For European university students, the word “Erasmus” is synonym to a semester of adventure in a different country. Adventure can mean “exciting” – making new friends or enjoying a new city – but also “scary” – the trouble of finding a new home and moving to an unknown city.
Uniplaces was born to help students across the world overcome this challenge with the help of new technologies. Currently the fastest growing website for booking student accommodation, Uniplaces was born in 2012 in Portugal, starting by focusing on the local market, using Lisbon as a “lab-market”.
Uniplaces is currently the leader in this market. In 2015, it raised € 22 million in a Series A funding round. Revenues have been growing at 500% per year, and it is now present in over 39 European cities and planning to continue growing, including outside of Europe. Uniplaces’ path so far has been very successful and, for some, the outlook for the future is even more optimistic. However, this will not be an easy and steady road.
Uniplaces’ recipe for success so far was combining new technologies, the right target market, and a consumer need that was not being completely fulfilled by current market players. It initially tried to distinguish itself from other housing website such as Airbnb by providing housing options in the context of student relocating to other cities, also considering their universities and the whole city experience. The objective was to simplify students’ life as much as possible.
Millennials seem to be the right target market. They want to simplify their lives as much as possible, relying on new technologies to help them achieve that goal. They are also the largest potential generation of consumers, besides the fact that the number of Erasmus students has been growing steadily and reaching c. 300 thousand in recent years  .
With its website, Uniplaces is able to offer a more convenient, safer and cheaper option to both students and property owners. On the one hand, it enables students to easily find a room or house in a city they do not know, based on the university they are going to, and ensuring that the information provided online is reliable. On the other hand, it enables property owners to connect with young long-term renters at a lower cost than real estate agencies.
However, technology is not enough.
As a start-up, Uniplaces faces a dilemma – resources are scarce, but the company feels the need to grow rapidly to ensure it retains its leading position in the university students housing market. Facing large growth opportunities, management is considering how to prioritize its resources, both financial and human. Recruiting has become a priority, and an increasingly important cost, as Uniplaces tries to recruit the best talent to join its 140 people team.
Also, Uniplaces soon realized that it needed a local physical presence in its most important markets in order to be able to develop strong relationships with property owners. With offices in Lisbon, Madrid, London and Berlin, Uniplaces is considering opening more offices in other European cities in the short-term, which implies a large investment.
Finally, through its various rounds of funding, amounting to almost USD 30 million, the three founders do not own the majority of the shares of the company anymore, but still retain the control of the board of directors. Future rounds of financing may have an impact on the governance of the company.
Uniplaces has been very successful so far, being able to rely on technology to grow in a market that did not offer the service that students were looking for. But technology alone will not be enough to sustain its growth.
 Correia, A., O segredo da Uniplaces? “Queremos ser o Cristiano Ronaldo e não apenas o melhor jogador do Benfica”, Revista Visão, Nov 7, 2016
 Goldman Sachs, Millennials coming of age, 2016
 European Comission, Erasmus – Facts, Figures and Trends, 2015
 Idealista, A Uniplaces pode crescer 10, 15 vezes nos próximos anos, Nov 10, 2016