INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
A Startup Takes on Relocation during COVID
We talked to Vi Nguyen of Homads on how the startup helps renters find rentals across the world.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Vi Nguyen: We’re lucky to currently have everyone healthy at this time. My fiancé is an ER physician, so we’re intimately aware of what’s going on in our city in terms of COVID-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Homads.
Vi Nguyen: The first part of my life is rather traditional in that I graduated High School as valedictorian and got a full ride to the University of Texas at Austin. It is from there, and small details when growing up, that you’ll realize that I’ve taken a somewhat non-traditional route for my life. My parents are refugees from Vietnam and came to the United States in 1975. This detail is relevant because it taught me my resilience, scrappiness, and entrepreneurial spirit. I started my career in non-profit working in disaster recovery with refugee and immigrant communities. From there, I branched out into Asian-American media and co-founded my first business, a production company. As a digital nomad, I spent a lot of my time simultaneously traveling and working via my laptop. The combination of this experience and my first steps in real estate investment was what hatched the idea of Homads. I saw myself as both the homeowner and renter. Someone who wants to rent out their property for large portions of the year but not lost access to their property and ALSO as someone who wants to live somewhere for a month to set down roots but not permanently move there.
How does Homads innovate?
Vi Nguyen: Innovation truly comes from understanding our user’s needs. We started as a site that lets people rent for a month, but we found out that 9 out of 10 people are unhappy with where they originally moved, with neighborhood incompatibility being the top reason. We then expanded our site by using machine learning to help people find their most compatible neighborhoods.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Vi Nguyen: The pandemic forcefully pushed people to explore extended travel, an experience that inspired Homads six years prior. This helps people understand why they would want to rent for longer durations. One of the hardest parts of starting Homads was that we weren’t just creating a service that people would use, but we were also trying to create change in how people live and work. COVID has inadvertently done just that, and it’s helped us, onboard users, more quickly.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Vi Nguyen: Surprisingly, COVID-19 pushed startups to go from growing +10x to prioritizing survival. The pressure to grow at all costs has shifted, and survival is something we’ve always been good at. We have always been a remote team (even though most of our team lives in Austin, TX), so the transition of going fully remote was also very easy for us. The more difficult choices and lessons learned are ones that are involved with startups, with or without COVID. We’ve gone through some ups and downs that involve hiring and firing as well as finding alternative capital to build a company.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Homads in the future?
Vi Nguyen: COVID-19 affected our team in that they’re unable to go out socially to work. Even though we were remote, many of us co-worked or visited coffee shops. Apps like Slack and Zoom make these transitions easier and allow us to communicate easily to alleviate stressors during the pandemic.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Vi Nguyen: Our biggest competitor that most people think of is Airbnb in terms of monthly rentals (which is only one component of what we do). They recently moved to prioritize monthly rentals, which we see as a benefit rather than anything. Their move to go towards monthly rentals helps educate people on why you’d rent monthly and increases the supply of homes that are made for this duration as well. We plan to stay in the game by being the best in a niche industry and listening to our users.
Your final thoughts?
Vi Nguyen: I think COVID-19 really challenges businesses to understand their users’ needs, whether that be immediate or future needs. Homads was positioned well at the time of the pandemic and its effect on travel and relocation, but the challenge will be how we evolve with this change. For example, we know with COVID, there’s been an increase in urban flight, forcing more people to move to more affordable cities. Our challenge is to understand their top needs through this transition and how we can provide solutions throughout the process.
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