When looking for a vacation rental, most people jump straight to Airbnb when other options provide services that are more suited to your needs. If you want more control of your experience as a homeowner or even as a renter, Domio is for you. Unlike other rental platforms, Domio pays homeowners month-to-month and completely manages the home from furniture to payments, giving you the stress-free experience of renting out your home. As a renter you gain access to a consistent clean and welcoming experience with the Domio Delight service team. Created by experienced travelers, real estate investors, and software engineers, Domio is doing short term rentals differently.
AlleyWatch recently chatted with CEO and cofounder Jay Roberts about the startup, coming out of stealth, and its expansion plans.
Tell us about Domio.
Domio leases and operates upscale short-term rentals. The company uses data analysis and machine learning to pinpoint properties to add to its short-term rental portfolio based on location, size, layouts and other factors. Once it leases a property, Domio uses software to take over end-to-end management of the short-term rental.
While there are other startups that have popped up to manage short-term rentals across Airbnb, HomeAway and other listing sites, our leasing model is different than those that opt for revenue sharing.
Rather than asking landlords to pay for its software and still take on the headache of physically managing short-term rentals, or taking a % of short-term rental revenue, Domio simply pays landlords just as they always have been — with a payment on the first of each month.
However, unlike most tenants, Domio always pays on time and there’s no chance of the tenant asking out of their lease early to take a new job or to move in with their girlfriend. In addition, unlike Joe or Jane, Domio comes with a $5 million liability insurance policy.
The hundreds of property owners we work with really love the model and with complete control over the short-term rental we can provide a luxurious and consistent short-term rental experience that many others can not. For instance, Domio units are furnished by top designers, we have heads of hospitality on the ground in each city, and a professional “Domio Delight” guest experience team. When you stay at a Domio property, you’ll experience the difference.
Are you really attacking the real estate or hospitality market?
The short-term rental industry has really created a new market at the intersection of the real estate and hospitality market.
When Brookfield Property Partners invested $200M into Airbnb’s soon-to-be-open, short-term rental property in December, it became clear that the barriers between short-term rentals, landlords and commercial real estate investment were eroding.
Some of the nation’s largest landlords, as well as families with single investment properties, are moving away from the age-old idea that they don’t want people to share their rental properties. Instead, they are turning their attention to the many new ways they can monetize their properties with short-term rentals as demand for flexible stays increases by the day.
What is the business model?
As I hit on earlier, we simply lease properties as a long-term tenant and then monetize the properties as short-term rentals.
What inspired Domio?
I was renting out a spare bedroom in my apartment near Times Square. As a host, I really enjoyed meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures, and realized what we are all seeking — especially when it comes to exploring new places — is human connections.
Authentic local insights, tips, and conversation to add to the travel experience is something from the traditional places you’ve stayed in while traveling. However, in the past if you tried to stay somewhere more authentic you often had to trade cleanliness and consistency in hospitality.
I’ve traveled to over 30 countries and stayed in apartments and hostels to get a more local experience, but the stays weren’t consistent or always clean. I believe, when managed in a professional way, short-term rentals can really provide the best of both worlds.
You’ve served over 15,000 guests but operated in somewhat stealth mode. What was the motivation for that decision?
Since starting two years ago we’ve been very focused on building, testing, and refining our product for our guests and property owners. Now that we have defined what it is like to stay in a Domio, we are aiming to scale with a high standard and consistent experience for guests all over the country.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We just launched in New Orleans and we’re aiming to launch in around seven new markets within the next six months.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
I think early on with a startup not as many people encourage you to take the long-term view. In a startup, speed is important to grow market share, grow revenues, and capitalize on opportunities, but at the end of the day if you have a profitable business you’re in a good place.
A lot of companies focus on growth at all costs – at Domio, we’re focused on responsible growth.
Secondly, when you’re starting a company, you set out to solve a problem for people and to build the organization into something that people love. With growth in customers, employees, and footprint – your responsibility to the community grows. It’s important to make a positive impact on all the people your organization touches. There should be more advocates and technology luminaries encouraging this type of mission-driven approach for startups to create positive change while they’re still establishing their company’s DNA.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
I think I would pick connecting with Ian Schrager. I have a lot of respect for how he’s reinvented himself throughout his career. He is a life-long entrepreneur that’s been successful in both the nightlife and hospitality industries. Plus, he really invented boutique hotel concept with the Morgans Hotel in 1984.
Why did you start the company in New York?
I was working in the real estate investment banking group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York City when I started to develop the idea for Domio. As a hub for travelers from all over the world, I couldn’t think of a better place for the company to be founded. If you can make it with a hospitality brand in New York City, you can truly make it anywhere.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
I’m a big fan of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. It is a table-grilled Korean BBQ. Can’t beat the family style where the food is cooked right in front of you.