Nine years later, these Doinn digital nomads landed in Singapore
It was 2013, when the terms “remote worker” or “digital nomads” had yet to be coined, when husband and wife team Nuno Rodrigues and Noelia Novella took a world tour, spanning 11 cities and spend two weeks in each, with the intention of finding a future place to live.
With two children, one nine months old and the other two years old, they had what they said was the best time of their lives, visiting London, New York, Washington, Toronto, Vancouver, Auckland, Sydney , Brisbane, Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao.
“We booked Airbnb everywhere, lived like locals, met lots of people, got to know each place. We wanted to get under the skin of each place because sometimes they can look perfect in the books but in real life they are not,” said Spanish-born Noelia.
Fast forward to August 2022, and the couple behind Doinn, a startup offering cleaning services for short-term rentals, have moved to Singapore from Madrid, along with their two children and a dog. “It took us nine years but we’re finally here,” Portuguese-born Nuno said. “Even the children wanted to live here, we don’t like European cuisine so much.”
They also see Singapore as the ideal launch pad from which to expand Doinn into Asia-Pacific. Doinn’s idea was born in 2014 when the couple participated in the Lisbon Challenge and they applied with the idea of ”doing the second level of the sharing economy” – how to build services on top of the first level that companies like Airbnb was creating.
“We looked at offering services for hosts and guests — cleaning and laundry for hosts and experiences for guests,” Noelia said. “But it was hard to get people to buy experiences from a brand they didn’t know, so we realized we needed to focus on hosts.”
On their future home-check trip, they also realized that cleaning was a real problem to be solved. “Some apartments were so dirty. Our worst experience was in St Kilda, Melbourne, when the place was so dirty we couldn’t get our kids to walk on the floor.
The couple began asking cleaning companies serving the hospitality industry about their pain points that could be solved with technology. “Sending 20 housekeepers to a hotel is easier than sending 20 housekeepers to 55 apartments spread across the city,” Noelia said.
“How not to burn the money” is the top priority
Doinn started in Lisbon as a B2C company, working directly with individual hosts. Seeing that it was a challenge at scale, he turned to B2B, working directly with property management companies. It started with a €300,000 injection from Portugal Ventures, a Portuguese VC, and later raised a €1.4 million pre-seed round. He hopes to lift the next round in the first quarter of 2023.
Its first market is now Spain, followed by France and the United Kingdom. “Our model is not difficult to replicate in different markets. We work with a handful of service providers we trust – cleaning and laundry – and then connect them with property management companies for short-term rentals.
“The biggest challenge in building our business is how do we not burn the cash. We sell technology but behind the scenes it’s a very hands-on business. We’ve always been conservative when it comes to spending and although there was nothing good that came out of the pandemic, what was actually good was that it made us even more efficient, pushed us to improve the product and expand to more new cities.
“Airbnb used to be our core business, but during the pandemic, Leisure Towns became more popular and we started working with new hosts in Leisure Destinations,” Noelia said.
This year turned out to be Doinn’s best year as travel rebounded. “It was difficult at the start of the pandemic when business fell to zero and remained zero for several months. We had 13 employees, but we kept the ship stable and retained the talent. Between March and June this year, we saw record bookings with travelers moving to short-term rentals in Europe,” Nuno said.
Lessons learned from Mexico and the Dominican Republic
With 17 employees working remotely, Doinn is now ready to expand into Southeast Asia. Since rules around short-term rentals are stricter in Singapore, Noelia said she would focus on co-living spaces, which there has been an explosion of, on the back of co-working spaces. , with brands such as CasaMia and Lyf, co-living brand CapitaLand, with its largest property, Lyf Funan, in the heart of the city.
“The growth of co-living spaces in Asia is huge, and in Singapore most of them are fully occupied. In a normal Airbnb, the average in Spain is seven to eight turnovers in a month. With co-living, the average is four times a month. Our first task is to first develop the offer and identify the cleaning suppliers,” said Noelia.
He is targeting Singapore, Australia and Kuala Lumpur as a starting point. Given the shortage of cleaning staff in major cities across Asia, Doinn would solve a major problem – the main challenge is finding enough supply outside of the traditional hospitality channel.
The two founders believe that Doinn’s ability to solve problems such as resource planning and optimization is particularly necessary due to the shortage of personnel. “Cleaning companies are looking for software to solve their problems. We integrate with their systems – we have over 10 integrations – and we automate the workflow. We focus on data, giving customers a visual dashboard – they can tell which customers are the best, which ones are not.
“With our best suppliers, we create indicators for them: productivity, logistics. Hospitality is not real estate, it is hospitality. Labor shortages are a huge problem everywhere, and we don’t have the culture of saying good job to the cleaners. The key is to convince cleaning companies to use the technology, as many of them still use manual processes,” Noelia said.
As it expands in Asia, it is also aware of the failure it experienced in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. “It didn’t work because the cleaners aren’t used to the technology. We have an app that cleaners can use to bring transparency to their work – if there’s water in the wall, they can take a picture and create a maintenance alert.
“We lost so much time and money in Mexico – we thought we could manage it from where we were in Spain. You need local teams on the ground. The idea that you can grow because you speak the same language is not right,” Nuno said.
That’s why they moved to Singapore and are overseeing the expansion here, while the team continues to look after the European business that runs on its own.
They are a couple accustomed to nomadic life – they have lived in Portugal, Belgium and Spain – and to working together. “We’ve been together for 22 years,” Noelia said. “He is tech, I do business. We are very different, but complementary.