my appetite for travel.
So when I got out of the Navy, I got into grad school at USC and after graduating from there, I got a job with an airline. It was Flying Tigers Airline, which at that time was the largest cargo-only airline in the world. As a marketing manager, I had five years of extensive marketing and travel; two things that I really loved to do. Most of my travel was to Asia at the time.
“I didn’t really want to be moving while my wife was pregnant and she wasn’t very excited about living in Japan, so I left the airline and took over my dad’s two-person business.”
Then in 1978, my dad was retiring from a small business that he owned and my wife was pregnant with our first kid, and the company wanted to move me to Japan to take over the terminal in Tokyo. I didn’t really want to be moving while my wife was pregnant and she wasn’t very excited about living in Japan, so I left the airline and took over my dad’s two-person business. It was a metal recycling business in Los Angeles. I didn’t work for him; I basically bought it from him and took it over. I had sort of been brought up in the business so I knew quite a bit about it and my intention was not to keep it a two-man business but to grow it, and over the years I did just that: I grew it from a two-man business to about 50 employees.
Avocationist: Had you always planned to take over your dad’s business?
“I had never planned to take over the business.”
Ed:I had never planned to take over the business. It was a blue collar, low-tech, regional business. It didn’t seem to offer much for a guy who had an MBA and it was not anything I was really interested in doing, especially the way my dad ran it, which was driving the truck and doing a lot of grunt work by hand. I was moving off in a coat-and-tie kind of direction with staff and things like that.
“It was like being a new kid on the block.”
But I saw some opportunities in the marketplace. Because it was such a low-tech industry, to take just some very basic marketing ideas and financial things and offer some new services, it really allowed a lot of growth. It was like being a new kid on the block who had resources that nobody else had, which in my case was really just marketing ideas and I was able to grow the business. Within the region I was able to become quite successful. So I turned that job, which was labor intensive for me, and I did really become a manager. I got off the truck and wasn’t really doing any of the work myself. So I felt very happy that I was able to grow that business.
“My house, with a couple of kids at the beach, had always been like an open-door house.”
The transition and the decision to start Home Exchange, really was a bit of an evolution and it came from going back to the early ‘90s; someplace, somehow I had heard about this home exchange concept. My house, with a couple of kids at the beach, had always been like an open-door house anyway. The kids were coming in and out and their friends were coming in and out and people were always coming down to the house because we lived at the beach, so I always felt comfortable having people in the house. With Home Exchange, everyone’s first question is that they are worried about having a stranger in my house, and with my personality and experience, to me that was a non-issue.
“There were a number of places I wanted to take my kids that I knew were going to be sort of challenging with two kids.”
So I had heard someplace in the ‘90s about this home exchange concept and it seemed really intriguing to me. I was recently divorced and there were a number of places I wanted to take my kids that I knew were going to be sort of challenging with two kids, such as Washington, D.C. or New York City. Teenagers and living in a hotel room - I just knew from all of the hotel traveling that I had done that it was not going to be a comfortable or happy situation. With the home exchange idea, the fact that it was going to be free accommodations and a bigger home and more comfortable seemed really appealing to me, but I couldn’t find the people who offered the service. I knew that somebody did, but I really didn’t know who they were or where they were.
This was pre-internet. There was no Google or search engines or anything, so they had this thing in the “L.A. Times” called “Ombudsman.” You wrote them a letter and they would do a search and then a month later they would mimeograph something like an article they had run three years ago. And I found a couple of people who offered the service and it just looked excellent. So I signed up with two different agencies that offered the service and they had a limited number of homes that were available.
“I wasn’t asking for any money or anything, I was just going to try to help.”
I was able to arrange an exchange and I took my kids to Washington, D.C. and we had the best time. It was a fabulous experience and I was totally hooked on home exchange. So I wrote to both of these companies, and they are still both in business and I still have the letters that they wrote back to me. I wrote to them saying, “Hey; first of all, it took me a long time to find you guys. Second of all, you guys have this great concept, but not very many listings. I would love to be able to work with you guys. I am not looking for a job, I am just looking to give you guys some marketing ideas.” I was rejected by one and I didn’t hear back from the other one. They just said, “No thanks. We appreciate the offer but we will just continue doing what we are doing.” I wasn’t asking for any money or anything, I was just going to try to help.
Avocationist: What was it about that Washington trip that made it such a great experience?
“I had done trips like that with my kids before and come back to a hotel room where there are three people and two chairs and one TV.”
Ed:First of all, Washington is a tough tourist town because you are out all day long. You come back and you are exhausted. I had done trips like that with my kids before and come back to a hotel room where there are three people and two chairs and one TV and I get up at 5:00 in the morning and I want to read. We were doing fun stuff, but I will just say it was not a comfortable situation. That is why I thought home exchange would be great, and we ended up with this fantastic place. It was not right in walking distance to the White House, but it was like three subway stops away in a beautiful residential area. My son and my daughter each had their own bedroom and the house had five bedrooms, so we invited two of their best friends who had moved to Atlanta. They came up and stayed with us with their parents. The house was big enough for everybody. There was a pool table, a pinball machine, 5 TVs, a library. The guy I exchanged with had been an Undersecretary of the Army and he arranged special trips for us to The Mint. It was such a comfortable, wonderful situation. It totally sold me on home exchange.
“My neighbors had a great time with the guy. It was a perfect experience.”
I never met the guy whose home we stayed in, but I talked to him a few times. He moved into my house in Hermosa Beach and it was in the middle of the summertime, and my neighbors had the best time with this guy because he had more political stories and they would sit around the barbeque having beers almost every night. He had been Undersecretary of the Army in the Carter Administration and he had all these stories about the hostage crisis. I only heard it secondhand. My neighbors had a great time with the guy. It was a perfect experience.
My kids loved it. They felt so comfortable. There were a couple of days where we were wiped out from traveling so we just hung around the house. That is not that easy to do if you are in a hotel room. Everything that home exchange is supposed to be, that is what we had. Plus we stocked up the kitchen so there was milk and cereal and snacks and drinks, so when somebody was hungry they just went to the kitchen and got something to eat. It was a real pleasure.
“I loved the concept and believed in it so much, I could see that is how I was going to be taking my vacations from then on.”
So that, combined with the fact that those other companies didn’t want to take any of my free help, I said, “You know what? It is hard to find somebody that offers this service and there aren’t very many listings available. I am going to start my own company to offer this service.” That led to, which sort of ties into the whole idea of the Avocationist, is that I loved the concept and believed in it so much, I could see that is how I was going to be taking my vacations from then on. I was projecting out to the future that, if I had this little company, that I could retire, or when I retire, I would have this little company and if I wanted to go someplace, I could take a trip to New York or San Francisco or Hawaii or Paris. I would use the trip not just a pretext, but as a way to take the trip and combine the two things that I really liked to do, which is travel and now, spread the word about home exchange if I had this business. So that was exactly why I started the business.
“I never really thought it was going to be a huge money-making thing. “
Originally, I didn’t really start the business to make money. It was more just, “This is going to be a way I can do something I really like.” I never really thought it was going to be a huge money-making thing. It was going to be more like a vehicle for getting me from here to there and maybe make a couple of bucks or pay for the trip or maybe as a write-off.
“It was always my idea to build it so that when I retired, I would have this little company to then use as this vehicle for travel.”
That is pretty much exactly what happened. I didn’t have plans for retiring in the immediate future, so I didn’t really build the company the way you would if the company was going to be your main source of income. It was always my idea to build it so that when I retired, I would have this little company to then use as this vehicle for travel.