The anticipated launch of the Blue Key Club, a new home exchange network, has the attention of some long time home exchangers looking for a more personalized network. I had the opportunity to talk with the two founders, Loïc Barbaux and Dujo Duvnjak about what we can expect from this network.
While the Blue Key Club is now open for signups, they won’t go live until June. But you can get started now by signing up and creating your profile. You can sign up with this link.
The vision and the team
ShareTraveler: What inspired you to start a new home exchange club?
Loïc: Each of us share a passion for travel, we also enjoy meeting new people and exploring the world on a local level. The the intersection of these joys – is home exchanging. After seeing numerous changes in the travel industry, especially in the shared travel space, we recognized a need for a home exchange community that was built around, and for, the members within it. This is how the Blue Key Club came to life. We decided we wanted to create a travel club with the home exchanging spirit as the foundation; sharing your home, meeting new people, and feeling like a local anywhere in the world.
Proud Savoyard, I gained my tracks culture by welcoming my friends to the beautiful place that I am from. I like to show them the less travelled areas, food specialities and introduce them to the people in my life. I have always felt that they would be able to know me better this way. Therefore I expect no less from my travel experiences. I’m passionate about getting a taste of life in every corner of the world. This is why I was so proud to be part of HomeExchange, for me this role was a passion more than a job. In that role I was spreading a warm and sharing spirit to the world and I met amazing people in the community and within the team. One of the team members I enjoyed working with the most, was Dujo.
All good things must come to an end and after transitions occurred at HomeExchange.com, it was time for many of us to step forward to new endeavors.
Over time we were missing our former roles and recognized a need for a home exchange community that was built around, and for, the members within it. This is how the Blue Key Club came to life. We decided we wanted to create a travel club with the home exchanging spirit as the foundation; sharing your home, meeting new people, and feeling like a local anywhere in the world.
Dujo: There are a lot of home exchange websites right now so we were thinking about what we could offer that is kind of different from what exists right now. There are a few things we want to offer to our members. The first thing is to collaborate with our members as often as possible and to make it fun for everyone. We want to pay attention to member’s privacy because we don’t really see that on other websites. We feel like most people don’t even realize [their data is exposed] until someone Googles them and can find their home and all their photos. And we want to make it a closed club in the sense that your information is private and only available to other members.
And we can offer a lot when it comes to technology. Most of the home exchange websites are similar and they’re not thinking creatively. Finding an exchange is not that simple. We are passionate about innovation and have a few ideas we want to bring to life that would make that process much easier and more fun for everyone. Along with this, we want to make sure that we can offer the best possible experience on mobile phones. With all of that in mind we understood we have a real opportunity here to offer something new and effective, something people will benefit from in multiple ways.
ST: Are you both working full time jobs in addition to building Blue Key Club?
Dujo: Yes, we each work as consultants within our industries to pay the bills but any free moment we have is dedicated to Blue Key Club. When it’s a passion it doesn’t feel like work.
ST: You both used to work for HomeExchange.com. Can you tell me a bit more about your background?
Loïc: Yes, we both formally worked with HomeExchange and are thankful for our time and experience there. All good things must come to an end though and after transitions occurred with the company, many of us shared concerns about the new direction and values and due to that, felt it was time for us to step forward to new endeavors.
On the personal side, we are both avid travelers and enjoy making the most of a long weekend with our respective families. On the professional side, Dujo is based in Croatia, has an extensive technical background in engineering and works as a private consultant in various verticals worldwide. I am based in France and bring years of digital marketing and a masters in International Management to the team.
What’s different about the Blue Key Club
ST: Are there no existing networks that match your values and desires for a house swapping network?
Loïc: There are a couple of networks that share some similar values. The difference with the Blue Key Club is that our foundation from day one was built from, for, and with the community
The Blue Key Club Values:
Commitment to Privacy Security is our top priority. Listings on The Blue Key Club are not public and can only be seen by fellow members.
Inspiration for Innovation. We will always work to be one step ahead of our vertical. Making sure our members have the tools they need to make their travel successful and easy.
Reliability and Dependability. We are dedicated to nurturing the spirit and soul of home exchanging. Our team continues to work together, and with individuals within the community, to make sure we never let go of the magic that started it all. “Data” and “bots” are not part of our vocabulary.
Trustworthy and Kindness. The Blue Key Club community is one that is caring and kind. A travel space built around sharing our homes is one that is built on a foundation of trust and kindness.
Spirit of Adventure. The Blue Key Club community’s passion for travel is contagious. We will always encourage our member to explore new locations, introduce them to new places and people and make our great big world, a little bit smaller; one connection at a time.
Community and Conversation. Inspiring engagement and conversation is what keeps a community active and effective. With regular interaction and “reasons to read” we will continuously work to keep our community talking with us and one another.
Sustainable Travel. The Blue Key Club is conscious about our carbon, cash, and community footprints. Sharing your home makes a significant positive impact. Our travelers are also always encouraged to engage with the locals, get to know them, visit their local shops and restaurants to ensure support for the local economy and social growth.
