Airbnb has well and truly disrupted the world of travel accommodation, changing the conversation not just around how people discover and book places to stay, but what they expect when they get there, and what they expect to pay. Today, one of the startups riding that wave is announcing a significant round of funding to fuel its own contribution to the marketplace.
Domio, a startup that designs and then rents out apart-hotels with kitchens and other full-home experiences, has raised $100 million ($50 million in equity and $50 million in debt) to expand its business in the U.S. and globally to 25 markets by next year, up from 12 today. Its target customers are millennials traveling in groups or families swayed by the size and scope of the accommodation — typically five times bigger than the average hotel room — as well as the price, which is on average 25% cheaper than a hotel room.
The Series B, which actually closed in August of this year, was led by GGV Capital, with participation from Eldridge Industries, 3L Capital, Tribeca Venture Partners, SoftBank NY, Tenaya Capital and Upper90. Upper90 also led the debt round, which will be used to lease and set up new properties.
Domio is not disclosing its valuation, but Jay Roberts, the founder and CEO, said in an interview that it’s a “huge upround” and around 50x the valuation it had in its seed round and that the company has tripled its revenues in the last year. Prior to this, Domio had only raised around $17 million, according to data from PitchBook.
For some comparisons, Sonder — another company that rents out serviced apartments to the kind of travelers who have a taste for boutique hotels — earlier this year raised $225 million at a valuation north of $1 billion. Others like Guesty, which are building platforms for others to list and manage their apartments on platforms like Airbnb, recently raised $35 million with a valuation likely in the range of $180 million to $200 million. Airbnb is estimated to be valued around $31 billion.
Domio plays in an interesting corner of the market. For starters, it focuses its accommodations at many of the same demographics as Airbnb. But where Airbnb offers a veritable hodgepodge of rooms and homes — some are people’s homes, some are vacation places, some never had and never will have a private occupant, and across all those the range of quality varies wildly — Domio offers predictability and consistency with its (possibly more anodyne) inventory.
“We are competing with amateur hosts on Airbnb,” said Roberts, who previously worked in real estate investment banking. “This is the next step, a modern brand, the next Marriott but with a more tech-powered brain and operating model.” These are not to be confused with something like Hilton’s Homewood Suites, Roberts stressed to me. He referred to Homewood as “a soulless hotel chain.”
“Domio is the anti-hotel chain,” he added.
Roberts is also quick to describe how Domio is not a real estate company as much as it is a tech-powered business. For starters, it uses quant-style algorithms that it’s built in-house to identify regions where it wants to build out its business, basing it not just on what consumers are searching for, but also weather patterns, economic indicators and other factors. After identifying a city or other location, it works on securing properties.
It typically sets up its accommodations in newer or completely new buildings, where developers — at least up to now — are not usually constructing with short-term rentals in mind. Instead, they are considering an option like Domio as an alternative to selling as condominiums or apartments, something that might come up if they are sensing that there is a softening in the market. “We typically have 75%-78% occupancy,” Roberts said. He added that hotels on average have occupancy rates in the high 60% nationally.
As Domio lengthens its track record — its 12 U.S. markets include Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Phoenix — Roberts says that they’re getting a more select seat at the table in conversations.
“Investors are starting to go out to buy properties on our behalf and lease them to us,” he said. This gives the startup a much more favorable rate and terms on those deals. “The next step is that Domio will manage these directly.” The most recent property it signed, he noted, includes a Whole Foods at the ground level, and a gym.
Using technology to identify where to grow is not the only area where tech plays a role. Roberts said that the company is now working on an app — yet to be released — that will be the epicenter of how guests interact to book places and manage their experience once there.
“Everything you can do by speaking to a human in a traditional hotel you will be able to do with the Domio app,” he said. That will include ordering room service, getting more towels, booking experiences and getting restaurant recommendations. “You can book your Uber through the Domio app, or sync your Spotify account to play music in the apartment.
And there are plans to extend the retail experience using the app. Roberts says it will be a “shoppable” experience where, if you like a sofa or piece of art in the place where you’re staying, you can order it for your own home. You can even order the same wallpaper that’s been designed to decorate Domio apartments.
Ripe for the booking
Although Airbnb has grown to be nearly as ubiquitous as hotels (and perhaps even more prominent, depending on who you are talking to), the wider travel and accommodation market is still ripe for the taking, estimated to reach $171 billion by 2023 and the highest growth sector in the travel industry.
“Airbnb has taught us that hotels are not the only place to stay,” said Hans Tung, GGV’s managing partner. “Domio is capitalizing on the global shift in short-term travel and the consumer demand for branded experiences. From my travels around the world, there is a large, underserved audience — millennials, families, business teams — who prefer the combined benefits of an apartment and hotel in a single branded experience.”
I mentioned to Roberts that the leasing model reminded me a little of WeWork, which itself does not own the property it curates and turns into office space for its tenants. (The SoftBank investor connection is interesting in that regard.) Roberts was very quick to say that it’s not the same kind of business, even if both are based around leased property re-rented out to tenants.
“One of the things we liked about Domio is that is very capital-efficient,” said Tung, “focusing on the model and payback period. The short-term nature of customer stays and the combination of experience/price required to maintain loyal customers are natural enforcers of efficient unit economics.”
“For GGV, Domio stands out in two ways,” he continued. “First, CEO Jay Roberts and the Domio team’s emphasis on execution is impressive, with expansion into 12 cities in just three years. They have the right combination of vision, speed and agility. Domio’s model can readily tap into the global opportunity as they have ambition to scale to new markets. The global travel and tourism spend is $2.8 trillion with 5 billion annual tourists. Global travelers like having the flexibility and convenience of both an apartment and hotel — with Domio they can have both.”