Start Up Profiles: The Urban Collective/UrbanCo

Meet UrbanCo, the app that is here to revolutionise the rental market. UrbanCo allows users to find and share properties based on lifestyle choices rather than just price.

Using a group chat feature, you can share that perfect property with your friends. Have no time on your hands, The Urban Collective can sort that for you with their exclusive luxury ‘Sherpa’ service, they do all the hard work for you.

In their own words… Valerie and Mayank – UrbanCo’s Founders

How did your team come together? 

Valerie and I first met while studying for our Masters’ degrees at ESSEC Business School, in France.  We got married in 2010 and have lived together in Paris, London and a couple of Indian cities including Mumbai.  When we returned to London in December 2015, Octavian was the first estate agent we met. We really liked the way he handled our search and his entrepreneurial nature.

Why were you interested in developing this idea? 

The experience of renting a property has basically not changed since the first time we arrived in London around 15 years ago.  When we faced the same challenges in our home search as we faced back in 2002 or 2005, we knew this process could be substantially improved.

What did you learn about the current state of the industry? 

Real Estate industry in the UK is in a big flux – the number of renters has exploded in the past 2 decades; affordable housing supply is limited, and there is a whole generation who find buying a house unaffordable. In some ways, this industry is currently at the same stage where banks were in the early days of fintech startups, or where the book publishing & retailing industry was just before the arrival of Amazon.  New business models and technology have all the potential to turn over the existing industry order.

How do you think the current method inhibits people?

The current residential lettings model seems to have only a singular focus – service to the landlords.  There aren’t many people that really worry about the experience of those who actually live in the property – the tenants! As a consequence, tenants spend an average of 40 hours – a full working week – finding a home that’s right for them. Our study also shows a third of tenants find the process even more painful and time-consuming when searching as a group.

What’s unique about your particular business model?

Our Sherpa service is completely focused on providing high quality search experience to the tenants.  We fret over all their requirements – commute, lifestyle, property pre-screening, group decision-making, etc.  Our mobile app enables our Sherpa to provide this seamless service to our clients.

How do you hope this will change/improve people’s experience? 

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 tenants have already spent a lot of time on reviewing hundreds of listings or talking to a dozen or more estate agents.

We cut out wasted time and take them directly to a much smaller set of properties that match their lifestyle requirements.  They can then create a social network within the app with their family and flat sharers, all reviewing the same set of properties. Our target is to ensure that the tenants never have to leave the app till the time they have secured the lease on the property.

Is there a social media component as well? / Would you consider this a type of social media platform? 

Our mobile app indeed has very strong elements of a social network; a user can add their family and potential flat-sharers (even if they are half way across the world), share reviews, photos, videos, and comments with them in real-time, or chat with each other to organise their search process more efficiently.   How has the service grown? We started offering our Sherpa service about 8 weeks ago, and have already worked with about half a dozen clients in Central London.

Our example clients include the CEO of an FX platform firm who needs to travel constantly, a couple with two young toddlers and no time to manage anything other than a thriving business and household, and an international student who found it cheaper to use our service rather than arriving in London 2 weeks before the session start and staying at a hotel or AirBnB while looking for a flat!

When exactly did this concept begin? 

We started kicking around the idea in early 2016, shortly after we had moved into our new flat.  Initially, the plan was to build a review platform that tenants can look up before finalising a property.  However, after careful analysis we found that this idea is not really scalable  – a property only comes to market every 1-2 years, which severely restricts the number of reviews you could collect, and people may not necessarily benefit from one review written by someone they don’t know because their property requirements are drastically different.  So we shelved that idea around mid-2016 and started on the current plan.

Has it been difficult to establish yourself in the current market? 

London is one of the best cities globally for startups.  With the availability of abundant resources, experts, tech know-how etc., we never really felt that there was anything that was holding us back. As far as general market conditions are concerned, it’s potentially the best time for innovative startups to breakout. Most of the larger, established firms are fully focused on dealing with their internal challenges, leaving a large space for startups like ourselves.

Where did the name come from?

It took us some time to finalise the name. We wanted something that would communicate the strong social aspect of the property search process. It was also important that the name represents our unique network of Sherpas – professional local experts that we can match with our customers based on their lifestyle requirements and preferred areas. The Urban Collective is a good fit for our concept and is a name that people can easily relate to.

What was the hardest part about starting out? 

The hardest part at this stage is almost always linked to building a solid team. We recognized 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, tech development etc., and we continue to talk to several more people to expand our team rapidly.


Media Contact: Jenna Jarret, Munch Media [email protected]


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