First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
James Muscat: My family and I are well. I live in Lisbon, and my parents and relatives live in Malta or Melbourne, and the situation there has not been as bad as in continental Europe. I think it is fair to say that Portugal has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic equally successfully as Australia did: closed the borders relatively early, managed to impose measures that eventually had a positive effect as to prevention of the spread of the virus amongst the population. Also, the behavior and solidarity of people in Portugal has been commendable!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded moviinn.
James Muscat: The story of moviinn started with my very first relocation at the age of 3. Maltese born, I moved to Melbourne, Australia with my parents. Ever since, I have been living in different countries and cities, some of which are Florence, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris, Tel Aviv and Nice. Finally, I returned to Lisbon in 2013, just about when the city started reinventing itself by revising its truly cosmopolitan and welcoming character. It seemed like a perfect place to establish a relocation and integration startup, with the aim to help internationals around the globe to taste different cultures and give themselves an opportunity to change their lives through this transformative experience. So, the idea for moviinn started to really emerge in 2015 and founded in 2016 for the purpose of formally putting a team together. moviinn kicked off operations one year later in 2017. My background is in tech and business, since I hold a double Degree in Computer Science & Business Management with a postgrad in UI & UX Design from the universities in Lisbon and Madrid.
How does moviinn innovate?
James Muscat: I’d say our main innovation drivers are
- Our 360º service approach designed around the journey of starting out in a new country
- We provide the relocation industry with a single point of contact
- Definitely our team that has been through the challenges of living abroad and motivation to help more people in this process.
We at moviinn see moving abroad as a three-stage process: decision making, relocation and then integration. And we provide support and services throughout this entire journey. Since the migration process is fragmented and complex, and since all stages are interconnected, we believe that the best approach to moving abroad is an integrated one, from the earliest stage possible. Our services are classified in the following service lines: VISAS, TAX, JOBS, BUSINESS INCORPORATION, REAL ESTATE and INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT ADVISORY.
As for our team, it is the backbone of our business. Currently, our core team consists of 4 senior professionals in each of the areas of their expertise: Sales, Marketing, Operations and Business Development. Apart from the core team, we have an extended team of associates made up of lawyers, recruiters, realtors, consultants for all the services needed to set up in Portugal. We have amongst ourselves lived and worked in more than 20 countries worldwide and therefore know the relocation & integration processes inside and out, first-hand. Apart from the expertise, this is the most important ingredient of our service.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
James Muscat: Our business has slowed down, naturally. It is only logical to expect a significant drop since the industry we operate in depends completely on whether people can freely move or not. That free movement was the first thing that suffered coupled with the closing of consulates worldwide which impacted our business directly.
Also, due to insecurity that every crisis creates, people are very reluctant to spend money, unless it is an immediate and direct need. However, we invested a big part of our time keeping the international community both here in Portugal and those abroad looking to move here informed of what was happening and how things were progressing. We still maintained a certain number of clients since, on the other hand, relocation is not a fast process and we can still offer services in the early stages of relocation, such as decision-making and preparation which is what we did. From our experience from these 2,5 months, people did not give up on the idea to relocate to Portugal. They were mainly postponing and using this time to prepare and gather information. Since the start of May we have started to see things pick up and more people engage.
One of the initiatives we intensified throughout the pandemic was the platform we created some months ago called moviinn talkiinn – Portugal explained, which basically is a series of different editions of interactive talks and Q&A sessions aimed at those who are thinking about moving to Portugal. Here we provide free advice and credible information in a form of a Q&A session where people are allowed to ask questions related to the topic we define and receive free answers from our trusted experts.
Our strategy is to work hard, focus, keep people informed and be well-prepared for the moment once this crisis ends countries start reopening which is proving to have been a good approach with signs of business already starting to pick-up.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
James Muscat: I always tend to say this is not the first nor the last crisis we will experience in our lifetime. And every time a crisis happens, the first thing we need to do is – adapt, learn and see it as an opportunity.
In practical terms – this means: realizing what works in our business and what doesn’t. I am not necessarily talking about pivoting – which basically means reshaping and shifting from one business model to another, followed by the change or at least adjustment of the product or services we offer. Before that, I think we should all try to understand what services would be more sellable and marketable during the crisis and focus on providing those, which is what we did.
We quickly had to learn how to better employ our own internal resources, experience and creativity more than in regular times, because for many of the companies, especially SMEs – this is survival and survival mode means giving it 150%.
We started fundraising at the start of March which was definitely a major challenge as the crisis became more real and uncertainty was everywhere. But we are more certain than ever that the reason for fundraising which besides growing is also to build a product that brings together the valuable insights gained over the years of experience in the industry allowing not only streamline and automate a lot of repetitive processes but also to allow for a big part of our work to be done remotely – making even more sense now, than ever before.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and moviinn in the future?
James Muscat: I love what we do. It has purpose. Helping people and businesses on this journey and seeing our clients go through the transformative experience one goes through when moving, living and working in another country is very gratifying. We get to see that everyday so it is a constant source of energy. I also have a morning routine which now includes a cold shower, planning my day, reading, meditation which has been very helpful. Connecting with friends and family, sleeping well, eating healthy and playing paddle and tennis (which I’d like to do more) are all a part of what helps me maintain a certain level of balance.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
James Muscat: Expat industry has grown tremendously during recent years in Portugal. And it is still changing. As new small companies emerge, there are also bigger players that penetrate the market, usually by opening their subsidiaries or through local franchises. However, as the industry matures, so do the players. In practice this means we are differentiating amongst ourselves. We in moviinn believe we have the competitive advantage thanks to our complete relocation offer – we render each service thinking about the big picture, since that is the only way to provide a truly unique and successful relocation experience. And apart from that, our employees must have at least one relocation experience which provides us with that added value and edge which makes our success rate very high.
To this end, we have been working on a product unique on the market here and abroad by developing a platform designed for every step of the relocation journey. It is work in progress, with a little setback due to the current situation, but stay tuned!
Your final thoughts?
James Muscat: I have always believed that the ability to change, adapt and innovate in today’s world is what gives us the edge to succeed! Every crisis and difficulty in life proves this one of my strongest beliefs!