For students of government institutions in Nigeria, one of the greatest challenge they face is securing a place to lay their heads while they spend the number of years required to bag a certificate for their chosen courses.
As a result of the population of these schools, a lot of these students get admitted, but do not get accommodation, and resort to spending weeks, and sometimes, months searching for a place to rent outside of the school premises, popularly called, off campuses.
With technology, a number of startups have sprung up to not only ease this process, but make it a lot faster for students.
Offkrent.com is one of the few startups meeting this need. In this interview with the co-founder, Tope Alao, he revealed how Offkrent has been successful at helping students solve the problem of accommodation.
Tell us little about yourself
I am Tope Alao, the co-founder of offkrent.com and a graduate of the University of Ilorin.
Tell us about offkrent
offkrent.com, is an online Hostel booking website for African students, starting with Nigerians. Student see us as the go to source for their off-campus hostel because we save them the stress of having to walk around looking for hostels.
What inspired the idea for it?
I would say it a combination of a lot of things. One of them is my passion to solve people’s problem. Especially, the one I can relate with. When I was in the University, I and my roommate tried to relocate from our hostel but we were unable to get the right hostel due to the fact that we couldn’t afford to pay consultancy fee (agency fee) and we also wanted a cheaper hostel compared to where we were staying then.
After making several attempts to get a nice looking and affordable hostel, we were unable to get one. There was this hostel that we went to, where the existing occupants were playing loud music and doing all sorts of what we considered immoral. We were forced to say no. That was my first encounter of the woe of a student looking for a nice off campus hostel, as the hostel we were staying in was passed down to us by my roommate’s sister.
Another reason I set up Offkrent is because of the fact that I have always wanted to create a company that people would find highly useful. For example, Google, YouTube, Facebook. I have friends who have learned programming or other skills on their own using Google and YouTube. I personally have found those services very useful and I am grateful to those who create these services and I know millions of people are too. This is my dream; to create a company people are find useful, and be grateful for it. It is my mission.
How does the platform work?
We aggregate off Campus Hostels from trusted hostel managers/owners on every campus, and upload the details of those hostels, including the contact of the hostel manager/owner so that student can book an appointment to visit the hostel. After which we get a commission on every successful hostel booking a student make through our platform.
What does it take for property owners to list their available hostel on the platform?
Listing property for hostel owners/managers on our website is free. We charge the hostel manager a commission on every successful booking a student makes using our platform. Which means we only get paid when hostel managers get a successful booking. Which is a very difficult thing to do, as compared to the subscription based model, because you have to put your head down and really deliver on your promises.
Since launch, how has the response been from students?
The response from students has been mind-blowing. When we first started we were only listing hostels in Unilorin but as time passed, students from other campuses started reaching us to make bookings but we were forced to tell them we can’t serve them yet.
I have received calls at midnight from students of various schools in Nigeria. And this is the benefit of technology, it provides flexibility and ease.
What are the challenges you faced getting the startup running and how did you overcome them?
There are a lot of challenges, including getting hostel managers to list their hostels on our website, orienting students on how to use the website, and funding.
For a business like ours, you need fund to list hostels because that is where the real magic is. But we’ve been able to grow using our own personal funds and the money given to us by our customers. In all these challenges, we are motivated by the mission.
Does offkrent.com gets a commission from property owners when students rent a house through the platform?
We charge property owners/managers a small percentage on every successful booking. We keep this very small because of the stage of the market.
When you want to convince people to use technology, you have to give them some incentives that make them realize how valuable and easy it is to increase their sales as compared to the old method they use.
How has your entrepreneurship experience been so far?
I will say, it has been adventurous so far. Though, there has been lots of tough times, in fact I have tough moments every day, which can be quite challenging. But it has been fun so far. Because I was trained a geologist, I will say I am prepared for this.
The whole vision wasn’t clear from the beginning but it is now getting clearer. I recently stumbled on an article that pointed out that 56% of qualified aspirants to one of the top Universities in Nigeria can’t gain admission because the school can’t provide the necessary hostel accommodation. Then I ask myself what if the schools can supplement their existing on campus hostels with off campus hostels? Off course schools are aware that there are off campus hostels available for their students but because they don’t know the capacity of off campus hostels, they can’t admit more than their capacity.
Which is why companies like ours are positioned to solve this problem. Imagine we listing more off campus hostels and making them available to students can get more students admitted. This is a mission we are on, one that gets us inspired.
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