Business travel is lucrative but it’s still dominated by big hotel chains with the resources to provide reliable experiences around the world. Domicile thinks that legacy industry is ready for a shake-up.
The Seattle startup rents out luxury studio and one-bedroom apartments in close proximity to the business districts of cities. The units come with the amenities business travelers expect from hotels.
“Sometimes with Airbnbs, you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get when you open the door but with business-level hotels, it’s that strong brand, it’s that consistent experience, it’s the amenities, the concierge service,” said Domicile CEO Ross Saario. “We’re blending it with the best of what Airbnb and alternative lodging has to offer.”
Domicile launched last October in its hometown, Seattle. Over the past year, the company has been steadily acquiring customers and building out its product. The feedback has been positive, Saario says. One traveler who visits Amazon frequently has stayed with Domicile 16 times.
“A lot of our places are right in the heart of downtown, a block away from Amazon or Facebook or what have you,” said Simon Tam, Domicile’s co-founder and CTO. “They’re very carefully curated.”
Domicile leases its apartments, rather than buying. Tam and Saario are intentionally avoiding going into the property management business. Instead, they’re putting their horsepower behind developing technology products that enhance the travel experience, like a virtual concierge service.
“I think that will be a key differentiator for us,” Saario said. “We’re not going to be an operator at heart. We’re not going to be a property management company. We’re going to be a technology company building a brand and where we take that in the future, there’s a lot of options.”
Before launching Domicile, Saario was a general manager at Amazon, where he oversaw several programs, including Amazon Lockers and Last Mile Delivery. Tam brings leadership experience from several Seattle-area consumer brands, like Expedia, Bag Borrow or Steal, and Ritani.
Domicile is a spinout of Madrona Venture Labs and received a small initial investment from the Seattle venture capital firm. The startup is currently raising another round of funding. The new cash will help Domicile grow its five-person team and develop new technology products.
In its first market, Seattle, Domicile has 30 downtown units. So far this year, the company has done more than $1 million in bookings. Despite that early success, Saario acknowledges there could be some speed bumps as they scale the business. Lawmakers in Seattle and around the country are considering new regulations for short-term rentals, which have exploded in popularity because of services like Airbnb. Domicile is working with the Seattle City Council to help craft the new rules.
“At the end of the day, we can only control what we control,” Saario said. “In Seattle or other cities around the country the legislation is going to be prohibitive in some cases and it’s going to be very dynamic. It’s going to change. We’re early stages of how it’s ultimately going play out but if it does so happen that the city we’re in, such has Seattle, does prohibit short-term rentals across the board we’d have to shift our focus to more of our long-term corporate space in that case.”
Domicile is also entering a crowded space. Traditional hotels, Airbnb, and HomeAway are all potential competitors. Plus there’s Stay Alfred, another Washington startup that operates short-term rentals in the urban core of cities with hotel-like amenities.
But Saario believes Domicile’s exclusive focus on business travelers and the technology chops of his team will set the startup apart from the pack.
“We’re consumer-focused and we’re really a brand company and a technology company … we’re builders, we’re technologists at heart,” he said.