This week’s Meet the CEO features Dustin Figge, CEO and co-founder of Homelike. We caught up with Dustin to discuss his journey to CEO and how he co-founded the start up in 2015 after living in Silicon Valley for two years working at CRM business Arvato.
Can you tell me about yourself and your business background?
I co-founded my first company when I was still at university in Cologne. This company was called TalentsConnect – it was a Software-as-a-Service solution disrupting the recruitment industry by creating a completely digital process for matching talent with corporates.
At university I also became the CEO of the World Business Dialogue, a yearly event in Cologne which sees global business leaders and future business leaders speak about key business issues. This is where I met the CEO of arvato – a global services company – who invited me to become his Executive Assistant. In this role I experienced long-term business travel for the first time, moving from Cologne to Silicon Valley and staying in Shenzhen, China for 6 months and Dublin for a couple of months, amongst many others.
How did you become CEO of Homelike?
I had an amazing time travelling around the world with arvato, however, it was in this period that I first experienced the challenges associated with long-term business travel: feeling cooped up in hotels, getting homesick because I didn’t know anyone in a city or speak the language and feeling unhealthy because I didn’t have access to a gym or didn’t have a kitchen where I could prepare my own meals.
Furnished apartments always felt like a better option than hotels because they were cheaper, more comfortable and gave me more flexibility than a hotel – but it was a massive challenge finding a suitable apartment for a long stay online.
I met up with my co-founder Christoph Kasper, we just clicked over a few beers and started talking business. We had both travelled long-term for business and had an idea for a startup which could help people like us find a “home away from home”. And the rest is history!
What’s Homelike’s USP and greater mission?
We are completely unique in the market, connecting two previously disconnected groups of professionals: real estate suppliers and business travellers. We are the only digital platform that connects furnished apartment suppliers directly with business travellers and corporations looking for long-term accommodation.
Our greater mission is that we’re bringing technology and process to a part of the real-estate landscape which still mostly operates offline – we’re bringing business class customer experience to our business traveller clients, providing them with a “home away from home”.
Where do you see the technology industry heading, and how do you think it will influence your business?
Technology is transforming every industry and I believe that we are very close to being at a stage where there isn’t a single aspect of our lives not linked to technology. Homelike is a PropTech company so developments in this segment that will affect my business the most.
Because of the amount of capital moving around in real-estate without the proper use of technology, PropTech still remains in an early stage of digitalisation – with notable exceptions being the likes of WeWork. Real-estate is still pretty much an offline industry. But it isn’t going to be this way for long.
PropTech is a huge segment with many large incumbents and over the last couple of years, many startups have been founded to continue to push forward the digital transformation of this market. We’ll soon start seeing more PropTechs ranking among the world’s unicorns.
What’s the biggest challenge about being a CEO?
Everything we do internally is a team effort so I don’t see any of the challenges I face as purely “CEO challenges”. I feel extremely proud to run this business with my co-founder Christoph and our management team. We celebrate successes and cope with challenges together.
I would say that a major challenge is ensuring that we prioritise tasks in the best possible way. Every day opportunities are constantly popping up around us which can cause a lot of distraction and can keep you from tackling the issues which when solved will bring the highest value to the organisation. Learning to balance lots of plates early on in the companies growth has been key.
If you could give advice to another tech startup CEO, what would it be?
Listen and communicate. With everyone.
How do you see the company changing in the next year, and how do you see yourself driving that change?
We have massive demand from our customers to be present around the world. We just launched in Madrid which was super exciting and our strategy is to keep launching around Europe and then overseas eventually. Bringing the business global is probably one of the most challenging but very exciting moves at the same time.
I’m driving this change by applying the learnings from the expansions we have conducted so far to our future expansions. I think great company communications are a really important part of retaining our healthy company culture.
What’s an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
I think it wasn’t a single accomplishment but rather a series of accomplishments. I have always been interested in trying out new things and leaving my comfort zone. I wasn’t the best at school or university but I have also been good at motivating people, whether that is in a sport or business setting. This means I’ve always been able to win people over to my ideas or endeavours.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I got a great piece of advice recently: the difference between good people and great people is adaptability.
Favourite app on your phone?
My two favourites are Spotify and Headspace.
Name a book that’s influenced you / your career.
Most recently I was reading Shoe Dog, a memoir from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, and Homo Deus, a book from Professor Yuval Noah Harari from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where the author examines history along with the ethical issues that rise along the way. Both really inspiring!