We spoke with Lydia Jones, the founder of Housemates, to discuss the Manchester-based proptech start-up which has just launched its student accommodation booking platform. Founder Lydia has already won numerous awards for her entrepreneurship including regional winner for North West, North East F Factor and placed in our 29 Under 29 for 2020 winners.
Why was Housemates started? Why did the industry need it?
Until now, booking student accommodation has been a slow and unclear process, involving a lot of middlemen. For students, it’s often the most expensive transaction they will have made in their life, yet the existing options leave them vulnerable to being put out financially with an anxiety-inducing long wait before their accommodation is secured. This doesn’t make sense when it’s so easy to book accommodation instantly through services like Airbnb. Our solution lets students book accommodation with trusted providers securely online in minutes.
How are you different to competitors?
Competitors, such as student.com and UHomes, provide lead generation services, whereas Housemates is a booking engine. We make booking student accommodation as simple as booking a hotel, ensuring it is fast, secure, and transparent for students. Student accommodation providers benefit from increased conversions, lower operation and acquisition costs, and valuable insights on booking behaviour. Our competitors also charge high commissions, whereas we only charge operators 20 per cent of the first month’s rent on successful bookings, with no hidden costs.
What have you learnt so far since founding the business?
Building a team with the right people has been key to our success this year. We’ve attracted talent from companies like Starling Bank, Vibe Pay, Spareroom and DEPT who understand how to disrupt an industry. Despite the challenges that this year has raised, we’ve been playing the long game, aligning every investment with our long-term vision.
What are your plans for growth?
We’ve spent most of this year building the product with our industry partners, so we’re very excited to have launched now. Going forward, we’ll continue to work with PBSA operators of all sizes to onboard them and help them fill occupancy whilst reducing operational and acquisition costs. We expect to expand our supply across the UK and Ireland ready for the return in demand in the new year.
How has the pandemic affected the industry?
No one could have seen the Coronavirus coming, but for PBSA operators it’s been especially challenging. They are used to having long term tenancies booked in advance but suddenly need to be fast and flexible to fill occupancy, relying on technology to transact. That’s why a booking engine like ours is needed – there’s nothing else like it in the market and we want to help those impacted through this tough time.