Joel Greaves is the founder and CEO of Somewhere Inn, a new nature-inspired hospitality brand. Somewhere Inn is an intersection of several passions for Joel: travel and hospitality, the great outdoors, and mental health advocacy. For him, the company was born out of the idea that leaving urban environments to spend extended time in nature with friends and loved ones is critical to our well-being.
A BComm graduate of Queen’s University, Joel started his career in the Telecom industry where he led several product and marketing teams over the span of 12 years. In parallel, Joel quietly became a serial entrepreneur, purchasing Toronto-based luxury property maintenance company Zebrano Concierge in 2016, and building a successful luxury cottage rental in Muskoka.
In early 2021, Joel made the decision to leave Telecom to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a full-time entrepreneur. After closing an angel-backed raise Joel moved to Calabogie, joining a growing community of like-minded entrepreneurs, and began working on Somewhere Inn.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Joel Greaves: I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My grandfather was a farmer. My parents, aunts, and uncles are all entrepreneurs. When I was 10 years old my father lost his job, and instead of re-entering the labor market, he decided to start his own business. That experience—the ups and downs—really shaped who I was. From then on, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Throughout my 20s while working in Telecom, I was constantly kicking the tires on different business plans, and inevitably would always come back to hospitality as the most exciting space to be in. I first fell in love with the idea of transforming a needs-love motel after visiting the Jupiter Hotel in Portland. It was nostalgic, functional, and filled with cool people.
In 2016, my wife and I purchased Zebrano, a Toronto-based concierge service aimed at busy executives who don’t have time to maintain their luxury homes. My wife ran the business full-time, while I continued working in Telecom and moonlighted as her business partner. For the next five years, the dream of buying a hotel was put on the back burner. We had a business that needed transformation. We tackled technology, culture, margin dynamics, and branding.
Although my dream was on hold, purchasing Zebrano was the best decision I ever made: it validated that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; my wife and I learned how to be both business partners and life partners; it set us up financially to contribute meaningful equity to the launch of Somewhere Inn.
In 2019, tired of the big corporate world I had renewed energy for creating a startup. We brought in our talented longtime friends from Westgrove Design to partner with us on what would eventually become Somewhere Inn. Our vision was simple: transform needs-love motels in underserved four-season communities.
After some pandemic-driven stop-starts, we closed a small Angel-backed seed round in March 2021 and immediately closed on our first property in the Ottawa Valley: Somewhere Inn Calabogie.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Joel Greaves: I was planning to leave my job and pursue entrepreneurship full-time in April 2020. But, in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Canada. Within weeks the hospitality industry was completely decimated and so was my dream. Raising debt and equity for a hotel venture at that time became completely impossible.
So I bit the bullet and decided to stay in Telecom, where I was working for one of the largest employers in Canada. While I was fortunate to have found success in my career, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the pace of change and constant battles for resources. I couldn’t wait to get out and in many ways felt trapped.
In Summer 2020 two things happened that changed my outlook on hospitality:
- While Toronto hotels were empty with near-zero occupancy and struggled to charge more than $100/night, the complete inverse was happening in rural Canadian communities. Boutique accommodations outside of the city were fully booked at 3x their regular rates. Canadians wanted out of the city to get outdoors. As it turned out, pre-pandemic travel trends were being strengthened by the pandemic: more micro-vacations increased domestic tourism and visiting nature as means to pursue well-being.
- The real estate market was heating up as well. Motels began listing and selling—and we were at risk of missing out.
These industry trends, coupled with my passion for entrepreneurship, bolstered my belief in the Somewhere Inn mission and I went full speed ahead.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Joel Greaves: The biggest struggle for most entrepreneurs is prioritizing the right value-creating activities. Lack of focus can be deadly. As an entrepreneur, you have to become comfortable with not solving every problem. There is simply not enough time in the day and not enough people on your team to build the perfect solution. Getting to market quickly and learning on the fly allows you to adapt your offering quickly.
