Spotahome opens the door to a world of real-estate possibilities

18 Dec 2017

Alejandro Artacho, co-founder and CEO of Spotahome. Image: Spotahome

Our Start-up of the Week, Spotahome, is all about revolutionising the global real-estate sector by taking the process 100pc online.

Founded in 2014 by Alejandro Artacho, Bruno Bianchi, Bryan McEire and Hugo Monteiro, Spotahome is focused on the mid-to-long-term letting market for apartments, and has generated €60m total contract value for landlords.

Spotahome recently closed a €13.6m Series A round from investors including Passion Capital, Nordic Makers, Samos Investments and Mexico Ventures, bringing its total funding raised to date to €20.7m.

‘We make it possible to book mid-to-long-term accommodation from anywhere in the world’

“We personally visit properties and create HD video tours, photos and detailed floor plans, eliminating the need for the landlord or homeowner to field calls, emails and spend time on visits.  Potential tenants can simply review the property and confirm their new home online,” said Artacho, CEO of Spotahome.

“We make it possible to book mid-to-long-term accommodation from anywhere in the world.”

The market

“Spotahome is open to everyone – we don’t focus on any particular segment such as students or expats,” Artacho said.

“The majority of our users fall into the 18-44 age group.”

Artacho said that Spotahome’s service is especially helpful for persons moving abroad or to a new city, because it allows the user to sort their living arrangements out before arriving.

The founders

Artacho lived in China for three years, where he founded an export business and a travel agency.

“After that, I returned to Spain where I studied management and business at IE Business School in Madrid before [I went to] to London and later to Lisbon where I worked in the real-estate sector.

“It was a combination of my experiences in China and in real estate which led to the creation of Spotahome.

“The first experience was during my stay in China, when a friend asked to borrow his tablet to help another friend relocating from the US to find accommodation. They searched classifieds and later created photos and videos to help the friend choose their new place before arriving.  The second moment was when I was working in real estate in London, where I realised how much time, effort and money people invested in searching for accommodation.

“But finally, the idea emerged through the realisation that if people were booking holiday accommodation online without the need to physically visit the property, why couldn’t they book in a similar way for longer periods of time, say a few months or years?  This was especially true if you were a foreigner in a city.”

Co-founder and CTO Bryan McEire was born in Costa Rica and has also lived in Spain and Belgium. McEire is a computer and software engineer, having undertaken his studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He has various years of experience in the infrastructure and business intelligence sector, and has worked as a consultant for large companies such as Mapfre.

Co-founder and COO Bruno Bianchi comes from Argentina and has many years of experience as the sales director for a Spanish company in the food industry. Previous to this, he developed his professional career in the import jewellery trade. His varied professional experience has given him a unique perspective on the world of business, and this wealth of experience and practice brought him to help form Spotahome.

Co-founder and VP of engineering, Hugo Monteiro, graduated in IT engineering from the University of Lisbon and has more than five years’ experience in the sector, including large companies such as BNP Paribas and Portugal Telecom as well as start-ups across different sectors including real estate, health and education.

The technology

“In the beginning, the whole Spotahome solution was a monolithic application contained in a single PHP code repository where all the software, features and user interface had to live in the same space,” Artacho explained.

“As the business started to grow, so did the tech team and, at some point, we had to rethink our platform for the future with scalability in mind.

“Horizontally, we have split our product in different product divisions with clear responsibilities. Every product division includes people from different engineering specialities, as well as a product owner and a UX designer to form a vertical team with high responsibility and autonomy. This has helped us speed up decision-making process and product iteration.

“Vertically, we are layered in isolated back-end and front-end platforms. In the back-end, we mainly rely on PHP7 as a programming language, though we also have some systems running in Scala, Java, Python and Go. In the front-end, we work with Node.js and use React for the end-user applications. For data persistence, we are using MongoDB and MySQL, depending on the area.”

Artacho explained that all development is completed through applying microservices, hexagonal architecture and an event-driven approach, while progressively transforming legacy code to adopt the new practices.

“The way we split our product into microservices is based on context mapping, following domain-driven design principles.

“The ultimate goal for us is to make easier for anyone to rent their home, in any part of the world. We aim to digitalise as much of the renting process as possible, moving it entirely online and making the process instant.”

Who dares scales

Artacho explained that one of the biggest challenges for Spotahome right now is scaling the platform.

“Since we have been growing consistently since the day we started, it is a challenge to keep up delivering the best user experience, improving our business and, at the same time, invest in our infrastructure.”

In terms of start-up life, he believes the key is to be stealthy, adaptable and always learning.

“We are living in interesting times, which is seeing technology being applied to lots of different sectors in new ways.

“If I would give advice to other founders, it is first to not try to be a perfectionist, and be willing to dive in the stormy waters of uncertainty not knowing what you still do not know. Being fast is key, but being able to learn and react, changing the plan as you go, is even more important.

“At the beginning, you should not be very opinionated with tech decisions; just start by using the technology and techniques that you know to allow you to start creating value from day zero. There will be a time for big plans, and you will hire the right people to make it at the right moment.

“Remember that building the most perfect solution from the beginning, having scalability and long-term technological strategy in mind from day zero, will block your evolution and put the whole project at unnecessary risk from the very beginning. Adopt a progressive enhancement philosophy in all your processes. Though complex, scaling product is a very welcome problem to have when you reach that phase.

“It is also important to invest in your technical operations. Adopt agile methodologies and start off as soon as you can on a build-measure-learn cycle. Practices like continuous integration and continuous delivery will help you achieve this,” Artacho concluded.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years