Start-Ups.Co really enjoyed interviewing the brilliant entrepreneur; Mr. ‘Rafael Dos Santos'; CEO of the – UK start-up “Room in the Moon”.
Below, is the full interview that we have conducted :
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Room in the Moon is a social travel website that connects people who are moving or living abroad.
Members can connect with others who are moving to the same country and with locals, so you can learn about the country and make local friends before you even get there!
Once you decide which city you want to move to, you can book rooms in flatshares.
We focus on flatshare accommodation because is the easiest way to make friends when you move abroad.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
We started in April/13 but only launched the app in Oct/13.
The app is in constant update and the site will be ready in March/14.
The CEO has invested £50k to launch the business.
We have created 75 videos to help people moving abroad, we have over 8.5k followers on FB and the app has been downloaded over 200 times.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
Room in the Moon is a combination of social network – we work opposite to facebook.
Fb connects you with your friends, RitM connects you with strangers with a common interest of moving abroad or with people who are already living where you want to move, so we describe it as an ice-breaker.
The business model is commission on every room in flatshare rented and also commission on sales of flights and other services to those who will be ‘moving abroad’.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Rafael dos Santos – CEO
Mario Alimari – CTO
Ana Freccia – content manager
Sandra Agypong – events organiser
Rafael met Mario during a Google Campus hackathon organised by StartupABC.
Ana and Sandra are trainees.
Room in the Moon has been approved by Ravensbourne Incubation Programme funded by the EU (dmic.org.uk)
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Rafael dos Santos and the author of the book: Moving Abroad, one step at a time and has 10 years experience running flatshares.
Mario has over 15 years experience developing website.
Room in the Moon centralizes valueable information about countries that are provided by locals to those who want to become locals.
There is an exchange of information ebtween members which will make the website unique in the travel industry: we provide local information for those who want to live in another country. It’s now about tourism or pretty sights in the new city, it’s about ‘how to get your oyster card, how to top up online, why some buses are 24h and other are night buses’. This is the kind of info we are going to provide to users.
We will tackle loneliness, culture shock, and accommodation the top 3 worries when people are moving countries.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
To launch our app we are running an event for 300 startups. Our marketing strategy is: an event that will help the community.
Even though we are a ‘moving abroad’ community, the majority of start founders in London are from abroad, so one way or another they are our target market.
We are just targeting them in an indirect way.
Up to date we have over 200 downloads, so we are expecting thousands from the beginning of March when our PR campaign kicks in.
We will start with properties in London and slowly grow into other markets in the the UK then then biggest cities in Europe.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Airbnb.com is an indirect competitor because they are a holiday flat booking site but they have a very good booking engine.
Spareroom.com is a direct competitor, but they don’t have online booking or social network.
Easyroommate.com the same as spareroom.com. they are direct competitors.
gumtree.com is great for advertising but they have a lot of fraudsters using the site.
They are established and have more resources but they don’t have the social travel network within them!
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The main problem was the development.
I didn’t have a CTO I had an agency developing.
startups that are tech only need to have a tech guy in the team. It’s extremely hard to get an agency to put their sweat and blood in the project like founders do.
I had horrible nightmares with the agency I used to develop my website.
They didn’t know what they were doing.
Everything else was running really well. I am glad I have a great network of friends and business acquaintances that helped me a lot to develop the idea and keep my mind on the right track to keep going.
Ideally you have a mentor too who can help you to see through the mud that you are in sometimes.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Rafael (CEO) has 12 years experience living abroad and 10 years running a flatsharing business, so Room in the Moon is not just an idea, it’s years of experience put together to help others.
Rafael’s values are:
community, integrity and excellence.
Having a great business, that is honest to help the community. This is what Room in the Moon is about!
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Because we have the perfect mix:
we love what we do, we sincerely want to help people to move abroad successfully, we have over 20 years business experience combined between CEO and CTO, we have expertise in the industry and we have an AMAZING team!
When you try to launch a business only thinking about the money you are going to make it does not work. You have to think about the benefits people are going to have if they use your services.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We will build the biggest flatsharing complex in the world.
It will be a large building with several flatshares and we will provide facilities to young professionals to live well. We will have building all around the world and provide really good accommodation and help young people to save money to buy their first property.
We’ll will also run a charity to help poor communities who live in touristic areas to have access to English language courses either by living abroad or bringing someone from abroad to teach them, so they can become tour guides and earn more money to have a better life.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
I have moved from Brazil to the UK in 2001 and I had a really hard time when I moved here.
The first worry when you are planning to move abroad is: where am I going to live?
Once you know which city then it’s time to choose a place to live – where?
Once you find a place (and you should be lucky the place exists, it’s clean, tidy, etc.
Once you find a place and can call it a home, it’s time to think about social life – think of Maslow!
I only had 1 friend and he worked all the time, so loneliness was an issue.
Then the culture shock and the question was ‘how to become friends with English people?”
