Over the last couple of months, we’ve talked with 30+ thought leaders and movers and shakers in the shared living space as part of my Entrepreneur-in-Residence journey at Builders.
The big question we are tackling? How to best support the running and scaling of shared residential spaces, such as co-living and student housing, through technology. A topic that I have dedicated my professional life to — first through working with various online platforms, later also by running my own co-living project in the Netherlands.
This article puts forward the biggest pain points that shared-living operators face with the existing technology today.
Short recap: This article is part of my mini-series; 101 in running and scaling shared living spaces with technology. The series aims to provide an overview of the space, highlighting essential challenges and giving potential solutions when running or scaling your shared living spaces. At the same time, it aims at opening up a conversation between those of us who are passionate about building and scaling these communities.
This is article represents part four of the series, the full series is structured in the following way:
Part 1 — focuses on the state of play such as terms used and technology available.
Part 2 — is a deep dive into the challenges of running and scaling shared living spaces.
Part 3 — explores the future of co-living and possible scenarios of how the field might evolve in the years to come.
Part 4 — describes what kind of software is needed to help operators run and scale their operations to be ready for what lies ahead (see below).
So how does the tech for shared living need to look like?
Without further ado and straight from the collective mind of the field: here are six major pain points, highlighting the biggest challenges, and opportunities on how purpose-built tech could make a difference in running and scaling shared living operations.
1. Island solutions in current tech hampering operations
As a shared-living operator, you are striving to make the lives of your members as convenient and hassle-free as possible, as well as to connect their emotional experience to your brand. You want them to enjoy outstanding experiences: utilizing access control, enjoying a seamless onboarding flow, savouring exceptional community experiences, being kept in the know about their ongoing maintenance requests etc. While all these processes come with various online tools to support them, most of those, however, require your members to install and operate dedicated apps, as, unfortunately, lots of the current tech is still dominated by silo thinking and limited interactions between the various products.
This is inconvenient for your members as it hampers their living experience, but also unfortunate for you as the operator, as you are missing out on that one touchpoint to connect your members’ emotional experiences with your brand. Additionally, such a distributed system does not permit you to easily collect and analyse feedback and insights from your members, which is crucial to learn what in your space is working for them, and what is not; and thus to empower you to further optimise your operations — bringing us to paint point number two.
2. Little dashboarding/reporting holding back your operations
As an operator, you are eager to continuously improve your members’ experiences and your operation’s performance. To do so, you ideally want to pull reports on various metrics easily — and possibly even tailor those reports to different stakeholders; like yourself, or your team, or even current or future investors. This is not only true for operational metrics such as occupancy rate, retention rate, or the average length of stay. It gets even more interesting when you can link these metrics to the feedback and insights that you have collected from your members throughout their stay; for instance, on the events you are running, on the speed of resolution and amount of service tickets filed etc.
Bringing all this data together allows you to optimize your co-living operation further, and to deliver an even better experience to your members. In return, better understanding their needs, and possibly designing your future co-living places based on all these data points collected, will also make your operations more successful. The prevailing distributed systems make such kind of data-driven reporting very cumbersome at best, impossible at worst. This is another argument for a more integrated approach when designing co-living technology to make your life as an operator easier, but also exceeding your members’ expectations.
3. Co-living is about creating outstanding and authentic experiences — also on the tech side.
Co-living is all about creating outstanding experiences — and with technology becoming a cornerstone in many co-living operations, the design and user experience on the tech side has gained tremendous importance. On top of that, with co-living becoming increasingly mainstream, it has become more important than ever to ensure that the core of the experience still feels personal and authentic to fulfil the coliving promise of meaningful personal connections and an authentic community experience. To help achieve this even at scale, tech has to play its major role right: operator and in particular the member-facing tech should always place high importance on user interaction and design and avoid at all costs to look or feel too corporate, risking to reduce the individual member to a number, or even worse a cell in excel.
