Co-working spaces have been one of the #startup ecosystem boom stories of the past couple of years. Could co-living spaces be the next one?
Singapore-based Hmlet would certainly like that to be the case. The startup – which designs and manages shared, short-term accommodation aimed primarily at young tech professionals – has just raised US$1.5 million in seed funding.
Founded last year, Hmlet leases properties from landlords and real estate firms in the city centers of Singapore and Tokyo and refurbishes them to maximize living space. It then sub-lets apartments and rooms in those properties to tenants on a month-by-month basis.
It figures that such an arrangement suits many workers in the tech industry, who tend to lead a particularly mobile existence, often moving cities at the drop of a hat to chase the latest job opportunities.
A new type of real estate
Co-living – like co-working – is nothing new, admits Hmlet co-founder and CEO Yoan Kamalski. Besides the house-share experiences that many urbanites might have had in their university days, Kamalski tells Tech in Asia that in Japan – where Hmlet plans to expand beyond Tokyo – there is another precedent.
“Historically, Japan went through share-housing due to the economics of Tokyo and other big Japanese cities,” he explains. “With low salaries and costly accommodation, people had no choice but to live together in order to afford the right place to call home.”
Hmlet is targeting cities with similar characteristics. Six weeks ago, it opened its latest co-living space in Singapore – a multi-storey block in the Joo Chiat neighborhood which is already 95 percent occupied.
Following its seed round, the startup wants to open spaces in Hong Kong and Osaka, in addition to expanding its presence in Singapore and the Japanese capital. It will also invest some of the capital into app development.
Kamalski says there is more to the “co-living space” concept than affordability, however. Living in shared accommodation not only reduces rent for would-be tenants, it also makes it easier for them to make friends and network while most of their waking hours are dedicated to working and career-building.
“People are lonely; we are not only looking for an affordable place to live, but somewhere that can empower us, somewhere with a community that is curated and brings our greater selves out,” he says. “We want a place that is flexible, yet makes us feel like we’re at home within the first night we move in.”
The co-living space approach “creates a new type of real estate that allows people to match their lifestyle, finances, and their desire to connect with people whom may change their lives,” he adds.
Tech pros that are interested in joining a Hmlet-curated houseshare apply for membership through an online form. Along with providing personal details and completing a personality assessment, they can tell the startup what type of room they are looking for, the length of their stay, how much rent they are willing to pay, and how many people they want to share with.
Hmlet also generates revenue by offering a range of on-demand services.
Hmlet uses this information to find good matches between the applicant and its existing members, in order to set up as harmonious a house-share as possible. Current members and Hmlet community managers will show the applicant around the spaces that best suit their requirements and personality.
The shortest rental contracts offered by Hmlet in Singapore are for three months; in Tokyo, one-month tenancies are an option.
In addition to taking a cut of the rent, Hmlet also generates revenue by offering a range of on-demand services to tenants. These include things like managing utility billing and cleaning, as well as work and lifestyle-focused offerings such as curated events and communal activities.
The seed round was led by Aurum Investments, a VC unit of Singaporean construction and civil engineering company Woh Hup. Shared workspace operator Collision8 is another Woh Hup subsidiary.
Kamalski says that Hmlet is aiming to close its next funding round in the next 12 to 18 months.