These are fundamentals differences that we will not compromise on and need in order to have a secure, caring and active community.
ST: I see you plan to charge a $99 annual fee to members. What services can members expect to get for this fee?
Loïc: Yes, $99.00 will eventually be the fee for membership. As of now however, we are offering a special $9.90 rate for anyone who receives an invitation during this initial phase. Also, the price will slowly grow with the growth of the community, it won’t be this fee before having a large enough international community.
Having a membership fee helps with the overall credibility and safety of our members. Their services and benefits will include:
- Mobile App
- Streamlined and easy to navigate travel website
- Quality, personal, customer service
- An active and engaged community
- Travel opportunities around the world
ST: Do you have plans for introducing a points-based system in Blue Key Club?
Loïc: No. The Blue Key Club will never have a points-based system. For us the value is not in points or virtual currency, it is your home, the people, the experience one gains from traveling through home exchange.
We will have an optional “KEY” program. This program will allow members to host a Blue Key Club member without staying in their home in return. If they host, they will receive a Key that can then be used in another home in the same way. The system is dictated by the partners involved. We wanted to make sure it would not bring any monetary value to homes, overnights, location, etc.
The goal is to bring flexibility to those who would like it. The reciprocal exchange will remain at the heart of the Blue Key Club. We will always keep the values of home exchanging at the core of the community; sharing, meeting new people, and embracing the local experience anywhere in the world.
ST: Is your opposition to the term “points” really opposition to how the concept has been implemented by other networks? The difference between a point, a key and a balloon is only in how the network defines them. Your Key would be the same as valuing each stay as one point.
Dujo: When it comes to points, where every home is worth a certain number of points, we don’t really believe in that system for home exchange. When it comes to balloons or keys one night can be worth more than 30 nights at some other location. For instance, what happens if you want to do an urgent home exchange next week? That’s going to be worth a lot to you. It’s up to the members to decide how much the Key is worth to them. For us the Key is a solution to finding exchanges easily. To be able to do a reciprocal exchange you need to find someone who will come to your home at the same time. It’s just about making those exchanges easier. Our goal is to keep it as pure as possible.
Learning from and focusing on members
ST: What does it mean to be built from, for and with the community?
Dujo: It means that listening is key. It’s easier to talk than it is to listen. It’s easier to listen than it is to implement. Based on our experience we feel like it’s really important to build a website with the community and listen to our community when building and making changes. We don’t want to force something that’s not going to work. So whenever we are thinking about introducing something we make sure that we ask our members, the people using the platform, for their feedback. We have a close group of members that are more active in our group that we often check-in with to get the general pulse. This helps us confirm we are not introducing anything that will completely disrupt the natural flow of the community and/or the process.
When we started building this we didn’t really expect this to be super big. We are not planning to build a huge company and sell it or anything like that. We are really passionate about this and we want to make something that is fun and introduces new experiences and friends around the world. If it’s not fun for our members it’s not really worth it. We are not willing to sacrifice anything just to make money. Since we both have jobs this is a passion project for us.
ST: You’ve been running a Facebook group to talk about plans for the Blue Key Club. Have you learned anything surprising about what people want in a home exchange network?
Loïc: We are not as surprised as we are inspired. The group has excellent ideas and so many members of the group have over 30 exchanges so they can speak from experience. They are the best resource we could ask for when defining the goals and direction of the community. Listening to the members is one of our keys to success. We are dedicated to a collaborative effort across the board; within our company and our community. We feel very fortunate to have the openness we do with the community so far. A number of great ideas have already come from them. We cannot thank them enough for helping us build Blue Key Club as a collaborative platform.
ST: As you point out, many of your members are experienced home swappers. Most of them probably belong to at least one other network. Do you hope to some day become the only exchange network they use?
Loïc: Hopefully they’ll feel that they can do all their exchanges through Blue Key Club after some time. We know that’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of members. But we really want to do something different, something that doesn’t exist. And we feel like we will have members that will care about that. Once they get used to the technology and privacy, we believe they will prefer Blue Key Club. However we are never looking at this with an “us vs them” mentality.
Dujo: We want them to feel like we are the best website, but that has to come from them.
The launch and the future
ST: Your invitation to early members says that the network will go live once there are sufficient members. How many members will be required?
Loïc: We were aiming for 1000, but after discussing this with our members, we decided to go live as soon as possible. Having a fully functional website will help attract more members. Our plan is to go live in early June. We want to ensure we have global opportunities for members to get the most out of the community. We had numerous invitation requests when we initially shared that news and could not be more appreciative of the support and enthusiasm!
ST: Where do you hope the Blue Key Club will be in 5 years?
Loïc: Our hope for the road ahead is for Blue Key Club to be the largest home exchanging community that is embodying the core of home exchange values. Even with our growth, we never want to lose touch with our members. They will always have a voice and be the heartbeat that keeps everything moving with the Blue Key Club.