Ugandan startup RentHostels has seen solid initial traction from its online platform that connects students with campus hostels.
Launched this year, RentHostels lists thousands of beds in hundreds of hostels at more than 20 universities across 10 cities. It uses a chat-based model to help students book accommodation.
“Students fill out a short form on the site giving us their preferences, and on the backend our system matches their requests to hostels that fit their criteria. We then select those that match their exact preference,” co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Timothy Nkenu told Disrupt Africa.
In the long run, the startup plans to expand this offering to other sectors, but for now the focus is on students. Nkenu plans to quadruple the number of hostels available on the platform by the middle of next year, having already had over 200 booking requests.
“We’ve not had thousands of booking but this is understandable as we have just a few hundred hostels at the moment. We expect this to change once we increase the number of partnered hostels,” he said.
“In Uganda and Kenya, currently, there’s no service that is specifically designed for students, which means that they have to physically search for hostels and most times end up not getting the room they desire.”
RentHostels hopes to fix this problem by providing a fast, convenient and personalised service for students. The bootstrapped startup has seen organic growth so far, but is working on placing online adverts and obtaining strategic marketing partners such as top student blogs. It is also developing a referral programme that is in closed alpha stage at the moment.
“Before now, we charged an optional fee – usually around US$5 – per booking, which means that students can decide whether or not to pay. This was because we wanted to first grow trust in the system,” Nkenu said.
“We’ve gained a bit of popularity in Uganda, so we’ve revamped our revenue model. We’ve started using both merchant and agent models. So even if a student does not pay us, we get commissions from the hostel or apartment.”
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