Meet the co-founder of SpotaHome
Hi Alejandro, thank you so much for joining me. To kick things off, tell me a little bit about the founder of Spotahome
I am co-founder and CEO of Spotahome.com, an online booking platform for mid to long term accommodation.
Before setting up Spotahome, I spent three years in China, where I learnt Chinese and gained a unique understand of the culture by setting up two businesses. I have also had the opportunity to live and work in London in the real estate industry, and I am now based in my home country of Spain.
My goal is to make the world smaller by simplifying the challenges people face when operating in different regions. I believe there is still a lot to do in order to make it easier for everyone to be able to work, study and therefore live anywhere in the world. Spotahome is contributing to this process by making it easier for people to find accommodation abroad.
Inspiration is always a great indication of why people launch businesses. Who or what inspired you to get started?
I've always imagined a world without barriers, where international mobility is easy. With this philosophy in the back of my mind, the inspiration for Spotahome emerged from a combination of experiences.
During my time in China, I launched two startup businesses - an export business and a travel agency. During my stay there, I found that a number of factors including the language barrier, and not really understanding how the rental market worked, meant that it was extremely difficult to find accommodation.
Later, I returned to Europe and worked both in London and Lisbon in the real estate sector. It was during this time that the idea for Spotahome blossomed. The realisation of how much time, effort, and money went into each step of the rental process lead to the idea that if people could book holiday accommodation online without the need to physically visit the property, then they should be able to do the same for longer mid-to-long term bookings. From here Spotahome was born.
How do you set yourself apart from other businesses in your industry?
The number one thing that sets us apart from other businesses in the property market is that Spotahome’s rental process is 100% online, saving both landlords and tenants time, effort and money.
Tenants can search for and book accommodation without having to schedule in viewings, which can be extremely time intensive, inconvenient and costly, especially if you have to travel to and from a number of different viewings.
Our independent Homecheckers visit every property to take extensive photos, 360s and videos of the property, we then create floor plans and a detailed property description. This means that landlords are provided with a listing for their property at no cost and with no effort required. Potential tenants are also presented with an unbiased representation of their future home.
Most importantly we have a number of systems in place that ensure that the platform is scam free for all users, including releasing funds to the landlord 48 hours after the move-in date to ensure that the tenant doesn’t have any issues with the property once they move in, and guaranteeing against rental defaults and damages for landlords.
What’s the single most important decision that you made, that contributed to your business?
One of the most important decisions that contributed to the business was the foresight to see that the rental industry was in desperate need of change.
It is an industry that hasn’t changed much despite the pervasive effect of the internet. The holiday industry has changed drastically because of sites such as Booking.com and Expedia. I realized that people were accustomed to renting a property for a weekend or even a week based on only a few pictures. What about all those who need a place to live for several months or years?
Being able to see that gap in the market and being willing to change the status quo is the main decision that contributed to the birth and continued growth of Spotahome.
How did you fund the launch of your business and what creative strategies did you use to execute a minimal cash flow?
We started out with just €3,000 - all four founders invested our savings in the business. We kept our expenses low and spent whatever we had on photographers to build our listings for our customers. All four of the founders were – and still are – very hands-on in the business and we personally did a lot of the early running around ourselves to get the business off the ground.
We enlisted the help of people we knew and trusted, many of who are still in the business today. Once we kicked off and friends and family realised the potential of the business, we raised €125,000 amongst them before we secured our initial rounds of venture capital investment.
How did you conquer those moments of doubt that so often affect entrepreneurs or stop many with great ideas – what pushes you through?
It can be difficult to conquer those moments of doubt, however, our mission is beyond ourselves and gives us the motivation and strength to move forward. Our mission is to reinvent the real estate market making it transparent, instant and exciting.
Apart from the above, our customers also motivate all of us. Seeing the change in their behaviour that comes from improving their lives and giving them time to spend on the things they love instead of on activities they hate is the biggest motivation of all.
Also, our team is a constant driver to improve and keep pushing forward. Furthermore, we have a fantastic set of investors that have given us invaluable direction in our business. Passion Capital and Seaya Ventures have been on-board from the early days and have given us invaluable input into the business. Also, a number of our other investors, which include Howzat Partners (early investors in Trivago), Arthur Kosten, the co-founder of Booking.com, Klaus Nyengaard, ex CEO Just Eat, etc. have been able to give us really specific advice, which has been invaluable.
Being able to tap into an incredible group of people with an extensive knowledge base definitely helps me to overcome any challenges and self-doubt that I might have faced in the past.
Who is your target audience?
We don’t really have a set target audience, Spotahome is used by people of all ages and from all walks of life – from students through to professionals from any country in the World.
We are popular with international and Erasmus students and expats that are relocating to different countries, as the technology allows them to search for, and secure accommodation without even being in the country, but in saying that we find that over 14% of our London bookings come from within the UK and we have taken bookings from all ages groups, including people in their 60s and 70s.
What would be your number one tip for young entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their own business?
My number one tip is to find your mission, your “why”. Without this it is really hard to fight for a purpose every single day. That purpose drives you and will ignite your passion. That strong belief in your purpose will help you build great products for your customers and constantly improve the services provided to them. Furthermore, your conviction in your mission will encourage you to surround yourself with people equally as passionate, and that will help you work towards accomplishing your vision.
Once you have your team in place, it is essential to remain humble. Absorb the knowledge and experience of the people around you. Especially your investors, as they typically have years of experience in their sector and can provide you with invaluable advice. So, ask a lot and listen.
Also, I'd tell them they have to be prepared to work hard and put everything into their project - it takes perseverance, confidence, optimism and determination to make it happen, and you quickly prioritise what's important to give it your all. A lot of late nights and weekends, but it’s worth it in the end.
