We talked to Lauren Dannay of Whoomies about coliving and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Lauren Dannay; We’re all doing good, thanks. Fortunately, no one in my family has been affected (health-wise) by the COVID-19.
I think we are pretty fortunate to have technology that enables us to stay connected even through social distancing. Yet, I’m a very active and outdoorsy person, so being stuck indoors is a bit of a challenge. The pandemic is changing the way we connect, but I have to admit I miss my social-life interactions somehow.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Whoomies.
Lauren Dannay; After graduating from Paris-Dauphine University with a Master’s degree in Finance & Wealth Management, I started my career at Natixis WM, where I worked for three years as a Private Banker.
I had the opportunity to meet with highly successful entrepreneurs who raised my motives to launch my own business.
The idea of Whoomies then came in early 2017 thanks to my best friend Alex, who has turned out to become my co-founder. After having a hard time finding both a place to live and compatible roommates while living in big cities such as Paris, New York, Singapore, or London.
What really prompted our choice to launch the company, besides the obvious pain on the market, is also the vast market opportunity we saw: 1 person out of 3 under 30years embrace this way of housing worldwide. The market is already worth 500B$ every year.
While housing alternatives are thriving to face current global societal challenges, such as housing affordability, remote working, social isolation, traditional real-estate marketplaces still provide a very low-tech value proposition. We created Whoomies to unleash the full potential of the shared-housing experience.
How does Whoomies innovate?
Lauren Dannay; Whoomies is the first real-estate marketplace, both mobile and web, providing a full-circle digital experience to ease the access to shared housing, from hunting to moving-in. We turn shared rental into a seamless, safe, and efficient process for tenants, landlords, and operators.
Our platform is the only one offering a diversified housing offer, an automated and guided rental booking process, and social features (like our matching interface between prospective roommates) to enhance the living experience. We built a very innovative mobile app and a web platform to ease with the rental booking. More than 100k renters have used Whoomies, and it’s only the beginning.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Lauren Dannay; We’re coping by adapting as fast as we can. Our team, like many, went remote. Our communication tools and organization were already set up before the lockdown. We then found other and innovative ways of keeping our culture alive.
Regarding our market, the global pandemic has exacerbated two main things:
· How we connect with people,
· How we cope with private vs. collective spaces at home.
Housing has never been that important in people’ lives. Remote working has redefined our home relationship, and social distancing has increased social isolation for individuals living alone. After the first lockdown in France, we saw a significant increase in the demand for coliving (+30% per month on average).
We’ve identified repeatable strategies to grow our business. We’ll double down on the winners for next year. Looking to the future, we’re pretty excited for the next steps to come for Whoomies.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Lauren Dannay; Surprisingly, no hard choices besides business as usual. I know we’re lucky to have built a digital company that is somehow benefitting from the crisis. I’d say the main lesson of this year would be to stay clear about what you stand for and follow your (brand) values.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Lauren Dannay; First, I’m lucky to have a fantastic team and great friends & family to have my back! I also have the type of personality that relishes tackling challenges. I like to focus on the situation and go headstrong into solutions. This year has been the most challenging ever, professionally and personally, but I’m trying to stay positive about everything I experienced.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Lauren Dannay; Traditional marketplaces are usually property-type segmented (e.g., flatshares-only), locally-oriented, and limited to listings broadcast.
Having built a marketplace very human-centered allowed us to understand the market needs better than any player in our industry. The market is evolving fast to adapt itself to the end-users needs, and we realize every day the value we can bring to improve the experience of both supply and demand.
We decided to create innovative technologies and a unique user experience bundled into a web platform and a mobile app. We’re convinced that our user-centric approach and data will be the key to taking over space in a long-term run.
Your final thoughts?
Lauren Dannay; In every crisis, there is an opportunity to seize. I like to think of Whoomies as a catalyst and a provider of innovation in bringing something new to our market.
Coliving is the residential real estate market’s underlying trend, yet France is still at an early-stage compared to the US, Asian, or even the UK market. We’re after an ample opportunity, and I’m very excited about the next months to come.
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