We spoke to Room For Tea, who are matching interns in search of affordable accommodation with hosts who have rooms to spare.
1. Who are Room For Tea (and where’s the name from)?
Room for Tea is a sharing economy platform that connects guests looking for mid-term, affordable housing with hosts who have a spare room.
After doing an unpaid internship with an NGO, where she was paid £10 per day to cover food and travel, Milena founded RFT in 2012 to help interns find affordable accommodation for short stays in London.
The name Room for Tea came out of a brainstorming during the Social Innovation Camp, a hack weekend in Edinburgh. We were looking for something a little more fun and engaging than ‘homeshare’.
2. Why is RFT important to graduates and Interns?
There are few jobs available for young people in the UK and internships have become vital experience for employment. Internships exclude those who live outside of London and cannot afford to pay rent at the current market rate. More generally, young people moving to London to work or study for the first time are the first affected by the housing crisis and the rising cost of living.
3. Where did you get the idea for RFT? Had you been inspired by co-living enterprises in mainland Europe connecting students and nursing homes?
Our team is inspired everyday by other actors in the sharing economy. One company in particular that has motivated us on our mission is called BlaBlaCar, started in France in 2006. While everyone in the world has focused on Uber’s growth in the P2P transportation sector, BlaBlaCar has built a global transportation network for mid-range rides of about 220 miles on average. On BlaBlaCar’s platform, you could grab a ride with a ‘stranger’ from London to Paris with a few clicks; on our platform, you could book a room remotely from Barcelona before you reach London.
Ultimately, our mission is to make the same impact as BlaBlaCar in the P2P accommodation sector of the sharing economy, specialising in midterm lets. We want to scale Room for Tea beyond London to help any young person find a soft landing when they move to a new city and secure affordable, comfortable living arrangements wherever they go through our mobile passport product.
4. Trust is the new currency in the Sharing Economy. How do you gain trust and ensure security for your hosts and guests?
As a large number of RFT hosts are single females, a key concern for RFT has always been safety and trust. Finding places to live with strangers on big listing sites such as Gumtree and Spare Room can be a daunting process and often leads to disappointing results. We built Room for Tea around trust and developed simple but effective verification mechanisms to ensure guests and hosts both have a safe and enjoyable experience. The average guest stays on RFT for 2 – 3 months, and 9 out of 10 guests and hosts would recommend RFT to a friend.
5. What challenges have you faced as a start-up?
Our main challenge is bringing new hosts onto the platform, enough hosts to respond to a rapidly growing demand, as we see approximately 3 new guests register on the platform everyday. We also face limitations of our current platform, which causes user friction. We have started fundraising to redesign our platform and improve user experience.
6. How do you see the co-living industry changing in the future?
In the future, we imagine a world where you use your smartphone as a passport to connect to different co-living and hospitality communities via a series of different digital apps. These apps will be linked together by technology and your reputation/social position within the different communities will be aggregated on the blockchain. Young people will be a lot more mobile and living will become much more flexible, with tenancies/lease agreements in their current format becoming obsolete. Co-living will become the norm and it will be about experience over and above anything else.
7. What’s your favourite accomplishment/success story?
Fatima, a 25 year old guest from France once told Room for Tea ‘’Angela was genuinely welcoming and integrated me to her family quite happily. Over the course of my stay, I was invited several times to take part in their activities just as if I were a member of the family. It does make a difference when your close friends and family are abroad and that you’re new in a city.’’
8. Who’s the ideal candidate to be a guest or host on your platform?
We welcome hosts of any age. Currently, our hosts are aged 30 to 85 years old. Our guests are millennials, aged between 20 and 35 years old, young people from anywhere who are moving to London to start their dream careers and need mid-term affordable accommodation (1-6 months).