On top of that, as a co-living operator, you also want to express the personality of your space. That is why many operators are looking at tech as a way to set them apart from conventional forms of renting, for instance through a certain boldness in the ideas, approach or functionality. Co-living software, therefore, needs to dare to be bold, just a tiny tad unconventional, and allow for a certain degree of freedom of expression for the operators. Freedom of expression that goes beyond deciding if the colour of this button should be red or blue.
4. Curating your community as the key to success in coliving
There is a fundamental difference between co-living, conventional apartment rentals, and hospitality: As a hotel operator, you don’t worry too much about how much your hotel guests have in common with each other. When renting out your conventional apartment, you are just not that much concerned about how your new tenants get along with their neighbours. In shared-living, however, this all changes. One of the most important jobs for you as the operator is the curation of your community. People are excited to be living with the other people in your space because they trust you will be doing an awesome job in putting them into the right mix of inspiring neighbours that will accelerate their personal and even professional life. To fulfil this expectation, your community needs to be carefully crafted, and that starts with inviting and allowing the right members in.
The actual act of curation, and in addition to that the selection process the individual members need to go through, varies per operator. There is, however, one thing that almost all operators agree on: the better your curation, the more active the community, and the longer the average duration of stay in the community — the higher the return of your time and money invested. Your curation process, and the back and forth between you and your future member that comes with it, is however not properly covered by the current software solutions. But turning selection into curation, instead of simply accepting all booking requests as they come in, means that renting out your accommodation requires more nurturing and vetting than most of the existing software systems allow. This does not come as a surprise though, as the majority of those has been built with a different purpose in mind: such as renting out and managing vacation homes, conventional rentals, or hotel stays. In an ideal world, as a shared-living operator, you would thrive on a tool that could support you in selecting the right people and helping you to turn 1 + 1 not only into 2 but making it 11.
5. Top-down is the fastest way to kill your co-living community
When operating a shared-living space, your product is more than the physical space you are running. Your product is also the experience that you are creating, and the community that you help your members craft together. Sparking this community into existence, and carefully nurturing it to evolve even while new members join and leave is one of the most challenging jobs in operating a successful shared-living project, in particular when doing it at scale. While critical to your business success, the majority of the software out there is, unfortunately, approaching this topic from a top-down perspective. Allowing only the operator to decide, organize and promote the events while leaving your members' little space to take actual ownership of their experience through co-creation. Managing a community top-down, however, is the fastest way to kill it, and as a result, also badly hurting your co-living space.
Any software in this field therefore needs to support you as the operator to become a true facilitator of your community and allow your community ample room to evolve on its own. From selection to onboarding, from events to communication to collecting and processing your members’ feedback — if you want your community to thrive these are the things your technology needs to be able to help you do correctly.
6. People or property? It has to be about both!
To successfully run and scale your shared-living operations, you need to excel at managing two sides of the same coin: the property as well as your community and the people in it. Unluckily, most of the current systems either focus on the property side (such as property management systems) or the people side (think CRM, tenant management or tenant engagement systems).
This will not only help you to become a better operator of your business and facilitator of your community, but it also helps to create these synergies between both of these interlinked areas of your operations: Helping you to better understand your performance on operational issues and their impact on your members’ satisfaction, evaluating the events your community is running and their role in helping your members to make those meaningful connections, etc. Thus, to reach the next level in your co-living operations, software should support you manage and excel in both these critical areas of your business.
Towards a better future together
But let’s be honest: no one likes to only look at the challenges. And as an eternal optimist, I sincerely believe that every problem comes with a solution. That is why, together with Builders, we are now reviewing all our findings once more to see if and how we could become part of that solution helping the field to also evolve on the tech side: First mapping out and then developing the technology that truly helps operators run and scale their shared-living operations.
Join the conversation
If you would like to follow our journey or are curious about the software we are building feel free to get onto our early access list here.
Do you have other pains that we have so far overlooked? Or do you know of a software that ticks a lot of the boxes we are describing in this article? Join the conversation below.
About the author Michael Steinmann is the Co-Founder and CEO of Obeyo. With more than 15 years of experience in growing and scaling SaaS companies, he is always up for connecting and conversing about the present and the future of residential community building.