Jack Jenkins already had experience in student marketing when, in 2014, he and his fellow co-founders conceived University Cribs – an accommodation booking platform aimed at helping the 2.3 million students who seek accommodation every year. The site, which generates booking fees from property owners, immediately satisfied the needs of both student tenants and landlords, agencies and universities.
New services and propositions have since been added and the portal has enjoyed rapid growth.
Here Jack Jenkins answers the key questions that track the business’s growth from a mere idea to a thriving enterprise.
How was the idea of University Cribs born? What was the problem you were looking to solve?
The idea was born out of frustrations that myself and the other founders had experienced with our own student housing. The more we looked at the problems, the more it became evident that there was a way to disrupt a market through the use of innovative technologies.
How has the company grown over time?
We started as just a founding team, self-funding the business whilst trying to develop the platform. As things started to come together we found our first angel investor, and the funds allowed us to launch the platform in November 2016 and expand.
Having launched only in Cardiff, we then rapidly grew across the UK, and we’re now listing accommodation in more than 30 cities.
In early 2018 we launched a new virtual reality property tour feature which has supported our growth.
Was the plan always to be based in Wales?
It just so happened that Wales was where we were based at the time. We had all been Cardiff University students and had set up previous businesses. We had worked together in some capacity, and then all came together to start this based on complementing skill sets.
We’ve been fortunate to be supported by the Welsh government and are confident that they will continue to support us as we go. It’s a good place to do business as a startup.
What capital have you taken into the business so far – and what equity have you had to give up?
We’ve undergone a couple of rounds of funding to get to this stage but the business is going to need to take on more to reach our goal of becoming the largest accommodation booking platform in the UK. We believe we can move out of just the student market as our user base naturally migrates into the next stage of life.
As a startup founder it’s a difficult toss up between retaining equity and getting the investment necessary to pursue high growth. The key is ensuring you keep enough to stay fully incentivised, whilst not getting too hung up on subjects like valuation.
That said, we are just about to open a new funding round after a couple of big announcements from the business.
What do you see as a potential exit?
As with many startups, exit opportunities often tend to be part of your planning. We’ve wanted to follow a very high growth trajectory, continually investing to develop our product, and so there’s been a requirement to take on external capital. We’re mindful of ensuring that we deliver a strong return to our shareholders through an exit in a few years time.
We’ve already been fortunate in having had a number of exit conversations with large players in the property space over the short lifespan of the company, but none that the team have wanted to go the full distance.
We see some interesting opportunities for exit perhaps five years down the line, which could come in the form of a trade sale or a possible listing.
Have you had much help from mentors along the way?
We’ve had a massive amount of help from our advisory board. In fact, to be brutally honest the business might not have still been here without them. Serial entrepreneur David Murray-Hundley, who came on board as chairman in early 2018, has not only been a massive asset to the business but mentored myself and the other founders.
Our ethos has always been to surround ourselves with people who are better than us. In the early days, when cash flow is tight, using mentors is the best way to do this.
What’s your key advice to other would-be business founders?
It is a constant learning curve. I think it’s rare that the product you set out to build in the first place is the product that comes out the other end. Listen to your customers and develop products that solve actual problems and not the problems that you think exist. Also, just because you don’t get it right first time doesn’t mean it’s time to stop.
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