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”.
In the third of a three-part interview, HomeExchange.com founder Ed Kushins discusses his most difficult and most rewarding careers, the professor who changed his perspective on life, and his advice for those seeking career success.
“What has actually happened is that this has become a hugely successful, profitable business.”
Read the interview and find out:
1. What it’s like to love your job
2. How economics impacts whether you help your Mom
3. What is the key to career success
Read the full interview:
Avocationist: Ed, of all of the jobs that you have done, which were your favorite?
Ed:Well, I loved every minute of my job on the submarine. It was exciting and rewarding and interesting and it was thrilling. I really enjoyed my whole Navy experience. I recommend it for anyone.
“There is nothing that I have ever done that I loved as much as Home Exchange.”
I really liked the first years of growing the metal recycling business. The years after I got the business and I was keeping everything going, I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, but I really liked the growing part of it. There is nothing that I have ever done that I loved as much as Home Exchange. I totally believe in the Home Exchange concept and because of that, I feel like any part of the work I don’t mind doing. I don’t mind doing the grunt work because I know it is good for the business, and especially because I like the marketing part of it because I like talking to people about it.
“Because of my marketing background, I love finding new ways to market the program.”
Because of my marketing background, I love finding new ways to market the program to what we call affinity groups. Through our efforts we have a Rotary Home Exchange, which we have private labeled for a Rotary International. And YPO; it is the Young President’s Organization, and it’s 16,000 Presidents and CEOs that are under 50 years old, we have just done a private label for them.
“It’s been really a lot of fun taking that pitch on the road.”
We are going to launch for some alumni groups. It’s been such a wonderful product to try to sell because we have been able to go to an alumni group and say, “Listen, here is a free employee/student/faculty and alumni benefit. You don’t have any cost to the university and you can offer this benefit for faculty to travel during the summer, for alumni to travel and exchange with other alumni or just take their own vacations. For parents of students to come visit their student at school and not stay at a hotel. We are going to give discounts to all of those groups and give the university a commission and you don’t have to do anything or pay anything. All you have to do is make the service available to those people through your own marketing channels.” It’s been really a lot of fun taking that pitch on the road. It is offering like a win/win/win/win/win, no cost, no effort revenue coming in situation. It is hard for them to say no to that.
Avocationist:And you get to spread the word about something that you really care about.
“What has actually happened is that this has become a hugely successful, profitable business.”
Ed:I think I mentioned that my original idea was just to use this as a way to take a couple of trips and maybe tie in a little business and pleasure. What has actually happened is that this has become a hugely successful, profitable business; very profitable and growing, beyond my wildest expectations. It has been beyond fun. If you take that success is liking what you have to do, if you add in making a lot of money at the same time, that is what we have going right now.
Avocationist:Were there any of the transitions that you had to go through that were particularly difficult?
“The growing transitions are always difficult.”
Ed:Yes. The growing transitions are always difficult. Everything takes five times longer than you think it is going to take and the results are 20 percent of what you think they are going to be and the expenses are five times more and the revenue is 20 percent as much. So those transitions are always tough. I have actually had a few other start-ups, so I was ready for that, but even so, it is always tougher than you think it is going to be. You like to have optimistic expectations.
Avocationist: Along the way were there any people who were especially helpful to you in your careers?
“One in particular was my economics professor at UCLA who gave me the grounding of economics.”
Ed:Yes, there were quite a few. One in particular was my economics professor at UCLA who gave me the grounding of economics – not in the GNP kind of economics, but the economics of personal behavior that really set, not just my business philosophy, but really my philosophy of life. It is hard to believe that economics would do that, but that is what the guy did. My next avocation is probably writing a book, which I have drafted, about personal decision-making and between you and me; there is an economic basis for everyone’s decisions about everything. It’s not just about what they spend their money on, but what they do; how they spend their time and what they do with their marriage and their kids and their relationships.
Avocationist:Can you give me an example?
“But if they don’t go to work, there will be a cost associated with that.”
Ed:I will give you one that has nothing to do with money. The basis is that everything people do is an economic decision in terms of the cost and the benefit. Whether they do the analysis logically or emotionally, that is how everybody makes their decisions. Because of that, people have much more freedom than they realize. For example, if someone has a nine-to-five job, they will say, “I have to go to work today.” But the reality is they don’t have to go to work. The reason they go to work is that they have made this subconscious cost/benefit analysis that “If I go to work, I will get paid and if I don’t go to work I could get fired or I won’t get paid for the day.” It may be conscious or it may be subconscious, but they don’t have to go to work. But if they don’t go to work, there will be a cost associated with that. Now most people don’t go through that logical process to evaluate what the cost is; they just say, “I have to go to work.” Even if they went through the logical process, they would say, “Well, what is the cost if I don’t go to work? What is the probability that I will get fired or not get a raise?” There is all this cost/benefit analysis stuff going on and it has to do with money a little bit.
“Am I going to miss the baseball game or feel guilty about not doing something that my mother is using just as a way to get me over to the house?”
Here is another one. Let’s say you have plans to go to the baseball game and your mother calls and says, “I can’t get the pilot light on my stove lit.” Now it is a different kind of economic analysis. “Am I going to miss the baseball game or feel guilty about not doing something that my mother is using just as a way to get me over to the house?” It’s an economic analysis. The cost of going to the baseball game is an emotion; a guilt. It is not anything having to do with money, but there is a cost to that. The cost of going to your mother’s house to do something that she doesn’t really need done is the cost of giving up something that is going to give you some amount of pleasure.
