First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Fahad Siddiqui: We are well, just coping like everybody else. Unfortunately, my uncle passed away after contracting the virus earlier in the year, which was tough, especially with the social distancing measures making the grieving process understandably difficult for some.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Casa Campus.
Fahad Siddiqui: While at the university in London, I co-founded a company to help students find accommodation in a completely foreign city (currently known as The Collective). We found that it was not only students who were looking for this solution but also young professionals. Our accommodation features were all-inclusive contracts, with a cleaning service, roommates, access to communal areas, and flexible contracts. We accumulated over 200 beds across 50 sites before we were able to consolidate the inventory into buildings with the sole purpose to house this demographic of people. The term ‘coliving’ was later coined to describe this type of product.
I moved to Buenos Aires and joined Casa Campus in 2016. We are currently the largest coliving company in Latin America.
How does Casa Campus innovate?
Fahad Siddiqui: At Casa Campus, we have two components that are undergoing constant innovation; product and service.
Customer behavior and feedback are imperative to this exercise, and with this information, we are able to adapt our current and future products and services.
We have an open dialogue with our residents throughout their stay, which helps this process enormously.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Fahad Siddiqui: It had a brief initial impact on us as universities closed throughout Latin America, which meant some of our residents returned home. Fortunately, we have a product that caters to professionals also, so we were able to return to pre-pandemic levels of occupancy within a couple of months.
We have always had a professional cleaning team at every site, and they have been the frontline team members for us at this time. They have made our buildings safe and an attractive place to stay in these uncertain times.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Fahad Siddiqui: Of course, one of the things was that we opted to make our head office team 100% remote! It has been a learning curve for everyone, but the whole team has been extremely supportive of the change, making the transition easy. In some buildings, we are able to use coworking facilities when necessary.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Fahad Siddiqui: There are two words that I think if given enough value or importance, almost every situation can become less stressful. They are perspective and empathy. In any given situation, if you are able to exercise perspective (will this matter in 5 years?) and/or empathy (why is the other person feeling this way), you will find the intensity of the situation will drop dramatically.
Having a cut off time for work helps me a lot also. When you have a business, it is impossible to switch your mind off from work. However, you can decide when you need to be proactive and actively engaged with work and when to deliberately draw a line in the sand. Being involved 24/7 will inevitably create negative impacts on yourself and your work.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Fahad Siddiqui: The co-living sector is growing internationally, with many new brands and products coming to market; however, in Latin America specifically, there are very few operators doing things at our scale. I expect more and more to appear fairly soon as it is already a multi-billion dollar industry globally and has proven itself to be a dependable real estate asset class during this pandemic.
Your final thoughts?
Fahad Siddiqui: Whatever product you make or service that you provide, try to incorporate a positive byproduct for society and the environment where possible. The more active you can be with this, the better. You will feel better, your team will feel better, and the market today will reward you for it.