Interview: Dustin Figge, Homelike

BBT got the chance to sit down with Dustin Figge, CEO and co-founder of business furnished apartments booking platform Homelike, to learn more about the company’s rapid expansion across Europe

Figge begins by telling me that he and co-founder Christoph Kasper founded Homelike after years of long-term business travel and living in different countries. They both realised that the technology and service for those longer stays was about 15 years behind the hotel industry.

Thus, they came up with the idea of Homelike as a platform to give a hotel-booking experience for those reserving furnished apartments for business trips of 30 days or longer.

“One thing a lot of long-term business travellers tell me they hate is homesickness, and I’ve experienced it myself. I think furnished apartments can help to reduce some of that pain. If you look at the generational differences, you can see that the younger travellers don’t want to live in a hotel if they’re going to be away from home for a month or two. They want to host their family and friends for visits, some of them may even want to bring their pet with them.”

In fact, Homelike’s own recent research found that a third of UK business travellers prefer apartments for trips of longer than 30 days.

“Research shows that Millennials and Generation Z employees would be happy to take a pay cut if they could travel more for business, but they still have high expectations when it comes to how they travel. That’s where the idea for Homelike started – finding accommodation for people who want that home-away-from-home feeling and making it as easy to book as a hotel room.”

From its beginnings in Cologne, Germany in 2014, Homelike has grown to offer more than 45,000 apartments in over 100 cities. The business has since opened offices in London and Barcelona and is planning further expansion, with a hiring phase underway across the company.

In 2018, Homelike completed a funding round worth US$14 million, attracting the attention of investors such as Spark Capital, which also invested in tech start-ups such as TravelPerk, Slack, Get Your Guide, Twitter, Trello and Oculus. Figge believes it was Homelike’s focus on building seamless technology that drew investors to the company.

“Some of the tech that older companies are using is a little out of date, and despite there being so many hotel brands out there, I don’t feel like the content is unique anymore. While it’s relatively easy to build a booking engine, the hard part is creating a seamless user experience. Our speciality is bringing rental properties that don’t yet have a digital presence into the modern era.”

When asked why the duo decided to focus on furnished apartments, Figge told me: “The long-term real estate market doesn’t really know a lot about digital marketing. We provide a channel for them to reach an audience of business travellers, and once they book we essentially take care of everything.

“We also saw a need that wasn’t really being met by the industry. Serviced apartment providers are great at catering for business trips of a couple of days or a week or two, but it gets harder for them to set aside inventory for longer stays because they can’t always guarantee that apartments will be available on the weekends because serviced apartments are very popular with leisure travellers. With Homelike we wanted to tap into inventory systems to detect availability and pricing for those longer trips.”

Figge explains Homelike’s expansion model by focusing on the UK market. “We initially launched in London and set up our regional office, and now we’re live in cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. We like to start in the main business hubs in each market we go to, then we start spreading out from there to fit our clients’ needs.

“An interesting thing we’ve noticed about the UK market is that clients aren’t just looking for apartments abroad; they’re also booking places in London because they’re bringing in a colleague from another branch or relocating a new employee.”

How does Homelike work with its corporate clients on policy and duty of care? “We have a partnership with AXA to provide travellers and their employers with insurance policies to ensure they’re fully covered for the length of their stay, and we’ve also teamed up with Miles & More so guests can earn reward miles for each month of their trip. But the loyalty side is only a small part of it. Offering points is great, but providing a seamless booking experience makes the difference in the end. The loyalty perks are mostly attractive to people who come back to us the next time they need to book an apartment.

“Corporates are usually risk averse and take a risk when they start working with new technology companies like us. There’s a big amount of trust that goes into forming those relationships, but there is clearly a desire for change in the industry because companies like Uber are becoming incredibly popular among the business travel community.”

With the company growing at a fast pace and new investment providing the team with new opportunities, I ask Figge what Homelike has planned for the future.

“At the moment, booking long-term accommodation seamlessly is basically impossible. There are something like 15 different touch points in the booking process. You can already book apartments instantly on Homelike, but our goal is to offer all apartments to be booked instantly like you have with hotels, but there’s still a long way to go.

“Long-term accommodation is very different to one or two-night stays. You don’t normally do a site visit at a hotel, but it’s common practice when it comes to furnished apartments. We want to be able to provide a 360-degree experience at all the properties on our site to help travellers who might not have time to do this.”

Looking slightly further ahead, Figge says: “Business travel is global, so we as a company need to go global as quickly as possible, but we will do it wisely and with a high-quality level. In every country we go to, we need to be compliant with local real estate laws and we also need to cover the duty of care aspect for our clients.

“At some point we’d like to expand into Asia’s major business travel destinations, but that’s a bit more complex. When you look into going live in Asia, you basically have to build up a new company. But we do have a lot of requests for coverage in those areas so it will hopefully be on the cards in the coming years. First, I think we’ll look at the US.

“We’re moving very fast, but we don’t just want to be a unicorn company. We’re in this because we want to make things easier for the long-term business travel market. Look at companies like Uber; they offer a seamless experience where you book your ride through the app, it tells you exactly where your driver is and then you don’t have to worry about settling the bill at the end because it’s all linked to your card through the app. We want to give that level of experience for this market.”

Watch this space.

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