Interview: Jack Jenkins, CEO of University Cribs

University Cribs is a Cardiff-based tech start-up on a mission to make finding accommodation easier for students. We speak to Jack Jenkins, the company’s CEO, about what the company is all about and its plans for the future.

TD: Who are you and what does your company do?

JJ: University Cribs is a student property search engine aiming to simplify the way university students find their future homes online. We essentially provide a media platform for letting agents and accommodation providers to efficiently market their properties to students across the UK.

TD: Why did you set the business up?

JJ: We’ve been wanting to set this up for a while. We actually bought the domain in 2010 when we first saw a large space in the student accommodation market for a strong tech based marketing solution.

Despite the void, it wasn’t the right time to launch and the domain sat redundant for a few years. I personally feel that one of the key factors driving successful startups globally is timing.

It was only about two years ago that we felt the time was right for us to start the business. On a market level, the last couple of years has seen the student accommodation market grow at an astonishing rate. The market size is set to hit £45 billion in the UK alone later this year.

In the meantime, we also realised that we could drive high level of student traffic to website. We had already done this with other businesses and the skills were totally transferable to project. A student property website was the perfect fit as it appealed to 100% of the student user base – every student needs somewhere to live.

TD: What problem is it solving?

JJ: We solve a few problems. We have two key areas to look at: our student users who actually visit the site and the accommodation providers looking to advertise properties with us.

The process for finding a student house can be stressful and time consuming. Finding the perfect place is important as a student, and before University Cribs, students had to trek the student triangle visiting agent after agent or poor UX website after poor UX website. We simply put everything in the same place.

We also solve the difficulties letting agents face when trying to effectively market to students. Agents and other portals are limited with their student marketing.  They are unable to curate student relevant content and therefore are unable to penetrate the market effectively.

We solve both these issues head on.

TD: What makes your business unique?

JJ: For us, it’s the ability to take our product to market ourselves rather than having to rely on external marketing agencies. From my experience, this is where a lot of other start-ups struggle as they have to commit large budgets to external marketing spend.

Our background is in student marketing. The directors have done for many years now, and we have developed strategies and social media assets that allow us to instantly reach hundreds of thousands of UK students.

TD: What has been your biggest success and biggest obstacle?

JJ: Our biggest obstacle so far has been finding reliable developers that can help build our vision to the standard that we demand. Clearly, we must have much higher standards than most.

We’ve had a number of great successes as a business. Getting close to 100,000 visitors in the first month was a big win for us. It proved to others that our marketing skills from previous businesses were truly transferable.

The first round of seed funding was a big boost for us and the general traction of the business so far is also worth a mention. We have grown very fast over a very short time.

TD: Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?

JJ: University Cribs will continue to scale and grow. We are a dynamic business and are always looking to innovate with new products that can benefit both accommodation providers and our student users.

Our aim is to be the leader in the online student accommodation space, not only in the UK but also globally. We believe this goal is achievable in the next 5 years.

Alongside that, we also have some really cool tech additions in the pipeline. 2017 is looking to be a very exciting year.

TD: What do you think of Welsh tech?

JJ: Similar to other Welsh based tech start-ups, we did of course look at London as a base for the business but Cardiff still won first prize.

There are a number of key factors that make Wales the ideal place for a start-up of our type. Not only are there top grade universities suppling top tier talent, but the support available from the Welsh Government is tremendous as well.

We are a strategic partner with Educ8, giving us access to staff through the Jobs Growth Wales Scheme. We are also hoping to tap into the Finance Wales’ Seed Technology Fund during our next round of investment.

TD: Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs? 

JJ: I would advise future founders to dream big. In the UK, people get put down for having bold ideas by others and the press. There is too much focus on people not being able to do something rather than their ability to do it.

As an entrepreneur, you need to have an element of delusion. You have to fully believe that you can achieve your idea to drive you to a place where you can sell the business to others. Often your idea doesn’t become the final product.