“People think that I am almost a genius for coming up with these things that I learned in Marketing 101.”
Anyway, that guy taught me a lot about human behavior in that economics class. Basically, when people make a decision that involves me, I look at it now as that they are not doing it to me, at me or for me. They are really making their own decision and because I understand that, it allows me to feel more comfortable with other people’s decisions, not just my own.
I had a marketing professor at USC who did the same thing. He taught me a lot of things that the absolute basics of marketing that apply at every level of business and I have taken it with me places. I have dusted them off and used them and people think that I am almost a genius for coming up with these things that I learned in Marketing 101 at grad school from this guy.
Avocationist:It seems to me that your interest in those personal interactions would play into how you get people comfortable with the whole concept of the Home Exchange, too.
“So we had a four-hour dinner and I learned so much from this woman.”
Ed:It really is, and it is funny that you mention that because I had to go to Chicago about a month ago for this ABC show and they wanted me there with one of our members. So I called a couple of members and two of them offered to be on the show. The TV show selected one of them, but the other member was so interesting, I ended up going to dinner with her because she is a professor at the University of Northern Illinois at Chicago, and her field of expertise is building trust between people. I said, “This would be great because you are a Home Exchange member and you understand this thing about having a stranger in my house at the gut level, but then you also know it at the academic level.” So we had a four-hour dinner and I learned so much from this woman. It was incredible. I felt like the things I had learned were pieces of the puzzle and she sort of put everything together. It was really, really interesting, and we are actually using a lot of what she said into the next iteration of our website design.
“Trust has many, many, many different levels.”
Just to give you a little: Trust has many, many, many different levels. Probably the one thing that helps build trust is increasing numbers and levels of interactions. They can be very, very passive or they can be very, very active. There are all kinds of interactions. Going back to the Home Exchange, there are things that we can do on the site because this thing about “having a stranger in my house” is one of the biggest pre-obstacles to people being open to the concept. There are all kinds of interactions that we can create that will help break down that barrier. For example, a testimonial, even if it is one-sided, it is a passive interaction that will help break down a barrier. Does that make sense?
Avocationist:Absolutely. When I searched for homes, the first thing I did was to look for people who had done it before. I knew that those people were going to be respectful of it and understand it. I also wanted to find families with girls who were my daughters’ ages because they were in the same situation.
“If you have three girls and if you could search for three girls, right away, that is going to give you some feeling of connection with that person on the other side.”
Ed:So we are going to find ways that are not necessarily the networking, but taking those interaction levels that start out passive and open the door to becoming active. If you have three girls and if you could search for three girls, right away, that is going to give you some feeling of connection with that person on the other side. It can go to mountain biker, pilot, yoga… whatever.
Avocationist:Based on what you have learned and experienced, what advice would you give to people who are figuring out what they want to do next?
“Do or find something that you really, really love to do and you can find a way to make that your vocation.”
Ed:Do or find something that you really, really love to do and you can find a way to make that your vocation. Are you are going to get into a gardening business because you think you can make some money at it? You might be able to make some money, but unless you really like what you are doing, you are not going to make as much money and you are not going to be as happy. Unless you really, really like it, you are not going to make as much money as if you are doing something that you really, really like and understand. If you like fishing, get into something to do with the fishing business.
Avocationist:I agree that people need to do anything related to something they love. Even if it is just spending an hour a night looking on the Internet, you will find ideas; it will come if it is something that you really, really like. It is not hard to get started.
“So find what you like to do and that is where you outta be.”
Ed:Yes, and I think if you love it, you are going to be able to find ways to market it and things to do with the business that you wouldn’t be able to if you didn’t love it. So find what you like to do and that is where you outta be.
Avocationist:Is there anything else you would like to add?
“Karma exists, and if you do stuff, somehow, someway, it does come back.”
Ed:Just two more things. One of the things I love about this business is making connections with people. I don’t do it with the idea that “What can I get out of it?” Karma exists, and if you do stuff, somehow, someway, it does come back. I cannot tell you how many times three or four years after something I did, not having any idea that there was going to be this different connection, it came back.
“Three weeks ago, he called me up out of the blue and I had not talked to him for a year, with a huge connection for me for Home Exchange; an unbelievable, great connection, out of nowhere.”
I met this guy about three years ago and we did a business deal and it didn’t really work out, but that was fine because we both went into it with our eyes open. I kept in touch with this guy and a couple of people said, “Well that didn’t work out.” I said, “You know what? I took a shot and he is a nice guy.” Three weeks ago, he called me up out of the blue and I had not talked to him for a year, with a huge connection for me for Home Exchange; an unbelievable, great connection, out of nowhere.
Avocationist:I have found the same thing.
“You know what? They are buying a place there and staying in France.”
Ed:Here is an interesting story. One of my members, after he arranged this, called me up and said, “I sold my company and I bought a golf course. The golf course is basically running by itself and I have three kids all under 8 years old, and I wanted to let you know that I just arranged a Home Exchange and we are going to France for a year and I am putting my kids into French Public School.” I thought this was a fantastic story so I kept in touch with the guy. His golf course was in Arizona and I had a TV interview there, so I went over to meet the people who had done the exchange with him and were living in his house. This guy is in France and his year is almost up. You know what? They