5 minute read
May 18, 2020
Solving Student Housing with Lydia Jones of Housemates
This article originally appeared on www.buildingproptech.com, a retired blog where I interviewed proptech founders on how they were building and growing their businesses.
Hey Lydia! What’s your background and what led to you working in PropTech?
I started my first startup over six years ago, It was a fitness platform before the boom of many similar platforms, and I grew that to a large global community of 10s of thousands of users. Since that, I've founded other startups and even worked for other founders on their own missions. I love working in tech, it allows me to work with a group of diverse and creative people to solve real problems on a global scale.
There is something about startups that is addictive, that's why people leave startups/scaleups to found their own companies - in the early days when the resource is small, and capital is constrained it's about being as creative as possible to validate further to get you to the next place. I'm now the Founder and CEO of Housemates, we're a global student marketplace that streamlines the process of booking accommodation.
I never intended to be a proptech founder; in fact, I didn't know that was a thing until a year ago. I founded Housemates through another side project I had, after witnessing how long and time consuming it can be to book and I wanted to build the solution for that. I’m a product person, I’ve previously been a Product Manager and putting the end consumer first by building valuable feedback loops is something I enjoy doing and I believe is what sets us apart at Housemates at our core from our competition.
What problem are you working to solve with Housemates?
It’s 2020 and it still takes weeks to book student accommodation even with our online competitors. I find this hard to believe as we’re talking about a demographic of people who’s consumer expectations, and purchasing behavior has totally changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years more than ever before.
Booking accommodation is expensive as it comes at a time and financial cost due to the many agents involved in the process - essentially a chain of people looking to monetize from the student which doesn’t sit well with myself and the rest of my team who have all been students.
At Housemates, we believe that students should be able to book accommodation as easy as it is to buy an item of clothing online and our mission to make this as frictionless as possible.
What’s the process been like as you build Housemates?
Like all startups products go through many phases and iterations, we started with a standard MVP mobile app which was essentially me being an agent to figure out what could be removed within that process to be streamlined. Since then the product has evolved a lot and we’re soon to launch our web app based on demand from boths sides of the marketplace.
We spend a lot of time speaking to our end consumers almost like their mate, and not very sales like as that never ends well when trying to build the best solution for customers. As a founder there are many things that you are juggling in the early days from validating, raising money, hiring, onboarding etc - there is always a challenge but that’s why I enjoy the journey so much as it changes daily.
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How have you gone about growing your user base and revenue? What has been most effective?
To date all users have come to us organically which is great, we’re now looking at other acquisition channels and constantly A/B testing everything across marketing, community building and the product itself.
What has been the hardest part of building, growing or monetizing Housemates?
One of the greatest challenges is figuring out where to invest time, with so much happening and how quick the company is moving.
The challenges change as the company scales, but one of the key thing I remember I spent so much time on was ensuring the problem we were going to solve was a global problem - I didn’t want to build a lifestyle business as that’s not a big enough challenge so initially there wasn’t enough hours in the day to speak to enough students to ensure what I was spending my time and a significant portion on my life on was a big enough issue.
Once I figured this was a global problem in countries such as the UK, Australia, US and more It was then about validating our MVP, attracting investors and team talent to join me on the journey which has been enjoyable. We are still early on this journey, but I think we have now found processes that can scale and feedback loops which can help us as a company navigate forward.
What insights about real estate and technology have you came to realize while building Housemates?
Having discovered Proptech was a thing, I do spend a lot of time listening and watching the market not just other businesses but the end consumers as it’s really about what they do that matters.
I see lots of innovation happening around allowing people to connect more within buildings of residence for tenants and sectors like ours that being student accommodation we are seeing year on year growth with the amount of investment and development happening - over $180billion is spent annually by students on accommodation that’s a huge market that we believe we can service well.