“Erasmus” without accomodation related stress: Uniplaces is here to help you

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 is here to help you.

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[1], 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 [2] [3].

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[4].

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.

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[1] Correia, A., O segredo da Uniplaces? “Queremos ser o Cristiano Ronaldo e não apenas o melhor jogador do Benfica”, Revista Visão, Nov 7, 2016

[2] Goldman Sachs, Millennials coming of age, 2016

[3] European Comission, Erasmus – Facts, Figures and Trends, 2015

[4] Idealista,  A Uniplaces pode crescer 10, 15 vezes nos próximos anos, Nov 10, 2016

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4 thoughts on ““Erasmus” without accomodation related stress: Uniplaces is here to help you

  1. Thanks for your insights on Uniplaces. I was unfamiliar with the company, so it was interesting to learn about its customer value proposition. I agree that there was much value to be provided; however, I was immediately concerned about liability and its ability to sustain a certain degree of quality during rapid growth. It seems as though Uniplaces was created to mitigate the anxiety produced from moving to an unknown place. During times like this, safety is generally the top priority. With Uniplaces primarily being a software company, I cannot see how they could possibly scale their physical presence fast enough to mitigate the safety risks and sustain the quality they promise. I am concerned that they are just a few incidents away from having a tarnished brand.

    1. Excellent article on an interesting competitor to Airbnb. I understand Uniplaces’ strategy to differentiate itself by targeting students looking for mid-term rentals, but I wonder if the company’s operating model diverges enough from Airbnb’s to ensure a long-term competitive advantage. For instance, if Airbnb launched a service tomorrow that focused on connecting longer-term renters with longer-term property owners, would Uniplace be able to convince consumers to stay on its platform? Perhaps one way to increase stickiness would be to partner with universities such that Uniplaces could entrench itself in the student market. Given the fact that the company is working with limited resources, do you think it would be better for Uniplaces to focus on bolstering its presence in this targeted market, or aim to broaden its base as quickly as possible in order to gain scale?

  2. Meant to post mine as a comment, not a reply!

    Excellent article on an interesting competitor to Airbnb. I understand Uniplaces’ strategy to differentiate itself by targeting students looking for mid-term rentals, but I wonder if the company’s operating model diverges enough from Airbnb’s to ensure a long-term competitive advantage. For instance, if Airbnb launched a service tomorrow that focused on connecting longer-term renters with longer-term property owners, would Uniplace be able to convince consumers to stay on its platform? Perhaps one way to increase stickiness would be to partner with universities such that Uniplaces could entrench itself in the student market. Given the fact that the company is working with limited resources, do you think it would be better for Uniplaces to focus on bolstering its presence in this targeted market, or aim to broaden its base as quickly as possible in order to gain scale?

  3. As an Eramus beneficiary and enthusiast, but also someone who struggled to find accommodation, I fully see the value that Uniplaces is bringing. What I do wonder is if it wouldn’t make more sense for them to explicitly focus on the core niche of Erasmus students, rather than broader student accommodation. As the Erasmus network is quite well connected, I think they could benefit from positioning themselves strongly within it, by even offering part-time positions to Erasmus students (often looking for an extra buck) and making sure they become top-of mind early in the Erasmus process, before students even think of accommodation. While this could limit their reach and also make them quite dependent on the Erasmus program (potentially at risk given the EU’s recent developments), I think it could really position them as the Erasmus Housing partner of choice.

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