I remember struggling trying to secure accommodation during my second year at university and now I look back on how exhausting the process was, so when I heard Jack was trying to remove the nightmare that comes with student accommodation through University Cribs, I knew I needed to get him on YHP to share his story.
Hi Jack, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Well, I grew up in Hampshire, before going off to Cardiff University to study Economics. I started my first company while in my second year, running student events. The business was a success and I continued to build the business with my business partner, Dan Jefferys, until we had a presence in 9 cities and had a team of nearly 600 part time staff.
Off the back of that, we launched a new venture, our first tech play, as a joint venture between ourselves and another student marketing company. The new venture was a student discount card and mobile app, called the Bubble Card. Unfortunately, we ended up having a legal battle with a large mobile phone network over a trademark issue and we ended up having to wind the company up. It was tough, but we fought back and after a couple of other different ventures we decided to launch University Cribs.
How did the idea for University Cribs come about?
It’s been a long ambition to try and create change in the student accommodation market. I had loads of problems myself when I was a student, and I guess this is what stimulated everything. I actually bought the website domain when I was a student back in 2010.
Dan, had also experienced problems himself so could resonate with the idea, and over the years more and more people helped me validate the need to create change in this market.
We’re born innovators, and love to help fix problems, and felt this was a opportunity for us to really make a difference. It became a real passion for us.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
We experienced challenges everyday, it was really tough. It still is, if i’m going to be honest. I guess what separates us slightly is our mindset towards these challenges. If you view them in a state of worry, they become debilitating, where as we seem them as challenges and to us that excites us.
Funding, gaining traction, building the MVP were all difficult. Especially the MVP, it was important to keep listening to our clients, and adapting our product roadmap in order to ensure we build a product that worked for them rather than what we thought they wanted.
What is University Cribs? And what are you trying to solve with it?
We’re a student accommodation search portal, that aims to solve all of the pain points students face during the rental process. Our aim is to bring the whole rental process online to make it a super smooth process for students but also, importantly, to build products that help make our letting agents more efficient. This is one of the reasons we have been so quick to launch Virtual Reality property viewings onto the platform. It’s really exciting.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Initially, in the early days it was all us self-funded. Growing at this stage was hard. We did enough however to get our first angel investor on board, Sam Zappi, who joined us as a co-founder. He’s was an amazing talent and a great find for us.
Following release of our MVP and some solid traction we raise a £450k, seed round, that has propelled us forward to today.
We’re just preparing to go to market for a sizable round, to turbo-charge product development, take us nationwide, and into profitability. It’s going to be an exciting few months.
What advices would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their start-ups?
I would say it takes time. One of our major investors in the last round described it to me as herding cats; it still makes me laugh to think of it this way.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
When we launched, everything moved so fast. We were lucky to a point but we build traction incredibly fast. We loved it, every day we felt like we were making massive steps forward. We still feel this way, and long may it continue.
How did you initially get traction?
We had loads of previous experience building and launching brands to the student market so this help a lot. We were clear on social media and were resourceful. We managed to reach a lot of people without spending a penny.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
We’ve have some great successes with University Cribs. Closing our last funding round, our first major clients, hirings such an amazing advisory board have all been massive highlights for us. I guess two of the awards that are great, would be making the Startups 100 list only a few months after launch, as well as being named Welsh Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the University Cribs team for 2018?
We have a boat load of new products on the horizon, including our first steps into Fintech, with the launch of a product that will help student living, both in the immediate but also be the launch pad for their financial life.
We’re a very innovation led company, so we will continue to push what’s possible and try and fix problems for students across the UK.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Love the journey; you can get so caught up with planning and projections that you forget to deliver and act in the present. It’s the decisions we make today, that will change our future not the dream we are having.
2. As Mark Twain said, “the secret to getting ahead is getting started.” I’d encourage any entrepreneurs starting out to throw themselves in head first. If you sit on the sidelines it won’t happen.
3. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, don’t focus on what your competitors are doing, focus solely on your customer. Listen to them, they are the one buying from you. Find out what they want and build that. That’s how disruption happens, it’s the fast eating the slow.