If you could have one person record your voicemail, who would it be and why?
In business, Jeff Bezos - he is an outstanding entrepreneur. I admire his values, his ‘customer-first’ approach to business, and the humility he shows.
What first in the mornings, phone, book, laptop or me time?
Me time! I really enjoy Crossfit, so I make time every morning to exercise. It’s essential to take care of both your mind and body, so I ensure that I prioritise time to take care of both. Being active in the morning sets you on the right path for the day, and it gets the heart rate going which helps to keep you focused.
What plans do you have for Spotahome over the coming 12 months?
Right now, it's about increasing our scalability in operations. The Homechecker is key to the value proposition of our business, since we personally check the properties, and this requires us to have a network of top people to make it happen.
We opened three new cities in Italy over the past two months, bringing our total to 20 cities across Europe, Turkey and UAE, and in the future, we will keep pushing this momentum. To achieve this goal, we're going to need the right people on board, such as engineers and product developers, and hiring these people is the second part of the challenge for the coming months.
What’s the most important question entrepreneurs should be asking themselves?
They should ask themselves if they are clear on their vision. It’s key to have a clear vision in business, and to have a final objective in mind. This allows you to focus on and challenge yourself to meet those objectives. When you climb a mountain, you’re focused on the peak, you have one single-minded objective, and this is what drives you and forces you to put all your effort into achieving that.
How do you believe the evolution of tech will affect your industry over the next 10 years?
The property sector affects all of us, in one way or another. In cities where people are time poor, looking for accommodation can be a major inconvenience and so it is imperative that the rental industry embraces digital. I believe that technology will drastically affect the rental industry.
We predict that businesses will further digitise the rental process, which will simplify transactions, and lead to greater flexibility and above all transparency and speed. Ultimately, establishing a digital platform will enable property management to be a less time consuming and more streamlined processes.
Recharging every so often is important. How do you recharge when you’re feeling burnt out?
Time out to clear your mind and think is important. I like to go somewhere remote and enjoy getting back to nature, which is also incredibly inspiring for me. I visited Norway last year and explored the Fjords at a time when not many tourists visit. One night I stayed in very small town where, because it was out of season, the hostel owner had to open up the property just for me.
He was from Argelia and had been living in Norway for years, and we talked for a long time about how he felt he had made an impact on the local community, many of whom had never even travelled (he lived in Canada, USA, Mexico, UK and France before). In turn, he knew that he’d been changed too by living there and learning from them. That for me is what is so amazing about living in different countries, the time that you spend in a new community shapes both the community and yourself making all of us more knowledgeable about and respectful with each other. It demonstrates that we are all the same and have the same basic rights, as no person should have more rights than another to share or live in this world.
What habits do you think helped you to become successful?
Being optimistic is key. Optimism allows you to take risks. One of my values, and indeed the company values, is to be decisive. You get better results by making a good decision today than a perfect one tomorrow. So, combining optimism and decisiveness allows business leaders to try out things constantly without fear. Plus, the optimism helps you have perseverance.
The other key habit is not to waste time – there’s only so many hours in a day, make sure you use them well. For example, I have a rule that meetings can’t be longer than 30 minutes. If you need more time than this, you aren’t being efficient. Of course, there are always some exceptions, but if the person inviting you respects your time and is organised, the meeting should just be about finalising the decisions.
What are your thoughts on networking to build your business?
It’s without a doubt essential. Through networking I met the other founders, and together we share ideas and give advice. In the early days it was fundamental to building the business, both in identifying the right people to join us, through to making contact with the right people who lead us to our investors, service providers and mentors along the way.
You have to try to be in as many places as possible and meet as many people as possible; only by opening doors you’ll find more paths that may lead to help you accomplish your mission.
How did you build such an amazing consumer culture around Spotahome?
We built our amazing customer culture by always putting the customer first. Our first core value is “We live for our customer”. Every single decision is driven by the question: “is this going to help our customers?” As a result, on several occasions they have told us that we have gone above and beyond their expectations. We are here for them and because of them. They are our heart. And to build this within the company you have to lead by example, you have to have strict rules within the team to maintain or increase customer satisfaction.
From its very conception, Spotahome has been about providing a service that benefits all of its users – tenants and landlords equally. It is clear to see from our fantastic reviews on Trustpilot that we have the right formula. Now that we have introduced guarantees for both tenants and landlords, we are taking this one-step further by removing the risks associated with renting – again, that has come from listening to our customers and understanding their concerns and needs.
What would be your top marketing tip, to grow a business that is so niche, yet incredibly timeless?
The best marketing tip is to provide the best possible customer experience ever. A “wow” experience. Listen and learn from your customers and develop the product with them in mind. Always go the extra mile with our customers. Have customers love your product, there is no better marketing strategy. If you do this right, hopefully your customers will share your passion.
What are your thoughts on failure as an entrepreneur?
I founded two startups when I lived in China, one of them being a luxury travel agency for Chinese. It worked well at first, but eventually the contacts in China cut out the middle-man and dealt directly with the agencies in Europe. That’s another learning to take – make sure you’re creating value at every step of the process. But essentially, not every idea will be a success. It’s all a learning process – your idea might not work out the first time, but take from that what you can and move on.
Then I set up another business which was an international job site that showed job hunters suitable employment opportunities around world, tailored to their skills. A global database of needs from companies and skills of people that had no borders and allowed people to go work anywhere in the world. We didn’t raise capital but learnt a lot. This one actually led to Spotahome, as it shares purpose of eliminating barriers in the world and increase human mobility.
But every single experience is needed, it shapes you if you listen to the learnings and use them in your next ventures. You try, fail, learn and try again with more learnings.