When Steve Satoru Naito was growing up, he had a bucket list of places he wanted to go to when he retired. But very soon, he realized that there was no need to wait to be retired to visit those places. He could simply become a digital nomad.
Personal experiences often stimulate inventiveness and Naito’s case was no different. Digital nomads, he soon realized, could work from anywhere, sure; but could they live anywhere? Numerous startups have sprung that make buying groceries or transportation or holidaying easier, but what about housing?
“Our current housing rental contracts are optimized for people who need to be in one place for six or 12 months at a time,” Naito told Techweek. Not for digital nomads who might want to leave in one week or month.
So when Naito realized he wanted flexible housing options that would better suit his needs, he had reason to believe that other digital nomads would enjoy such an experience, too. And so, he founded Anyplace, an online marketplace for co-living startups that is declaring war against cumbersome rental agreements and leases to build a global network for flexible housing rentals. And in June, it raised $2.5 million in seed funding from investors of Uber, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Robinhood.
2019 is co-living’s moment
Young professionals from around the US are moving to major cities like New York or Los Angeles for employment. The high talent concentration and opportunities in these cities have led to soaring house rents—as much as 30% of the average income.
Real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield points at two reasons other than high rent for the rise of co-living startups from Ollie to Common to WeLive: “Marriage and family formation have been delayed” and “educational attainment and savings accounts are at record lows, while student debt is soaring.”
Thus, co-living options where “location, convenience, community, and affordability are all maximized for the tenant, while revenue is maximized for the owner and operator”, as the report notes, are emerging as a hot favorite.
Typically, co-living startups are also operators of the buildings, but Anyplace is an online marketplace of co-living options from around the world. It is aimed at that digital nomad who is constantly on the move and in the need for easy, comfortable semi long-term living options across global cities.
“There is no global online marketplace for people to easily book accommodations for individuals like me,” Naito told Techweek, and Anyplace addresses that.
A user can log on to the Anyplace website and find co-living options in 20+ cities in North America like New York or Boston; Montreal or Vancouver in Canada; Gurugram in India, among a few others. The company plans to have a wider coverage of cities in Europe and Asia in the coming months.
Co-living is a $10B global market and is expected to rise to $15B next year. Anyplace wants a share of the pie by making booking a co-living space as easy as booking a hotel. And so, it works like an online marketplace with extended stay hotels and co-living companies as partners to connect people with flexible-term furnished housing rentals.
At the moment, a person finding a co-living option through Anyplace has to pay a $40 application fee because the startup uses a third-party screening tool to introduce only qualified customers to its partners. “The $40 goes to that screening company, not to us,” Naito explains. (He intends to remove this fee as soon as possible). “Our goal is to make our booking process easier by creating a more comprehensive screening tool through an affiliate”.
Anyplace’s business model is simple: It charges its partners a small commission per customer per month. And while customers can pay rent by credit card through the Anyplace website, the company doesn’t charge customers any service fee or commission.
So far, Naito told Techweek, they’ve served 500 customers and generated over $2M for their partners.
All co-living startups or hotels that offer stay options are trying to maximize their customer base but Anyplace believes that it provides customers with an easier booking process than other companies. And along with creating a community of residents like other co-living platforms, Anyplace will try to keep these customers by building a loyalty program to offer them discounts or rewards based on how often they use the product.
But keeping customers happy is only half the job for Anyplace. Naito’s focus is also to improve their partner experience and so it offers them the following benefits: tenant screening, rent collection, covering legal costs if partners need to evict a tenant, and helping them with content marketing.
Enough for Everyone
Anyplace is specifically focused on serving those customers who are looking to live slightly longer in a housing unit but not long enough to get an apartment lease. Therefore, Anyplace’s competition is other booking platforms or aggregator sites, including Airbnb.
But Naito says that with platforms like Airbnb, “it’s hard (for customers) to extend… since subletters/hosts usually want to sell their rooms only for a specific duration.” So unlike a customer-to-customer service such as Airbnb, Anyplace is B2C where “customers can extend their stays until they want to move elsewhere,” he adds. “We also provide a more stable housing supply.”
But is there enough demand from digital nomads? Once again, Naito believes that “Digital nomads are a small group…but there are enough to implement a startup business.”
Multiple successful startups from Uber to Airbnb started for niche markets and Anyplace is doing just that. Naito re-emphasizes his core belief and the reason he started Anyplace when he says that in the present age of flexibility, “transportation has Uber, grocery has Instacart, rental housing is still not flexible.”
“I believe the next generation will choose flexible options instead of long-term commitments.” And if they do, they can find their next living option with Anyplace.
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