TheRoomLink growing ahead of first anniversary, seeking incubation

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South African startup TheRoomLink is reporting growth of between 1,000 and 2,000 users per month as it approaches the first anniversary of its launch, with the company likely to be seeking investment and incubation in 2015.

TheRoomLink – officially launched on January 1 this year – is a property matching site connecting renters with rooms, with founder Liezl Hesketh telling Disrupt Africa the model was similar to internet dating.

“We’ve built on the principle of Collaborative Consumption, still in its infancy in Africa, but taking the world by storm,” Hesketh said.

“Collaborative Consumption – also known as the Sharing Economy – allows people who have something in excess to share with someone in need. We believe that ordinary people hold the key to the shortages of student and professional accommodation in Africa – and enable people to earn cash from their biggest idle asset – their home.”

Those advertising rooms and those wishing to rent them must complete a profile on the site, with TheRoomLink’s matching engine then delivering unique matches to each person via email on a daily basis. Once a room is found, profiles can be unpublished and emails are not sent until the service is needed again.

Hesketh said TheRoomLink is set apart from other competitors by the fact landlords advertising properties can see the profiles of interested parties before they choose whether to contact them or not, while videos can be uploaded as part of the room listing, making virtual viewings a possibility.

“TheRoomLink offers flexibility,” she said, with the site suiting those that wish to alternate the use of their room between student or holiday accommodation. “You can offer your property daily, weekly, monthly or anywhere in-between. This enables landlords to change the use of a property merely by advertising it differently at different times.”

She said most of the rental market focuses on whole properties, in spite of the fact many people only need a room.

“And as people urbanise, and costs go up, more people will be looking for rooms, bachelor flats, granny flats – so this is where our focus is, although you are able to list any type of property on the site,” Hesketh said.

“We place a lot of focus on student accommodation. Every year more than 400,000 students don’t get into an official university or college residence. All the biggest student accommodation providers now advertise through us. There are many smaller sites, but none of them have ever had any real traction.”

Though Hesketh said the site had grown slowly to start with, it gained momentum midway through the year and was now growing at a rate of between 1,000 and 2,000 users per month.

The site launched a paying model about a month ago, requiring at least one of the two people attempting to contact each other on TheRoomLink to be a paid member. It also plans to offer advertising opportunities on the emails it sends to targeted users each day, which can number up to 5,000.

Hesketh said the company is self-funded, but may consider taking investment in 2015.

“We’re hoping to join a startup incubator next year to help us grow faster,” she said.

The company also has long-term plans to expand outside of South Africa, most likely to Europe, with the United Kingdom (UK) a probable first destination.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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