Niels van Deuren started HousingAnywhere.com eight years ago after being inspired as a student looking for accommodation. He is a forthcoming speaker at the PPW Conference in Lisbon and we spoke with him about the challenges of starting a property portal without an IT background.
When did you first launch Housing Anywhere and what inspired you?
I first launched HousingAnywhere.com back in 2009 when I went on my study abroad semester to Singapore. I had a great room in Rotterdam that I wanted to keep for my studies there, but as I'm sure you can imagine it would have been really tricky to pay rent on two rooms. I asked my friends if they'd want to take it for a semester but they were only interested in renting it for the whole academic year which I didn't want to do. In the end, I went to the accommodation office at my university and they said that they had a lot of international students who were still looking for a room in Rotterdam. Let's just say that's when the lightbulb moment hit! Of course, it made perfect sense to develop a platform for international students to exchange rooms.
How difficult is it to start a property portal without a technical/IT background? What are some of the key steps you took and how did you overcome the challenges associated with this?
It is pretty difficult but I surrounded myself with the right people with the right knowledge.
Initially, HousingAnywhere.com started out as a student project so I recruited IT students at my university. However; as the platform grew, we realised we needed more expertise, but developers can cost quite a lot of money. It was a tough first few years in that aspect but since our successful funding round, we've been able to invest in more developers who have industry experience.
Did you ever feel like giving up? What kept you going?
No. It's important to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Persistence is always key!
What are the three most important pieces of advice you would give someone trying to start a property portal without technical experience?
1.Team up with HousingAnywhere.com ;)
2.Do not think too much about the technical implications. Just think about what resources you need NOW to get started NOW, and go from there. Eventually, everything will fall into place.
3.Find some highly qualified IT people that can advise you now and then and can help you build the website from the ground up. It can be easy to get carried away with adding 'nice to have' bonus features, but you have to remember these can come later and it's better to have the basics in place first.
What is it that makes your portal successful?
I'd have to say it's down to being in a very niche market that's also growing; the number of students who go abroad to complete exchanges or internship programs is growing year on year and they'll always need accommodation. That, and many of our team are former international students themselves, which is an integral part of our company culture. We understand the needs of the market because we've been through it.
Do you have many competitors?
A couple! We were the first in 2009 to focus on international students, now a few others are doing it as well, but they do it on a geographical, smaller scale.
What are you looking forward to most at the PPW Lisbon conference?
I hope to return with even more innovative ideas for HousingAnywhere.com!
Is there any other information you would like our readers to know?
If you have an idea, just keep at it and surround yourself with people who have as much passion as you to make it grow. HousingAnywhere.com started off as a student project based on a problem I encountered, but now we help international students all over the world safely find housing for when they study abroad.
Don't miss Niels van Deuren at the Property Portal Watch Conference in Lisbon. Register for a ticket today.