"One-click rental application" sounds brilliant and is the stuff of real estate portal product managers' dreams. In reality though, there are a lot of hurdles to clear before it can happen.
Domi Labs is a German startup that's looking to bring some very exciting technology to the market which could help rental marketplaces clear a few of those hurdles.
Self-sovereign identity technology is fairly new, very interesting and is being explored by governments around the world. This week's interviewee and Domi's co-founder, Katrie Lowe, is looking to bring SSI technology to the rental sector in Europe.
She's also looking for some of our readers who might be able to help...
What is the problem that Domi solves?
Domi is a digital passport designed to simplify the rental application and tenant selection process for both property managers and tenants. Using next-generation digital identity technology, we are establishing a universal, simple and privacy-preserving way to exchange verified identity, financial and credit data without needing to share sensitive paperwork.
Domi solves the workflow inefficiencies and data privacy issues associated with conventional paper or pdf-based housing rental applications.
What is Domi’s USP?
Domi is pioneering the introduction of digital identity to the real estate industry. Using Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) technology, we are establishing a universal mechanism that enables tenants and property managers to interact in a digital end-to-end manner.
For property managers, this means the ability to handle larger volumes of rental applications and make faster rental management decisions, due to streamlined workflow processes, access to verified applicant information, and simplified handling of tenant data with regards to GDPR and other data regulations.
For tenants, we are the world’s first digital rental passport. We offer the ability to apply to listings and manage applications in one place while retaining user data control.
What is Domi’s biggest challenge?
Like most startups, Domi’s biggest challenge will be customer acquisition. While there is a growing movement towards digitalisation in the real estate industry, many housing companies and rental agencies have just started on this journey.
Domi’s added advantage is that via our API, we are well-positioned to form partnerships with rental management software platforms, which in turn supports the growth of our user base.
Tenant onboarding is often a critical challenge that constrains B2B customer acquisition for these software platforms. Integrating Domi solves this, allowing them to dedicate greater resources towards growing their property manager user base and increasing their revenue.
Does Domi monetise from tenants or landlords or both? What is the model?
Domi earns revenue from both tenants and property managers. For property managers, it’s a straightforward SaaS model, with monthly subscription fees based on the number of rented properties. For tenants, we’re exploring a one-time fee to secure their reusable identity, financial and credit checks, and a success fee once they’ve secured their contract.
The specific details around our pricing structure are something we’re looking to continue to refine as part of our upcoming pilot.
Domi Labs was part of the SSI Incubator in San Francisco in 2019. Can you tell us about SSI technology and its application in Proptech?
Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is a new digital identity standard that is being rolled out globally. Think of the way you present your driver’s license or passport as physical proof of your identity.
SSI technology uses the same principles to create a digital proof of your identity – also known as a ‘verifiable credential’ – leveraging concepts of cryptography, semantic web and decentralisation so that you as an individual have full control over this proof.
In the context of renting, the adoption of SSI means significantly more streamlined customer interactions, and also greater data hygiene and privacy standards.
Property managers will be able to receive applications – including identity, financial and credit information – in a standardised data format, that is both verified and machine-readable. That makes it easier to identify compatible tenants without needing to handle sensitive personal documents.
Tenants benefit from being able to apply to listings in one click from their phone, while also maintaining full control over the relevant data they choose to disclose.
Europe is heavily investing in this next-generation technology to advance the ability for businesses and citizens to interact digitally in a more secure and transparent way. We’re also seeing significant developments in other parts of the world, including the US, Canada, Singapore and Australia.
The technology sounds like it might be interesting for portals that increasingly want to go ‘end-to-end’ in rentals. Have any portal companies expressed interest in what you’re doing?
Yes, a number of the major rental property portals in Germany have expressed interest in Domi.
One of the major challenges that we’ve seen with portals looking to go ‘end-to-end’ in rentals is that it typically involves a significant investment in IT infrastructure. The involved investment includes needing to build rental management software that has the functionality and user experience that is good enough to compete with existing third-party solutions. It also requires investment in additional infrastructure for the management of large volumes of tenant user accounts.
With Domi, the required infrastructure investments are significantly reduced. Portals benefit from direct access to tenants without the associated infrastructure investments. They also benefit from the competitive edge of being able to offer their landlord and rental agency customers superior tenant selection functionality based on verified data, and a much more streamlined rental management process from listing to contract signing.
You guys returned from San Francisco to set up the Domi product in Berlin. What is special about the market in Berlin that makes it a perfect fit for Domi? Are there any plans to expand?
The reason we decided to focus on Germany as our first launch market within Europe is because of the country’s extremely strong renting culture—in Germany renters make up 51% of the total population, and in the capital of Berlin it's 85%. Germans also have a high regard for data privacy, which makes it a perfect test ground for a product like Domi.
Beyond Germany, we are looking to expand to other key rental markets in Europe, and are also exploring opportunities in North America and Australia. We are seeing some very exciting developments in these regions. The beauty of Domi being based on verifiable credential standards is that it is designed to be global and interoperable from the outset.
What is Domi currently working on and what’s next?
Domi is currently raising a pre-seed round to support the launch of our Beta and pilot phase, scheduled for later this year. We’re specifically reaching out to angel investors with deep connections in the residential real estate sector. I’m always up for a conversation and warmly welcome your readers to reach out if they see a great partnership fit!
What is the most common request from clients?
In capital cities like Berlin, a single listing might attract 300+ inquiries in less than 30 minutes. Mentally this is overwhelming, and the most common request we hear from clients is the ability to access a verified shortlist of compatible prospective tenants.
There is perhaps more innovation going on around the world in the rental market than in sales. Are there any companies or products out there that have inspired you or that you like to keep an eye on in the news?
Introducing SSI technology to the real estate industry is no small feat. The companies that I like to keep an eye on are ones that are similarly taking on complex cross-industry challenges, often with frontier technologies. Everything from developments in artificial intelligence to alternative construction and clean energy technologies. They’re a great reminder that true innovation requires a bold vision, persistence, and time.