I wrote a book about it and when I was writing the book I came up with the idea.
I was looking for a website similar to RITM and I could not find one, so I saw a gap in the market.
The best ideas are the ones that come up when you are least expecting.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Planning is key.
You need to have things planned and plan if things go wrong.
You have to be prepared to change direction very quickly and make decisions that will not be very popular.
You can’t expect a lot from your friends either. They don’t have the passion and drive that you have and may not have the same interest that you have or even want to download your app.
You need to have thick skin and learn to hear NO and DECLINED and WE ARE SORRY… because you will get a lot of them at the beginning
I have been declined to every single accelerator I applied for but this has not stopped me from keep going.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
We believe that our networking is going to grow.
We will grow it with or without investment.
Even if I have to sell everything I have I will get this project off the ground.
The biggest problem we may face is if landlords don’t like our project and don’t put their rooms on our site, so we don’t have a product to sell to our customers.
We will have to find other ways to monetise the site but we will worry about a problem when we have one.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
I want the user to feel that we are going to hold their hand and say : ‘don’t worry, we’ll help you to move and live abroad happily’.
They will be able to ask questions to locals so the info is up to date and ‘real’.
Similar to what we have about Trip Advisor at the moment but trip advisor is only if you are going on holidays.
We want to have this kind of comment and user content on our site about living in another country and also the audience will be very similar (age / demographics / interest).
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
We are running a huge event to help the startup community.
The event is about learning, sharing, connecting and winning amazing prizes.
Indirectly we are targeting our customers. Founders, designers, UX professionals from all over the world live in London so they will be using our network.
it’s very common for those who are living abroad to have friends who want to move to the country too and instead of speding hours and hours providing information to your friend, you can put all that info in our site and then you only need to provide it once. Every time you have a friend who is moving to the same country, you can just send him to Room in the moon to read your blogs, videos, etc.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our customers are young professionals who wants to live abroad for many different reasons.
The main reasons are: new language skills, explore the world, learn new culture, gain professional experience and meet new people with different points of view.
They are between 20-35 years of age mostly Europeans, Americans and Asians.
Chinese and Brazilian are the biggest groups moving abroad at the moment.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Our customers will come from many different parts of the world. They want to live abroad and they will try new things.
Our main channel is Facebook but we will try many different channels to reach the ‘moving abroad’ community.
We will have a lot of word of mouth too. We want people to invite their friends to come along to the website to share their views and opinions about their countries.
People are very proud of their home countries, so we want to provide the message that will entice those ‘proud citizens’ to be part of the website.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Once we explain to them the idea we have great feedback.
They all love the idea of sharing info about their countries and especially their home city.
The swapping idea info works well, especially amongst the young community who is used to the social media platforms.
We will create a reliable source of information for people to make their decisions – which are pretty important life decisions – when going to another country.
The way they interact, where they live and how they live is a crucial factor when it comes to ‘having an amazing time while living abroad’.
20. How are you going to scale?
We have a plan and we will stick to the plan but if needed so, we will adapt, change and move fast to get things going.
We will run events to meet our customers.
Offline world is still the best way to get to know people and make sure they know what we are about too.
We are a company but behind the company there are people and ‘our people’ will be there to connect with the customers.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
To be able to contact with flatmates when they are still in their home country so they can have an idea of people are like (the people the user will be sharing with).
We have the challenge of the data protection and security.
We can’t show who is living where as this compromises privacy.
But people want to know who they are going to live with so we need to work on that.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We will certainly do that.
We need to get our operations right first.
Once London is fully operational and is working well we can just replicate the model in other cities.
The website is being built in a way that will show in different languages, so it will not be be an issue to translate it.
The best way is to make sure our processes are in place and everything works well.
I learned a log time ago that to be able to scale you need to have processes in place that can be replicated.
Look at all successful companies in the world”
McDonalds, Subway, etc.
They all have processes for everything.
They train their staff over and over again and IT WORKS!
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We can get pretty big.
We already have a team of 4 and we only started in October – officially.
We want to have offices in 4 continents and maybe in every country.
Development can be in one country but marketing has to be related to the culture.
What works in the UK does not work in Brazil, so we need to know well the culture to be able to talk to our customers.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Not at this stage.
We have interns at the moment and the best thing is they all love the concept.
It’s great to have a team that we know they love what they are doing to.
Our interns don’t make coffee or serve tea!
They do real work, share ideas, implement, discuss what is working and what is not.
We want to hire them when we can afford to pay them full wages!
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are still deciding what type of partners works best for us.
We have to look very closely into that.
After our big event in March we will be looking for investment but we want to make sure we have enough downloads and prove that our concept works.
We raised debt finance at the moment to keep the project going for the first year up to launch.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Plan and keep close eye on your cashflow!
I’ve been running a biz for 10 years, so I learned: you can live with debt, you can’t live without cash!
Also make a decision very quickly to change direction if needed.
If you’re looking to grow a team: hire slow and fire fast.