BY TOM JACKSON
Zimbabwean startup Housing Hub is moving into new verticals after seeing strong uptake on its platform, which allows university students to book and make payments for off-campus accommodation.
Such has uptake been, that having only launched in 2018 Housing Hub is already the biggest virtual off-campus accommodation market for Zimbabwean tertiary students, offering over 5,000 beds to around 30,000 users.
“We exist to link students to available, decent, secure and reliable accommodation. Landlords upload their properties, which allows prospective tenants to browse through available options, place a booking and make a payment within a matter of hours,” founder Marvellous Nyongoro told Disrupt Africa.
The idea for the platform came about after Nyongoro fell victim to a bogus accommodation agent after he failed to secure on campus accommodation in 2018.
“Out of frustration and anger I decided to create a WhatsApp group that would provide information to students on the availability of student accommodation. The group was to counteract bogus agents who were profiteering from selling information,” he said.
Demand to join the group increased, and Nyongoro decided to open a Facebook group and page. With demand still growing, he turned it into a business by developing an app and website, and recruiting a marketing team of student agents paid on a commission basis.
“There was no system being provided by any of the 23 institutions in Zimbabwe or any company to assist students who have been denied campus accommodation to source decent off-campus accommodation,” said Nyongoro.
“Yet the majority of the student population in Zimbabwe reside off-campus. On the other hand, landlords with properties to lease to students were failing to access the student market, resulting in rooms going vacant for weeks or even months.”
Having filled that gap, Housing Hub has seen strong uptake. It currently lists over 5,000 beds, and has more than 30,000 registered users.
“Uptake has been quite fair, especially considering the market and the economic situation. We were able to launch and gain traction, and our only limit is bed capacity,” Nyongoro said.
The startup, which charges a five per cent service fee on every successful booking made through its platform, has processed rentals worth over US$50,000 since inception. Off of that strong base, Housing Hub is now expanding to offer more services.
“On the new system, students will be able to order laundry services, manage bills, and perform work for other students,” Nyongoro said. “For landlords, we are adding fully automated accounting services to help track rental payments, and cashflow reports. It is something I’m quite excited about and hopefully the market will love.”
To power this growth, Housing Hub has been attempting to raise US$100,000 in seed funding. In this, it has so far proven unsuccessful, though it has been granted access to matching funding of US$50,000 by the Mastercard Foundation courtesy of Nyongoro’s Anzisha Fellowship. Now he just needs to secure the other half. Otherwise, the startup has been bootstrapped, and taken on some grant funding.
Currently operating only in Zimbabwe, Housing Hub does have plans further afield.
“We do have expansion plans that will take us beyond Zimbabwean borders in the near future,” Nyongoro said.
“Right now we want to fully consolidate the Zimbabwean market before we start chasing other markets. We believe it’ll be much easier for us to adapt our technology in the other markets after we effectively run it here at home.”