Back in Madrid, de Jódar and his wife Carolina ran their own marketing agency, but in December 2013, they ran into financial difficulties when one of their largest clients, who had been hit by the economic crisis, cut their budget. Rather than view this as a gloomy turn of events, de Jódar saw it as an opportunity.
“We thought about it and decided it would be better not to try to save the company. Instead, it was a good opportunity to close it down completely and find something new – we had always wanted to emigrate.”
When it came to choosing the destination, de Jódar simply opened Google Maps and asked Carolina to pick a city. Having always had an interest in the Nordics, she chose Stockholm.
De Jódar had spent a week there on business some years before, and had thought that the city was “beautiful, and a good place to start up a company”, so the couple sold their assets, packed their bags and made the move.
They had one friend living in Sweden, but no other contacts and they did not speak the language. De Jódar describes it as “a pure adventure”.
De Jódar and co-worker Martin in the early days of Easy Rental. Photo: Private
He had worked for big companies before but his passion was entrepreneurship, and de Jódar says he turned his attention to creating a new company which would “solve a problem”.
“I wanted to impact the life of other people and create something that really helped them. It’s difficult to create a startup. You have few resources, no one cares, and you have to work a lot,” de Jódar admits. “It’s important to have a meaning behind what you’re doing in order to wake up every day.”
As it turned out, finding a problem to solve wasn’t difficult. De Jódar and Carolina struggled to find housing when they first arrived, and found that everyone they spoke to – particularly fellow expats – had experienced the same issue. “People were desperate,” he says.
Having found the problem, de Jódar turned to developing a solution.
He used the ‘Lean Startup’ methodology when starting out, which meant understanding the roots of the issue before working on tackling it. He carried out interviews with landlords and tenants to explore their experiences with housing and to work out a product which could help them.
From these interviews, de Jódar discovered that landlords would receive an average of 50 emails in the first 30 minutes after listing a property, and over 300 after just two days. “The market is unbalanced, with lots of tenants and few places.”
He came up with the concept of EasyRental, an app which indexes available properties across Stockholm’s major websites and notifies users as soon as one is listed which fits their needs. Users can find what they are looking for through sophisticated filters of price, location and other preferences.
“I found that people were obsessed with checking (popular listings site) Blocket, worried they would miss out on something if they weren’t checking it all the time,” he explains. “We can give people peace of mind, because they know we will send an alert when something new appears.”
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EasyRental launched in May this year, with de Jódar focusing on marketing and Italian-native Martin, who met de Jódar at a Hackathon event, working on the website. They were joined by Fran, originally from Spain, after meeting at a party. De Jódar says he found it “surprising how fast you create bonds with other expats who share your situation”.
The service is free for tenants using it because, as de Jódar says: “The tenant is the person who needs help.”
Still, after receiving several emails from satisfied customers who wanted to donate to the company, a ‘pay-what-you-want’ option was added so that users could pay depending on how useful they found the app.
However, 20 percent of donations to EasyRental go directly to UNHCR to aid refugees. “It’s a way to say thank you to customers,” says de Jódar. “We helped them, they helped us, so now we help others. It was the peak of the refugee crisis, you could see refugees arriving every day in T-Centralen (Stockholm's central station) and it was obvious they needed help.”
Diego de Jódar (centre) with colleagues Martin and Fran. Photo: Private
The Spaniard is currently in talks with several universities, aiming to help students in Stockholm who struggle to find housing.
He says he wants to expand his product to the rest of Sweden. But for now the company is sticking to the market in the Swedish capital because, as a startup with limited resources, his team wants to “focus on the problem one step at a time.”
Plus, de Jódar says he continues to be impressed with the resources on offer for foreign entrepreneurs in Stockholm.
“There is an amazing startup scene in Stockholm, with lots of events, investors and government initiatives.”
As well as the help with setting up a business, de Jódar has also fallen in love with the famous Swedish work-life balance. “You quickly realize how much time you have for your private life that you didn’t have in the past.”