James’ Journey to Co-Founder

Blogs 04 Jan 2023 / 7 mins read

By Owen Redman

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Introduction to my journey

From not getting into my first or second choice universities to having to make every penny last whilst living as a student, to co-founding a startup, I’ve gone through ups, downs, and everything in between running our student housing start-up Roome.

In my first year of university, I still wasn’t certain about what I wanted to do once I graduated. I knew that I had a definite entrepreneurial spirit, and had already had a taste for running a successful eCommerce venture. However, in 2018, I lacked the knowledge to properly capitalise on the opportunity that was presented. This was the first step in my student entrepreneur journey.

After my first year of university, I met with my friend and current business partner Owen to discuss our own entrepreneurial endeavours, and to develop our conversation about the common problem we both faced at university: student housing.

We poured advice from as many successful entrepreneurs as we could, and utilised all of the resources provided by our universities so when we came back for our second year of studies, we were motivated to get the ball rolling with our idea; going to lectures in the day and perfecting the concept that has now become ‘Roome’ throughout the night. 

Having bootstrapped the whole project, we also took on part-time jobs to support the functionality of the business, which allowed it to grow to where it is now; truly embellishing the ‘side-hustle’ mentality/grind required by a student entrepreneur.

It has been a difficult but fulfilling journey, which I think could help other aspiring student entrepreneurs- read about it in more depth below!

James’ experience with clearing, halls, and placement year

My Clearing Experience

I was predicted to get A*AA in my A-Levels and was set to go to a top 5 University. 

After missing my grades and achieving 3 B’s, I had to completely re-evaluate every plan that I made as an 18-year-old within 2 hours of receiving my grades.

Everything got turned upside down and going through the clearing was one of the most stressful days of my life. Luckily for me, I ended up at the University of Surrey, an institution that prides itself in being one of the best higher education establishments to support young entrepreneurs. I didn’t know this when I arrived, nor did I know what was to follow.

My Halls Experience

After joining the university to study Accounting and Finance and moving to the Manor Park student village, I adored the freedom and new experiences that came with being an undergraduate student. However, I did experience my fair share of adversity. I found my first semester quite difficult, as I struggled to find commonalities between myself and my flatmates in the student halls that I was placed in, leading to feelings of isolation early in my university experience. Living with new people can be a challenge when you start at university, or at any time in life and as the saying goes: “you never truly know someone until you live with them”.

However, it didn’t dampen my entrepreneurial spirit! After the Christmas break in my first year, I set up an eCommerce store that provided me, in the 3 months that I was running it, with good revenue and invaluable knowledge/experience in running an early-stage business.

My Placement Year

Fast forward a year, Owen and I have an idea for a business but do not have enough industry experience or know-how to execute our plan. I was in the process of applying for year-in-industry placements at the time but faced rejection from over 25 companies. This was obviously disheartening, but I chose to remain in good spirits and focus on the potential startup that Owen and I were so passionate about.

Following my own poor experience with student accommodation in my first year, I had a burning desire to improve student satisfaction at every university in the country. With that ambition, I approached the placement team and asked to become the first student entrepreneur ever at the University of Surrey to do a placement year working on their own business. From my placement stemmed the opportunity for other students at the university to follow in my footsteps! The idea for the app came quickly, but the production didn’t. As both Owen and I are non-technical founders, we didn’t have the slightest clue on how to make an app but the best advice I can offer is to ask for help!

I received business support from the university, Surrey Student Enterprise, the Student Union, the accommodation team, entrepreneurs associated with the university, SEO teams, marketing agencies and more. I have since completed my final year of studies and graduated, and am now working on Roome full-time with Owen. Roome has gone from strength to strength, and this is in part down to the resilience and dedication I showed during my time at university.

Let my journey be a lesson that adversity should not mean failure; with the right mindset and support, you can achieve any goal that you set for yourself- even if you are a student!

University Students in a Lecture

Our business, Roome

Roome is a two-sided, multi-functional web and mobile application for students, landlords and letting agents to revolutionise the way student accommodation is thought of! 

We launched in February 2021, as the pandemic further highlighted problems that already existed. There was no one centralised, holistic platform to find housemates, post rooms and move into privately owned accommodation. 

This is where we came in. As a student you can use the Roome platform if you’re living off-campus, to find roommates who are similar to you and share accommodation with them. You can post your spare rooms/properties for students that are searching for housing, you can chat with other students in-app, and enquire about properties with landlords and letting agents. You can also have a ‘house chat’, where you can randomise rooms and split bills. 

Roome is the first platform to bring all aspects of student housing together in one place. Working closely with Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) firms and the University of Surrey, we are collecting data to create our own algorithm which understands what makes a good match for students living together and takes into consideration their needs and preferences. 

Once students need to move out of university halls and into privately-rented accommodation, Roome will be there to provide more information about the properties that they are considering, displaying properties only from vetted and reviewed landlords. 

Review your landlord and property, to let other students know what your experience was like; landlords can also review students, which allows fellow landlords to know more about their future tenants. 

Worried about bills? Don’t be. Roome will offer bill estimations for properties on a weekly or monthly basis, based on current rates and what old tenants paid. Next academic year Roome will be offering combined packages at the best price so you don’t have to worry about your housemates not paying individual bills. 

For landlords, Roome offers a free listing, with a boost/feature to have their properties promoted further, only charging landlords when they successfully let through Roome to an already completed group of housemates. In the coming months, we will be offering additional features to landlords such as professional photography, 3D modelling, tenant referencing etc. as well as offering competitive packages for rent collection, deposit collection and protection, advertising on a student-exclusive platform and contract drafting for a fixed fee. 

Roome is free for students forever, but in return, they provide us access to sell advertising space to companies specifically targeting students: bank accounts, Spotify, gym memberships, bus passes and more. At the moment, our competitors are either non-student specific or are just focusing on the letting/bills side of the housing market. Our unique selling point (USP) is that we match students before they look for a house to create lasting relationships beyond just the three years of university.

Check out what we’ve built at www.roome-uni.com

Roome logo white background

Posted by Owen Redman

Co-founder of Roome

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