836
10 min 1 sec

Music Graduate Makes Spare Change Filling Spare Rooms

After graduating and moving to London, this self taught coder builds a website to help housemates find each other. Fifteen years later, it earns millions of dollars in profit and has hundreds of thousands of members.
High Profit International Service Transition Story

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What It's About

A music graduate makes more than spare change filling spare rooms.

Business Model
Service
Skills Required
Organization & Coordination
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
High

Words of Wisdom

As Rupert says, "An important thing to remember is to listen to the market. When I first launched what is now called SpareRoom it was just for whole rental properties and there wasn't much interest. However, over the weeks that followed the launch, I saw it was the last minute apartment share bolt on I added that was getting all the attention. So I listened to the market, took a gamble, and pivoted the business to become an apartment share only site. And I’ve never looked back."

Fun Fact

After separating from his wife, Rupert found himself alone in a townhouse in Spitalfields, East London. He decided to use his own website to find flatmates. Having people around didn't just make life more fun. It helped Rupert fall in love with SpareRoom all over again. He realized that living with the right people beats living alone any day.

Notes from Chris

Episode 836

It was the year 1999, the year that Prince predicted would be a great party, and right before Y2K. Rupert Hunt had graduated from university with a music degree and moved to London. His dream of starting a successful band hadn’t quite worked out, so for a while, he stocked shelves at a local supermarket.

With the new millennium about to roll around, Rupert’s aspirations moved from music to web development. He wanted to make more money, build a better life for himself, and stop stocking shelves.

He had no programming experience but wasn’t afraid of hard work. He just knew he didn’t want to join the rat race and climb a corporate ladder.

Instead of taking a low-level corporate job, therefore, he decided to intern for a local internet entrepreneur in his spare time. This entrepreneur ran a website, and Rupert viewed it as a great opportunity to gain some skills as a web developer. He also thought it would be a good way to be exposed to new ideas.

The plan worked. After a short time, Rupert landed a gig for a local web development agency. He continued in the role for a few years, when the spare space in his mind began filling with a business idea.

He thought about his own experience moving to London and the difficulty he had in finding a place to rent. With his new web development skills, he started building a website that listed properties for rent in London. After a few weeks of work, he launched IntoLondon.com for just that purpose.

At the last minute, Rupert decided to bolt on a message board for people seeking housemates. Just in case anyone browsing the site was looking to share an apartment instead of renting their own.

IntoLondon.com launched with little fanfare and didn’t experience much growth or success. In fact, the rental classifieds area of the site didn’t take off at all.

But… something unexpected happened.

The housemate noticeboard that Rupert had tacked on at the last minute had proved quite popular. It was the only area of the site that got any use at all. This gave him an idea.

Rather than slog away at building a rental property website, he should listen to what his users and the market were telling him. There was clearly a need for a website that made finding a housemate simple.

Fast forward several years and by 2010, SpareRoom was the largest flat-sharing site in the country. Being a first mover was a huge advantage, but there were several other sites now in the space—so maintaining the lead wasn’t easy.

Rupert puts the success down to having a true understanding and empathy with customers. He views SpareRoom as a modern-day family business. That keeps the culture strong and also maintains a solid focus on providing real value to the members of the site.

And, it seems a lot of others agree because SpareRoom is a serious business, with over two million dollars in operating profit in 2018. With that success, Rupert has decided to make the push from the UK into the USA. Since launching in New York, the site has helped match three-quarters of a million flatmates already. He never went back to building the property rental site.



MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • SpareRoom: Don't let the struggles of finding a roommate get you down—learn more about how to simplify this process over on Rupert's website!

SEE ALSO:

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Quote of the Day
"Treat investment as a last resort not a foregone conclusion. There are always free or low-cost ways to grow your business, and it's amazing how the boundaries of having no money forces you to think creatively!"
—Rupert Hunt #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau