On the up · 20 July 2017

The Urban Collective: A proptech startup making renting less arduous for tenants  

The Urban Collective 1 Valerie Vigouroux and Mayank Mathur
Mayank Mathur and Valerie Vigouroux were confident there was a better way for tenants to rent

The Urban Collective is a tech startup promising to make the often drawn out, painful process of renting quicker, simpler and more enjoyable through a unique mix of smart technology, property listing data and human interaction.

It’s the brainchild of tech entrepreneur co-founders and married couple, Mayank Mathur and Valerie Vigouroux, who developed the Urban Collective service after becoming personally fed up with the rental market, and how it’s been geared towards landlords rather than tenants.

Confident there was a better way of renting, they partnered with the only estate agent they met during their rental search who understood their particular situation. Business Advice spoke to the pair to find out more.

(1)     Who are you and what’s your business?

We are Mayank and Valerie, the co-founders of The Urban Collective, and also a married couple. When we were looking for a flat to rent in London, having relocated from abroad, we realised we were facing the same challenges in our home search as we had faced back when we first came to London, in 2002.

We set out to dramatically improve the rental market for tenants, making the drawn out, painful process of renting quicker, simpler and more enjoyable through a unique mix of smart technology, property listing data and human interaction.

(2)     How long have you been around for?

We started offering our ‘Sherpa’ service about eight weeks ago, and have already worked with about half a dozen clients in central London.

Urban Co 2

(3)     How do you make money?

Our business model is 100 per cent tenant focussed, from the ground up. Consequently, we don’t rely on landlord commissions as estate agents like several “proptech” startups do. Our revenues currently come from our pioneering “Sherpa” services. The company is offering the service for a one-off introductory starting price of £600.

(4)     What makes you different and why should people take notice?

The Urban Collective offers a “Sherpa” service. A dedicated, hand-picked local expert will take the heavy lifting out of finding and securing a property. It is the first “enhanced” lettings search experience catering to busy professionals.

It is aimed at professionals who are severely time poor, for example, business owners for whom “time is money”. We become their primary contact during the search process, and all the steps are organised by us keeping in mind their requirements.

In addition to this bespoke service, we’ve developed a new, and free to use, interactive app called UrbanCo that streamlines the search process for couples, groups and families.

The app is the first of its kind offering lifestyle-focused listings, with properties curated based on their proximity to things such as gyms or commuting options rather than simply price and location. The UrbanCo app also allows collaborative chat and commenting, with link, image and video sharing to organise thoughts and feedback in one place.

The app has an interesting twist on search. In all our customer interviews, commute was quoted as one of the most critical criterion in choosing a property. Yet, no one seems to address that need properly.

Similarly, other requirements, such as proximity to parks or schools, come much later in the process, when they have spent a lot of time already on reviewing hundreds of listings, or talking to a dozen or more estate agents. We cut out all this wasted time and take them directly to a much smaller set of properties that match their lifestyle requirements.

(5)     What was key in terms of getting started?

Both of us have always worked in teams where everyone pushes towards a common goal.  We recognised early on that as we attempt to solve a substantial problem, we would need to rely on other experts to deliver on different parts of the business.

We now have a core team in place, as well as several external teams that are helping us with specific things like app design, marketing and tech development, and we continue to talk to several more people to expand our team rapidly.

(6)     What’s your biggest achievement to date?

While there are several businesses that are focused on making the renting process easier for the landlords, there is very little focus on how the search process could be streamlined for tenants. We believe the Urban Collective service is the first major effort in the industry to streamlines the whole renting process for tenants.

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The Urban Collective app interface

(7)     What setbacks have you had along the way?

We have hit some technical roadblocks a couple of times that required some change to the product. However, more importantly, we interacted with approximately 100 potential clients during the development process, which has helped us continuously improve the product.

(8)     In five years’ time, we will be…

The property market has changed in the past two decades and will continue to evolve – more professionals and business owners are unable to or choosing not to buy, meaning they stay in the rental market longer.

We aim to become a highly trusted brand for residential tenants, delivering a seamless experience of high-end technology with human touch, that makes renting an easier and more enjoyable experience.

(9)    What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Spend a lot of time early on understanding your target market’s challenges and frustrations, rather than applying a narrow solution to just a small part of a problem.

(10)   Who are your business heroes and why?

Valerie: Before starting the Urban Collective, I had the opportunity to work very closely with a female business founder who built her company from the ground up in a largely male-dominated industry. Today, she stands as a pioneer that has helped shape her industry.  She remains a strong influence and source of inspiration.

Mayank: During my nine years as a technology investment banker at Morgan Stanley and Citi, I had an opportunity to work closely with several inspiring entrepreneurs. I have consistently learnt from these entrepreneurs – how to go after big problems, create long-term plans while maintaining a sharp execution focus, take calculated risks, and get results.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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