Entrepreneurs need to define their “North Star” and establish a system to ruthlessly prioritize the pursuit of that vision.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Joel Greaves: Resilience is embracing failure without ego. Failures, in a lot of ways, can be gifts. They teach us so much about what won’t work and help inform what will. Some of the best ideas and concepts come out of getting it wrong the first time. Having the mindset that, in order to get to the best outcome we will fail 10, 100, or even 1000 times, simply flips the process of failing on its head. Instead of failure being a setback, it becomes a step in the process of getting to the best outcome.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Joel Greaves: While transforming a needs-love motel into a boutique hotel is not a new concept for North America, most of our competitors focus on design and amenities to attract guests. Somewhere Inn is positioned as a jumping-off point to amazing nature-based experiences, all through the lens of a beautifully designed hotel.
The most important role of our guest-experience staff is to curate unique itineraries for our guests: from booking adventures with local tour operators to recommending the best hikes, and sharing our favorite cafes, bars, and restaurants in the area.
We are also on a mission to eliminate the frustrating, antiquated check-in and concierge processes of the typical hotel. To do so, we have embraced modern technology to create digital-first experiences that reduce guest effort and enrich guest interactions—all available without having to download an app. We have implemented contactless check-in, a text-to-concierge service that even reaches out before your stay, and a simple digital menu for ordering room service.
Our first property is located amongst the stunning forest, rolling mountains, and beautiful lakes of the Ottawa Valley. All future properties will share three common traits:
- a needs-love motel with good bones;
- in an underserved four-season destination;
- set in nature.
We have an ROI-based approach to development and design, scrutinizing every decision based on how it will contribute to guest value.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Joel Greaves: I have always had the ability to look at a business or opportunity and articulate its potential five to ten years down the road. I realized very early in my career that this skill set was fairly unique. I am energized by rallying others around big ideas and then using that to ground everyday decision-making.
Build great teams: The strength of the teams I build has always been one of the things I am most proud of. I look for people with diverse backgrounds, that are motivated by big audacious goals, and seek out data to support their strong convictions. On my teams, we celebrate process and personal development over being right and that has always driven high engagement levels.
Self: I show up best in the eyes of others when I have first focused on myself. When I create time and space for energizing activities outside of my company—time with family, time in nature, and my mindfulness practice—the net impact is even more energy to give to my company. It’s a beautiful virtuous cycle that starts by looking inwards.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Joel Greaves: I reject a lot of the modern-day constructs of the personal brand. A personal brand in my mind should be the outcome of one’s actions, not a pursuit in itself. I wake up every day trying to be the best person I can be. I pursue loving relationships, kindness, compassion, and a deeper connection with my community. I judge myself based on these virtues alone.
The value system that my wife (co-founder) and I share has naturally translated into the company values for Somewhere Inn: warmth, quality, community, nature, and well-being. Bringing these values to life starts with the people we hire—especially crucial as a hospitality brand. Members of our guest experience team need to both share these values and have big enough personalities that the values naturally flow out of them.
What Makes a Good Team Leader? A Guide to Effective Team Leadership
How would you define “leadership”?
Joel Greaves: In its simplest form, my role as a leader is to create the conditions for my team to be successful. Everything ties back to this simple concept: the cultural norms and behaviors I model for others, the way I empower people to make decisions, a bias for asking questions rather than providing answers, the way I design the organization, the KPIs we measure on a daily basis and even how I approach funding. I judge myself based on the success of my team. If they achieve their goals, grow as individuals and love doing what they do, then the goals of the company become easy.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Joel Greaves: Entrepreneurship is certainly something that you can learn along the way. I think a tolerance for risk and a desire to change the world we will live in are the most common traits for entrepreneurs. These could be part of your upbringing, out of necessity, or learned through formal schooling.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Joel Greaves: Over the past several years, I have found myself guided by the Buddhist principle, “this too shall pass.” So much is packed into that simple phrase. Entrepreneurship can be a rollercoaster of emotion. In reflecting upon that phrase, I am reminded that the tough times and resulting emotional struggles are temporary, and that little wins are upcoming. It’s also such a great reminder to live in the moment. Building a business is such an exciting journey. It’s easy to get caught up in what can be, rather than enjoying the little ups and downs along the way.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Joel Greaves for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Joel Greaves or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.