By Marta Esteve (Co-Founder, Rentalia)
Editor’s note: Marta Esteve is co-hosting Founder Friday Madrid on November 4, 2011. FREE RSVP for Founder Friday here.

When I was 15, they asked me at school to write down how we imagined we would be in the year 2000 and I remember that I said I saw myself as a businesswoman. Quite interesting now I look back.

Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that my father had ventured out into the business world and came back home at night talking about his projects with a sparkle in his eyes.

I later went on to study business with the same idea of one day having my own company, yet this business seed gradually faded out and I ended up working for Citibank, Red Eléctrica and Coca-Cola Enterprises. It was working in these places where I realised I could only progress slowly, with all the hierarchy and lack of global vision.

After my degree, I went on to do a Master degree in international Management at Lovaina where I met my husband, François Derbaix. We worked in Belgium in 1998 and 1999 and little by little we began to feel really attracted to the Internet.

Starting Toprural and Rentalia

On one of my trips to Spain, we discovered that some friends of ours were looking for rural accommodation in paper brochures, while there was a revolution going on with the Internet, so we decided to return to Spain and set up a rural accommodation search engine. It was François who started it up, while I worked in an Internet company learning about the sector. In the year 2000, we left our jobs in Belgium and came to Spain for the startup 🙂

Without having any experience in the rural tourism sector, or for that matter in the Internet world, François had the idea of contacting the competition and anyone who knew anything about the sector. It was quite adventurous and proved very useful. It served to show us that it was possible to do it better and also to establish an association with those doing a good job offline.

Our house became the office and we started with our savings and those of some friends and family. That is how Toprural was born, where I helped out while working on the startup of a T-Online affiliate company and learnt how to launch a business on the Internet in Spain.

Toprural started to grow very well, it already had a large number of customers and after two years we could pay wages and an office. Among the customers that wanted to sign up, very often we found holiday homes that could not join Toprural because they were not rural accommodation. At the same time, we were searching for holiday homes in Cadiz to go with some friends and we saw that a good website for holiday homes that you could trust was missing, a place with all the information and travellers’ reviews.

I presented the project to Sergio Viteri, a freelance IT friend, and he liked the idea. He worked in the mornings in exchange for shares during the first two years. I also worked without a salary for the first few years. Toprural kindly lent to us some floor space in the office. Very low cost: 27,000€ in total to launch Rentalia.

Since then, we have lived a lot and we have travelled along the distant path through the desert, two daughters, successes and failures, a strong competition in a very dynamic sector and a milestone agreement with Idealista to position Rentalia as a reference website with the greatest trust for travellers searching for holiday homes in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Andorra.

Today, we have over one and a half million visits a month in the high season and we will close the year with around one and a half million euros in sales, with an annual growth of over 50%.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Marta Esteve is Co-Founder of Rentalia, the leader in holiday home rentals in Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Italy. Marta also co-founded Toprural, a site promoting rural tourism in Europe. She is a partner at VinoGusto, a wine guide based on user recommendations. Follow her on Twitter at @martaesteve.