Yugodom is a stay-over museum that’s redefining the hospitality experience. Located in the heart of downtown Belgrade in the Dorćol neighbourhood, Yugodom gives visitors and locals the opportunity to travel back to the times and country that no longer exist: mid-century Yugoslavia.
Mario Milaković is the Founder, Designer, and Creative Director of Yugodom, and a member of Impact Hub Belgrade. He took some time out of his last days in Vienna to talk about how he came up with the idea of his venture, his experience at CEE Impact Day, the Investment Ready Program, and the plans he has for Yugodom’s future.
Photo by Monika Pavlović
How did Yugodom start? Where did you get the idea for it?
Yugodom is the result of a very natural process that started small and gradually grew bigger and bigger. It wasn’t the standard process of getting an idea, sitting down and writing a detailed business plan. It all started when I had just returned to Belgrade after living in Japan, and I had a spare bedroom, which I was unimaginatively using to store my bike. The apartment was a bit big for me, especially after having gotten used to living in a 13 square meter apartment in Tokyo. At the time, Airbnb was getting more and more popular so I thought: why not make a proper guestroom in my home and see what happens? If it becomes a success on Airbnb, great! If not, I would have a proper guestroom for friends and family. So I started to design the room. I didn’t have very much money so I focused on vintage things that I actually liked, which was and is still quite cheap and available in Serbia. When I was finished, and put the room online, people came! I got a lot of positive feedback and I also unexpectedly got some international media exposure, which led to more demand and that led the way to a second room, which was my room, and then the whole apartment. That’s when the concept of Yugodom all came together. And then I realised that the concept of Yugodom needs bigger space than what it is now so I got involved with Impact Hub.
What’s your background?
I’m a designer. I have a Bachelor’s in Costume Design and a Master’s in Cultural Studies and I love to do interior design so Yugodom is the coming together of all my interests. I’ve spent quite a bit of time abroad and I think that’s given me a different perspective on things.
Why did you choose this particular period of history for Yugodom?
I really like mid-century modern design. I think this period of design is just beautiful, natural, and significant. In Serbia, it’s sometimes difficult to know what is authentic given our history and we often only value things that are made abroad. I thought, why not focus on and value the things that are already here. We don’t need to always look abroad for high-quality objects, we have them already.
Photo by Monika Pavlović
What is it about mid-century design that appeals to you?
It’s the aesthetics, the functionality, and how the pieces are timeless. Even though they were made in the fifties and sixties in Yugoslavia, they’re still very contemporary. Things are not big or heavy so they can be easily moved around and rearranged. These objects fit incredibly well with a contemporary style of living. Also, what I really like about vintage finds is their ability to deliver a unique story of past times.
Yugodom took part in the CEE Impact Day. What did you learn? What are your next steps?
CEE Impact Day was the culmination of the Investment Ready Program that we’re a part of. It was an incredible learning experience, especially for me because since I’m more on a creative side, I don’t often think of the all the practical aspects involved when it comes to scaling a business so being exposed to those elements was very educational and worthwhile. The network of Impact Hub is also fantastic. I can’t overstate the value of being able to discuss ideas and to reach out to people when you have questions. It’s the crown jewel of the whole experience for me. For someone who’s just making steps into something new like myself, CEE Impact Day and the Investment Ready Program were amazing from A to Z. And the team at Impact Hub Vienna is so supportive and very lovely.
As for the next steps, it’s all about scaling up and growing bigger. For that we need to find the right partner. Since hospitality is not the typical industry that people think of when they think start-up, some people get what we’re trying to do, and some people don’t. Therefore, finding the right partner is also another big next step–someone that shares the passion and the vision we have for Yugodom.
What are some of the difficulties that Yugodom has had to overcome to get to where it is now?
Since it was an idea that grew quite naturally, there weren’t that many growing pains. I just always took the next logical step. Plus, I’m a natural optimist so I tend to forget challenges after they’re solved. I guess the one thing that I’ve realized on this journey is that if I want to grow the idea of Yugodom, I will need to include other people. Even if I’ve been a solopreneur up until this point, if I want to grow, personally and professionally, if I want to spread this idea, it’s important to surround myself with the right team and have a network that I can reach out to and be there for others too, to support and to help.
Photo by Monika Pavlović
How do you see Yugodom and your business model affecting society at large?
The idea behind the business model is to promote the culture and history of a specific place while upcycling undervalued historical furniture and objects. The social impact and ecological impact we want to have is a core value of our business. In addition to this, we would like to employ a minimum of 30% of our workforce from marginalized groups. In Serbia for example, this would be the Roma people. So if you stay at Yugodom, it’s not just a place to sleep. You’re giving back to the community by helping preserve and celebrate culture while supporting progressive and inclusive work practices. I think it’s important to break stereotypes and demonstrate how ostracized groups are an important and underutilized resource of talent, capability, and potential.
What would you like to see Yugodom become?
First I’d like to further prove the concept of Yugodom by expanding it into a mid-sized boutique stay-over museum in Belgrade. Long-term, I would like to franchise the idea of Yugodom, which is to take the local history and character of a place, wherever that is, and recreate it in a stay-over museum that runs as a social enterprise. I want Yugodom to set the example of how the hospitality industry can be beneficial for everyone involved: the visitors, the locals, and the workers. In Serbia for example, some hotels are only for visitors and not for local people. I’d like to change that.
How can members help Yugodom?
I’m open to and very interested in all feedback and love discussing all aspects Yugodom so if you want to talk about it, please, let’s talk about it! And if you can, spread the word and check us out on Facebook and Instagram! And, of course, visit Belgrade and stay at Yugodom!
Banner photo by Baldwin Tong