Finding a house in a foreign land can be hectic. Housing Anywhere was founded by a student, Niels, from the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) Erasmus University, the Netherlands in 2009. Niels wanted to go on an exchange semester to Singapore, but he ran into a problem: what to do with his own student room in Rotterdam during that semester? None of the local Dutch students were interested in renting a room for just 1 semester. At the same time, there were a lot of incoming international students that were all looking for rooms in Rotterdam. That is how HousingAnywhere.com started: Niels created a platform where he and his fellow classmates could rent out their rooms, so that incoming international students can rent these rooms. Today, the platform is growing and expanding.
We had a chance to interview Niels and asked about his story, how he started his business and the future of HousingAnywhere.com.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
In 2009 I was planning to go for an exchange semester in Singapore, I was studying in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, at the time and wanted to sub rent my room temporarily for the period that I would be gone, but found out that there was actually no platform where I could do that. There were some Dutch websites, but that was all more focused on long-term or permanent housing. There was of course Airbnb for tourists, but actually no websites where I could offer my house for 6 months. So then I started setting up a platform myself especially for international students looking to sublet their room to other internationals for the short term. We opened up the platform to landlords and housing operators to increase the variety of accommodation options. Eventually we managed to expand into over 60 countries.
How did you come up with your business name?
It was pretty much a lightbulb moment. It’s the main aim of the business; to have housing for international students anywhere in the world!
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
We’re a peer to peer marketplace and we have 3 different clients: students, accommodation advertisers and universities, so we tailor our service to each one. For international students, while it’s a very exciting time to go on a study abroad, they face the unknown when it comes to finding accommodation in a new country. International students have specific room needs, they need somewhere that’s furnished and only for a 3-6 month period. When you bring in factors like strong seasonality and language barriers, internationals are at a great disadvantage in the race for a room. So we’ve made a dedicated platform just for them! Plus as they can pay their first months rent through HousingAnywhere, which we hold onto until 48 hours after they move in, it’s much safer than looking for accommodation on networks like Facebook and Craigslist. For advertisers HousingAnywhere gives them another opportunity to offer their inventory to a market they wouldn’t be able to reach with an agency. Plus it can save them a lot of time as they don’t have to do in person viewings, any viewings can be done over Skype!For the universities that we partner with, as the number of students going on exchange grows year on year, we essentially relieve the pressure that’s on their accommodation offices.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
We’re the only open marketplace dealing with mid-term rentals, where tenants and advertisers can freely communicate with each other and book accommodation in a safe environment.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
It is in the name: Housing, Anywhere! We want to conquer the whole world. Western Europe is our focus for now but then the next step is the United States. We’re already active in Berkeley, Boston and New York and that is actually going well, the market is just growing organically but I can see us opening an office in the USA so our teams can be physically present there. Eventually we’ll expand into Asia.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
“Just jump and don’t think about the idea for too long.” It doesn’t help to ask everyone for their opinion whether the idea could work or not. Of course it is important to discuss the business idea with friends and family, but more opinions also bring more doubt and can make you lose sight of your original goals.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
Persistence is very important. You shouldn’t give up unless you’re forced to give up – Elon Musk
For me persistence is everything and you shouldn’t be put off by someone else telling you ‘no’ or that your idea isn’t going to work. You’re always going to have knock backs so it’s important to keep your drive because eventually someone will say ‘yes’!
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
Never doubt the power of your network, at the end of the day it’s not so much about what you know but who you know and who can help you open doors.