Sarah Modlock meets Christian Jagodzinski, founder and chairman of Villazzo
The British are not known for speaking up when things are unsatisfactory. To avoid creating a scene, we prefer to stiffen our upper lips, and our G&Ts, whilst turning a blind eye to the most elephantine of problems. On this basis, it’s safe to assume that if Christian Jagodzinski had been born British then his company, Villazzo, would not exist.
“It all stemmed from my own experience as a disappointed client in the luxury travel industry,” he explains. “Every time I rented a private high-end home for a short vacation, I could not find one that offered all the products and services of a typical luxury hotel. There was no airport transfer; the refrigerator was empty upon arrival; the home had no internet connection; there was no laundry service… the list is endless.”
Exasperated by appalling service and crumbling properties in the villa and holiday rental market, German native Jagodzinski found that no matter how much money he spent, the disappointments remained. “There are so many over-priced schemes and properties around. It doesn’t matter whether you are worth £5m or £5bn, you want value for money. But lots of people take advantage, increasing their margins on substandard properties because they know you can afford it.
“There were three things that I always wanted and could never get,” he continues, warming to his theme. “An espresso machine, an internet connection and a home cinema that worked,” he says, his voice constricting as he relives the frustration. So Villazzo was created to bring the five-star hotel experience to selected luxury rental villas, reproducing a mini hotel in a private home.
And Jagodzinski doesn’t just get stressed about espresso machines. Bathrobes and clothes hangers – the lack of them – and a dozen other small things that villas usually get wrong all bring on the red mist. And don’t even think of mentioning telephone landlines. But his company would not have become the international success it is without his high standards and attention to detail. And these can be traced back to his beginnings as a mini-entrepreneur.
Born in Regensburg, he began his career as a computer nerd. It all started so normally, exchanging games with other children to play on his Commodore 64 (aah, those were the days). But while most of us were content with ‘Ship of the Line’ or even ‘The Hobbit’, Jagodzinski wanted to write his own programmes. When one of his home-made games hit a glitch, he decided to write to the US computer manufacturers and ask for a copy of their code book so he could fix it. These days it would be more than enough to get you on an FBI watchlist. When the manual was delivered, he realised he would have to teach himself English to decipher it. So far, so exactly unlike any other 12 year-old.
He had a friend who shared his fascination for IT and the two of them launched their first business at the age of 14, spending hours after school working as programming and debugging contractors. By 16, the boys were renting an apartment to work from and got special dispensation to set up a company in their names. After growing their IT business, they created – years ahead of its time – an online flight booking system, but were hampered by lack of industry interface.
Undeterred, they decided to sell books instead and created Telebook. Within three years, it had become the largest bookseller in Europe and was perfectly positioned to attract a buyer. Amazon paid $30m for Telebook in 1998. Jagodzinski was paid in stock, and those he was granted at $7 a share was sold in stages for up to $100 a share as Amazon’s popularity grew. But a less appealing factor was a job at head office. “That’s when I realised I was not a ‘big corporation’ person,” he says, adding that it became the perfect time to retire, aged 30.
Finally the wunderkind decided to let his hair down and enjoy the fruits of his labour. He spent the next three years traveling the world, trying hard to have a good time and not start any successful multi-million dollar businesses for a while. But in the end he just couldn’t fight it and Villazzo was created.
When we meet in one of the enormous mansions which the company quaintly calls ‘VillaHotels’ on Palm Island, Miami, it is clear that his team screen properties very carefully. In fact they turn down around 80% of the millionaire owners who approach them to place their properties on Villazzo’s books. Usually this is because the property is in disrepair, a particular problem if it is only lived in for a small part of the year.
Each property comes with whatever staff you would like, from housekeepers to gourmet chefs. Room service and a concierge facility mean you will want for nothing. There is even a general manager on-call 24 hours a day in case your espresso machine breaks down. “It’s all about anticipating what our guest wants before they even know they want it themselves,” Jagodzinski says. He speaks with such conviction that I believe they could cope with everything from a private J-Lo concert to a late night order of Marmite soldiers. And why not, if you’re paying upwards of £6,000 a week. In addition to the properties in Miami, there are VillaHotels in Aspen, St Tropez, Courchevel, Marbella and Paris. Don’t be surprised if London features on the list soon. The pace of life is faster than ever for Jagodzinski, although this may change in July upon the birth of his first child. Expect Jagodzinski Junior to take over the world (and put an espresso machine in every home) by the time he’s out of short trousers.
www.villazzo.com, +44 (20) 8123 3375