On The Up

Making the most of student accommodation through Airbnb model tourists set up camp in halls

Letitia Booty | 19 September 2016 | 8 years ago

Tourists get the chance to stay in university halls on their holidays
Tourists get the chance to stay in university halls on their holidays
City Room Rentals is an online platform that matches and connects students and tourists around the world with purpose built student accommodation. It has been compared to Airbnb and in the space of two years has grown to cover much of the UK so we spoke to co-founder Nick Findlay about how he plans to take his business to the next stage.

City Room Rentals is an online platform that matches and connects students from around the world with purpose built student accommodation. The company also runs the same accommodation commercially as hotels to make the most of the space.

The company was launched as Edinburgh Room Rentals back in 2014, when Findlay saw a way to make use of the thousands of flats that lie empty at campuses and student accommodation blocks nationwide during the summer months. The brand received a lot of attention, and in January of this year it launched as City Room Rentals to cater to cities across the UK.

Much like the well-known disruptor Airbnb, City Room Rentals does not own any of the properties. It partners with universities and national operators and manages their accommodation as a service. Our job really is to fill beds for clients, explained Findlay.

we get compared a lot to Airbnb. The concept is actually totally different in terms of our business focus, but it’s a nice comparison to have.

According to Findlay, many of the rooms are a far cry from the sort of student accommodation many people might picture: Over the last three or four years there’s been a lot of investment in student accommodation stock, so a lot of these rooms have got a private en suite, theyve got cinema rooms in them, theyve got games room and theyve got high end lounges. he said.

Although Findlay agreed the typical tourist using one of the rooms is on a budget, most of the accommodation is city centre based as it would need to be near to its local university, making it ideal for international visitors.

Getting started was a pretty smooth process for Findlay: I had a successful career working for a student investment management company that controlled a 500m property fund thought out the UK. After a few years I thought there was a gap in the market and approached my CFO to explain I was looking to start my own firm.

I was overwhelmed with the support I received and, although reluctant to let me leave, they provided the business with non-equity seed funding which gave us our big break. They also came on board as one of our first major corporate clients and we signed a management contract for all their Edinburgh student properties.

The benefit of this arrangement for City Room Rentals was twofold it provided a nice monetary boost to the company, and it also offered credibility.

From its beginnings in Edinburgh, City Room Rentals has expanded its reach considerably over two years and now manages accommodation from Fort William down to London. Findlay plans to keep rolling the service out to more places, one city at a time.

To help with this growth plan, the business signed up to the Entrepreneurial Spark programme in order to gain access to people and opportunities it might otherwise not have been able to take advantage of.

weve been working with the business accelerator since January of this year and have been based at the new Edinburgh Hatchery in the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters at Gogarburn, Findlay said.

aside from the wonderful working space, weve received strategy support from organisations such as KPMG, Royal Bank of Scotland and our legal partners Harper Macleod. The collaborative environment of Entrepreneurial Spark is what sets it apart.

The key for Findlay is growing at a measured pace and not taking on too many cities too quickly and investing too much in one go instead, the business will grow to meet demand.

far too many young companies I interact with become blindsided with trying to raise large investment rounds with venture capitalistsand angel investors and lose sight of growing their business, he said.

were fortunate in having limited pressures from outside investors so we can take our time to continue to grow the company sustainably and profitably.

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On The Up

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