The 101 of Scaling your Co-living/ Shared Living/ Student Housing Space Through Technology

By Michael Steinmann

What is shared living and how do you create a successful shared living business? Read here all you need to know.

Congratulations, you are running your own co-living or student housing space. Next to having a million things to do, you are probably busy thinking about expansion. But instinctively you know that scaling anything else than a well-oiled machine, will just make your problems bigger.

Or: Perhaps you have only heard about co-living recently, and are looking to better understand if that could be the next big thing for you; wondering what challenges you might run into when operating your own space, and how you could conquer those.

Structure and purpose of the mini-series

Wherever you are in your journey, you found the right spot. This mini-series provides an overview of the space, highlights essential challenges and gives potential solutions when running or scaling your shared living space, as well as opening up a conversation between those of us who are passionate about building and scaling these communities.

  • Part 1 — focuses on the state of play such as terms used and technology available (right below)
  • Part 2 — is a deep dive into the challenges of running and scaling shared living spaces
  • Part 3 — explores the future of coliving, 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 whatever lies ahead. (coming soon)

The main purpose of this mini-series is to bring the field together, increase the level of clarity for all of us as well, and give back to the community by sharing the lessons that we have learnt while diving deeper into this specific field.

Part 1 — State of Play: Co-Living / Shared Living / Student Housing — Terms Used And Technology Available

Earlier this month, I joined Builders, one of the leading start-up studios in the Netherlands, as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). The big question we are tackling is how to best support the running and scaling of shared residential spaces, such as co-living or student housing, through technology. A topic that I have been passionate about since I started my professional journey a decade ago: initially using technology to encourage people to dream bigger, then empowering them to find their new home abroad, and now looking into how we can use technology to help them have an even better stay.

To answer this question, we started with a deep dive into the market, with the goal to even better understand the landscape, the biggest problems at hand, and how these problems are currently being solved.

Almost two weeks into the process of deep diving into this market, here are some first findings and conclusions to share; to show-case on the one hand how a start-up studio approaches new venture development, but also to initiate some discussions, as quite frankly the initial findings point at quite some confusion in the market.

Shared living / Co-Living / community living / serviced apartments / flatshare / student housing / living as a service / home as a service / expat housing?

One of the first challenges we encountered is a lack of common terminology. It seems that there is no common terminology for the field of shared residential space. Terms used range from co-living, shared living, community living, student housing, flatshare, serviced apartments and expat housing, living as a service, housing as a service, real estate as a service, and home as a service. Some of these terms have been enjoying high popularity for some time, such as student housing. Other terms have recently gained a renewed popularity, such as co-living, which latest since the move of big brands like the Collective, Quarters, Common or into the space, and the creation of a dedicated asset/investment class has attracted a lot of media buzz.

But as all of these terms are just covering specific segments and carry certain connotations, an overarching and widely used term seems to be missing. So until we come across a better term, we decided to refer to the concepts of co-living, student housing, shared apartments, living as a service, and all the others simply and straight forward as “shared living”. Of course, the moment you suggest a better term, and we agree with that, we are happy to change. So let us know what’s the term that you use when you talk about this field.

Available tech to improve the experience

Additionally, when diving deeper into the technology that operators of these spaces currently have available, again a broad variety of different options were presented all using different terms, but also covering very specific parts of the bigger challenge — a comprehensive solution seems to be missing.

There are Property Management Systems (PMS) focusing on inventory management and — if you are lucky — include availability and/or booking management (otherwise these require again other tooling). Then there are communication and community tools, allowing your residents to connect with each other and perhaps also sign up for community events (otherwise, you need a different system). On top of that there are CRM systems that allow you to keep track of the status of your relationship with your (prospective) residents (otherwise…. You know the drill by now). Finally, there are access control systems that allow your residents to open the right doors electronically (and ideally also allow you to limit access as well as track usage) and control panels for smart devices which ideally would allow you to get detailed insight also into water and electricity consumption as well as usage of heating/cooling per area.

101 tools, no real solution

What we have not been able to find is a tool that allows you to run the entire operation smoothly. A tool that truly supports you in operating and scaling your shared living space. We reached out to some of the operators in the community. But everywhere we turned so far, we encountered the same questions and frustrations.

Take a deep dive into the challenges of running and scaling shared living spaces and keep reading part 2.

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.

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