UK-based startup Flat-Club offers a similar service to Airbnb, with the difference that its approach is to piggy-back on existing professional and business school social networks in order to capitalize on the trust factor. This platform for peer-to-peer short-term letting of rooms and flats is available exclusively to students and alumni of top business schools.
Flat-Club has come up with a business model for a network, with some similarities to the professional social network LinkedIn, that enables its members to rent out unused living space to other members on a short-term basis – i.e. a sort of Airbnb for business graduates. The website, which has forged links with around thirty universities in the United Kingdom and United States, thus enables existing students and alumni of some of the most prestigious business schools to find suitable short-stay accommodation in a number of cities by drawing on the existing social networks based around these educational establishments and their graduates. The key to the whole venture is trust, say the founders.
An exclusive letting service
Flat-Club puts students and alumni of the prestigious business schools linked to the platform who wish to find suitable accommodation for a short stay in touch with the owners of available space. The peer-to-peer service covers short lets of up to a maximum of 12 months, The average rental period so far has been one month, compared with just a few nights for accommodation arranged through the Airbnb site. To take advantage of the website’s services, you need to have an email address at one of the participating educational institutes, among whom are such renowned establishments as the London School of Economics, the London Business School, King's College and New York University. Today the website lists some 50,000 accredited members. The Flat-Club ‘hosts’ – those with property to rent out – can choose the specific categories of people to whom they wish to let, for instance by selecting certain schools whose alumni are entitled to view their offer. The Flat-Club founders underline that this helps to engender a feeling of trust, an important factor when you are letting your own house or apartment out to someone you do not know personally. Flat-Club charges the person looking for accommodation between 6% and 15% of the rental amount. The ‘host’ is not charged.
Networks engender trust
These days students and young graduates are increasingly likely to travel and are encouraged to go abroad to study in order to obtain international experience. At the same time, universities are finding it increasingly difficult to secure short-term accommodation for their students but do not think it good for their image to have them using classified sites such as San Francisco-based Craigslist. Flat-Club provides a solution to this problem in keeping with the culture of prestigious educational establishments. Mimicking the characteristics of professional networks such as LinkedIn, this rather exclusive service provider also enables students and alumni to widen their personal network by making some new acquaintances with a background in top universities and business colleges. Flat-Club has just raised one and a half million dollars in funding from a number of Business Angels. This will enable the startup company to increase the number of rooms and apartments offered on the website, the aim being to raise the total from 10,000 to 30,000 over the next twelve months. The company is also planning to enhance the technological capabilities of its platform, extending it across Europe and the United States. Does this perhaps remind the reader of another social network, which also began with the idea of creating a means of linking up students at elite universities before broadening the concept to include anyone and everyone and finally becoming the top social network in the world? Flat-Club intends to grow but has so far not announced any plans to re-think its basic criteria and embrace people who are not members of top colleges. Only time will tell whether Flat-Club will follow the path previously trodden by Facebook.