An app to end finding-a-new-roommate-frustrations: entrepreneurship as a solution
The shortage of rooms in Utrecht makes hospitality evenings a time-consuming task for student houses. Hundreds of candidates apply for one free room-for-rent. How do student houses manage this?
At the beginning of September, Master's students Business Development & Entrepreneurship Cornelis den Hartog and Lars Molenaar launched the app myHospi, as an attempt to end the frustrations due to searching for new roommates. The Centre for Entrepreneurship spoke with the two student entrepreneurs about putting the lessons from their Master's programme into practice.
Tell us, how did you come up with the idea for myHospi?
Lars: The idea for the app was actually born out of personal frustration. Organising a hospitality evening is terrible: you post a message on Facebook and within twenty-four hours you receive around two hundred reactions, all from people who supposedly love to cook and are good at cleaning up. Photos are often missing. Eventually you randomly invite some people and during the evening you realise that you have no idea who is who. Afterwards you discuss with your roommates which of the candidates would fit best. Usually the roommate with the biggest mouth gets his way, or you all get into an argument.
Cornelis: This turned out to be very relatable. In the first week, the app already had over a thousand users, while we did almost nothing about marketing.
How did you all those users find myHospi?
Cornelis: Through connections, we found a house that wanted to use our app. Because they put up an ad for their free room in a large Facebook group for room-seekers and directed reactions to myHospi, the app quickly received attention. We also contacted a student association. They were willing to put our app on the packing list for new members. This means that almost all new members of that student association have downloaded it. After that, it was convenient for association houses looking for new residents to use our app to offer rooms. This is how the growth started, apparently we are meeting a demand.
How does the app work?
Cornelis: With myHospi we want to simplify the process for student houses. Receive and review reactions for a room, filter candidates by characteristics – like gender, age, member of an association, whether someone is studying or already working - and then invite or reject people at once: houses can arrange it all with the app.
Lars: We also tried to add something to the app to make it easier to choose a new roommate after the hospitality evening. All current roommates can indicate their personal top three of candidates. The app makes an overall top three of them.
Cornelis: Then you can have a conversation about three candidates, instead of all of them.
Which lessons from the Master Business Development & Entrepreneurship help you with your company?
Cornelis: The Master's programme strongly focusses on the fact that companies need to know their customer through and through. Most startups don't make it because there is no market need, there is no demand for the product or service that is been offered. For myHospi, we had a test group of more than one hundred students. "What do you like? What don't you like?" Processing feedback, making improvements, showing it again, discussing it again, and so on.
Lars: The current concept is preceded by fourteen versions. You can't do it perfectly right away. This also has been emphasised in the Master's programme. Despite these fourteen offline test versions, users of the online version will find bugs or complications that we were unable to foresee. That is why we didn't do a lot of marketing around the app launch.
Cornelis: The app has only been available since 1 September. There is always room for improvement, but we knew that in advance. That's fine, this is only the beginning and there will be many more updates in the coming year.
The Master's programme strongly focusses on the fact that companies need to know their customer through and through.
What future plans do you have for myHospi?
Lars: We are now collecting feedback from users. We have visited the houses that used our app in the first few weeks to ask them about their experiences and what could be improved. We often brought a crate of beer with us.
Cornelis: We are now deliberately keeping the app small. That really was another lesson from the Master's programme: don't grow too fast. Otherwise you might not be able to handle the feedback and then you relapse.
Lars: We started myHospi to solve a problem, we don't make any money with it. The app is free, both for houses and for room-seekers.
Cornelis: We are now going through all the steps involved in starting a business. It is the perfect case study, we learn so much. I would be very proud if myHospi helps student houses to make the process of finding a new roommate an enjoyable experience.