Jstay: The Jewish Travel App
It was founded by Sholli Kestecher, the JBN entrepreneur of the month.
Jstay wants to be the Jewish AirBNB. Founded in October 2019, it is the brainchild of British immigrant to Israel Sholli Kestecher. The new service offers a free app for Jewish travelers to find the right place to stay. It differs from AirBNB in that Jstay is geared for people who need specifically Jewish services when they travel such as kosher food and local Jewish communities and synagogues for Sabbath observers.
Orthodox Jews have special needs when they travel which are not limited to kosher food. The Lubavitch, Chabad, offer many services for religious Jewish travelers through their local centers around the world. But they have limits in what they can offer and in most cases do not have places for people to stay.
Registered as a limited company in England, Jstay is an application for people to upload their stays, and for others to book them, with detailed options available for Kosher standards, holiday item availability, and Jewish location and opportunities, to customize the Jewish vacation experience as much as possible.
So this isn’t so much reinventing the wheel, which is the mistake that many a would be entrepreneur makes. The world definitely does not need yet another rideshare service, restaurant rating service, hotel discount service, and it certainly does not need another workspace sharing service. It is still questionable if it even needs the one that it already has, WeWork.
This is certainly not just another short term rental service for tourists like AirBNB. Jstay declares that its mission is to be an all-in-one Jewish travel app. The company declares that it wants to provide a platform for anyone looking to become a host, or anyone looking to find Jewish life around the world in order to “make it easy for users to search and upload properties, shuls (synagogues), mikvas (ritual baths), and anything else related to the Jewish travel experience.” The company says that it wants it to be as easy as possible for people to plan their vacations, and to “give them as many resources as possible to make their time away relaxing and meaningful.”
Sholli Kestecher, born in London, England, has always dreamed of making peoples’ Jewish observance easier and more comfortable, when at home, or abroad. He grew up as one of fifteen children and says that he wasn’t very good at school or even sitting in one place for too long. “I left school at the age of sixteen to work,” he explains. “Before starting my own business, I worked in all fields, including working with children with special needs, working as a shop assistant, and a cameraman assistant. I even worked as a cleaner, scrubbing people’s toilets to make ends meet.” But it was his last job where Sholli learned all about the rentals business. He worked as an assistant to a business and property owner. It was then that Sholli says he learned how to work in the corporate world, while bringing his orthodox Jewish values of being an honest businessman and helping others to his work.
So how did Sholli get the idea for Jstay in the first place?
When he started in the short term rentals and management business, he realized that there was a need for an application that would be catered to Jews and the Jewish travel world. After an extensive search, working and speaking with Jewish agents, landlords, and vacationers around the world, Sholli realized that there was no simple platform in existence which provides the needed options for Jewish and Kosher travelers.
Sholli decided that it was time for a travel app, with the capability to truly customize every part of the Jewish travel experience. “I have always been a people-oriented person,” Sholli tells JBN. “To this day I love hosting large Shabbat meals and events. This is one of the reasons why the short-term rentals business appeals to me. I love to interact with all kinds of different people and help them have enjoyable and memorable experiences.”
And on this point he certainly does not exaggerate. Before Covid Sholli hosted weekly Shabbat meals in his home with dozens of guests. He hopes to soon be able to get back into his true calling of offering a warm and open place for people to go on Shabbat and holidays just as soon as the Covid lockdowns end.
Sholli lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, one of the oldest parts of the New City. Nachlaot has transformed over the years from a decaying slum to a gentrified extension of the Jerusalem downtown area. As such, it is filled with new buildings and refurbished ones which brought with them higher rents and a neighborhood filled with holiday apartments.
Nachlaot is also adjacent to Jerusalem’s shuk, open air market, which makes it a desirable location for tourists. So it is no wonder that every year more and more of its apartments are bought by people looking for a way to make money from short term holiday rentals.
It may seem like a bad time to start a new company like this. But the Coronavirus crisis will not last forever and with vaccinations spreading throughout the world the Covid shutdowns will likely soon end. Israel has already ended its requirement that people wear masks in public places. And if anything, a recession is the perfect time to start something new so that it will be ready for business when the recession ends.
Sholli explains that before the pandemic started he was a partner at a property management and short-term rentals business known as EmEs Homes. Unfortunately, that company did not survive the Covid crisis which put an end to world travel. “I had the idea to create Jstay back in 2018, after going back and forth with potential guests, and trying to book short-term rentals,” says Sholli. ”I was still running my rentals business, I put Jstay on the back burner.” But Sholli took advantage of the extra time which he had during the lockdown to develop his idea and his entrepreneurial spirit.
“Since we were stuck in lockdowns without anything to do, I began to work around the clock to bring Jstay to life, and using my experience and the lists of kosher clients requests and questions, created an app that could solve the difficulties that myself and many other hosts and guests faced throughout the vacation-booking process.”
So how will the app work?
In order to determine quality of stays there are two rating services that guests can use after check-out: the first kosher satisfaction; the second overall stay experience. Hosts will have the option to rate their guests as well.
Jstay will also offer round the clock customer service to travelers. The company will charge a 10% fee per booking, taking 3% from the hosts 7% from the guests.
Sholli Kestecher, the Jewish Business News Entrepreneur of the month.