Rather than crash with strangers, London startup Flat-Club looks to help alumni and students near top universities find short term rentals using trusted social networks. Imagine a niche fusion of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Airbnb. Launched in London just over 18 months ago with only five apartments listed, Flat-Club has grown its community to over 2,000 rooms and apartments, and more than 30,000 users. And the company has landed on U.S. shores. Here, Nitzan Yudan, Co-founder and CEO of Flat-Club, shares more details with KillerStartups.
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
Flat-Club is LinkedIn for short-term-renting. It takes the best of networking, trust, and sharing economy to develop a perfect solution based on existing social networks, rather than networks. Unlike any other short-term rental website, we let the host choose who to post their place to – for instance, only friends of friends, alumni of a specific university, or business school students – the people they already trust. A typical host on Flat-Club would rather have his place empty than rent it to someone who he is not sure about, while a typical host on the competitors is looking to maximize revenues. That brings much more interesting hosts who post exclusively with us for a better value.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
Inspired by the book (and movie) I like most – Fight Club. Similarly to Fight Club, Flat-Club is a group of connected communities who’ve had enough of the corporate world and life without meaning. We are not into fighting or mayhem, we are into the real message of this movie – this is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time. So what do you do with it?
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
I was 15, and the only reason I started so late is that the web didn’t exist before. My first computer was an XT…
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
I start my day usually at 9a.m. and stay at the office till 6:30p.m. I spend an hour with my son and then back to work… The important thing that no one told me before is that it never ends! I always think about Flat-Club, even when I’m doing something else.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
I went to the Dominican Republic. After a long and cold “summer” in London, we had to have some proper summer.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Look into customer service and feedback. I’m addicted to reading the reviews and feedback from our hosts and guests.
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?
The best ideas come from trial and error or A/B testing. I have plenty of ideas, but the only way I know if they are worth something is to do a small test – if it works, I put more resources into it, if not – I pivot or go for the next idea.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
We started with 2 and now we are 15, reflecting 12 nationalities. The most diverse startup in London!
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
Two things – the feedback from those who used it during the early stage, and the fact that I enjoyed doing Flat-Club more than any other job I did before. Being able to make decisions and have an impact is something the makes me super passionate.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
Everything is a struggle. Not only the early days, but even 2 years later. There are never enough resources, and the key to success is to manage priorities and stay focused. I give myself daily goals and weekly goals and try to focus only on them. Many times, the challenge is to say no to a good idea simply since it’s not the current focus.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
Spending time with my family is the best way to deal with frustration. It helps me put everything in proportion and remind myself of what is really important in life. I think the biggest frustration is the fact that we are trying to change the world with zero resources. Many times I feel that we have a model, but it’s simply not enough… So much more is required to succeed. But that’s also what makes it so interesting.
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
We are changing offices frequently, hence not proper environment yet. We spent a year at London Business School as part of their incubator program – switching rooms every few days! And now finally, at TechHub on Google Campus, we’ve started to build a proper environment. We finally got a coffee machine this week!
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
I see Flat-Club as a one-stop shop for short term accommodations in leading cities. We will get there through replicating the model that is working so well in London in more cities and in more communities where trust already exists.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
Fight Club, Robbie Fowler, Tony Wheeler (Founder of Lonely Planet). I try to make Flat-Club as a mixture of these three.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded?
We had a few rounds – first from savings and personal debt, then friends and family and a small angel, and recently from serious angels. The next step is a major VC.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Everything can be done for less. We are still very lean, which ensures that we use our budget wisely. Making a budget forecast and reporting it every month is a simple yet powerful tool to manage cash.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
Just try it. Worst case scenario: it fails and you can go back to corporate world. It will always be there. I started Flat-Club after graduating with MBA from London Business School. All my friends thought I was crazy, saying no to offers from top banks. It’s true that I’m not making as much money as they do, but I like my job much more!
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
Take my amazing wife and son for a 6 month backpacking trip. My wife and I spent almost 2 years backpacking on different trips, and we dream of taking the time off again. South East Asia would be the destination this time.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?
When I look back on what we achieved in less than 2 years, I’m very impressed. Actually, every time someone makes a booking on the site (and it happens often now) I feel a small success. To see how an idea I discussed with my wife in our little kitchen developed into a company and a product that people use and recommend is a huge success for me.
Top 5 mobile apps you’re in love with and why?
- Whats App – to communicate with friends from home
- Trello – because I’m addicted to managing lists
- Dropbox – it saves me everytime I forget to prepare to a presentation, so I can read on the way
- Solitaire – It’s simple, it’s stupid, it’s effortless – hence, it helps me relax
- SkypeWiFi – saved me so much money on wifi when traveling