Despite making college life easier in areas ranging from research to class registration, the Internet has never provided students with much help in finding and securing off-campus housing…until now.
Campus1Housing, the brain child of young entrepreneur Jake Burns, provides students with a comprehensive Internet listing of all the off-campus housing available at their respective universities.
"Our goal is to be the first brand name in off-campus housing," said Burns, the founder/CEO of Campus1housing and a 2005 graduate of Miami University in Ohio.
According to Burns, the idea for Campus1housing came to him in the summer of 2004, while he was an intern at Petters Group Worldwide, a multi-million dollar investment and marketing company started by entrepreneur Tom Petters. In recent years, Petters Group has acquired well-known brand names like Polaroid, Fingerhut and uBid.com, the nation’s second most popular auction website.
"I worked on a plan that was basically an auction website for off-campus housing where property owners would get a good price and students would get a more fair market," said Burns.
After completing the initial plan, Burns presented it to Tom Petters. Upon returning to school, he partnered up with friend and classmate Joe Condit, and the two set off to collect market research on their plan. Initially traveling to 14 different schools across the Midwest, the pair would eventually stop at more than 45 schools to conduct research.
"When going to 45 different schools, we faced different challenges at each," said Condit, now the co-founder and director of sales and marketing for Campus1Housing. "Demographics, like whether it’s a rural school or an urban school, make a difference. We found what would work at each school."
One common need found at every school, however, was the need for something more than just an auction platform for off-campus housing.
"We found that the real need was for a collection of all the properties available at a university on one website," said Burns. "So we adapted to the market."
"We saw that there was a market for something that had never been done: a one-stop-shop for every off-campus housing need," added Condit.
The pair took their research back to the Petters Group, who immediately saw it as a good investment.
"Campus1Housing had a solid business plan with substantial research into why this was a needed service in university towns," said Petters. "Our ability to match them up with uBid.com in order to build their platform gave them a great jump into the market."
During their senior year, Burns and Condit received funding from Petters Group to develop the website. And, in September 2005, Campus1Housing.com was launched at five universities: Miami University, Xavier University, Indiana University, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Notre Dame.
After the inaugural year, Burns and Condit realized that the success of their vision would depend on its relationship with three important groups. The first such relationship was between Campus1housing and the administrators at the universities it services.
"One of the first challenges we faced at each school was winning the university over," said Condit.
"Universities have an obligation to provide the most beneficial housing information to parents and students, and off-campus information is usually limited," said Burns. "The universities need people like us to come in and provide a better way for finding houses and living off campus."
The second vital relationship is between Campus1Housing and the property owners and managers, a relationship that was very successful in the company’s first year.
"We had a 95 percent retention rate with property owners in our first year," said Condit. "The property managers stick with us because we’re not another media source, we train students on how to rent."
Finally, the last important relationship is between Campus1Housing and the students looking for off-campus housing.
"Students love it," said Condit. "We did focus groups after the first year, listened to the market, and adapted the website. It is the result of what the students like. We had 2 million hits the first year … and most of our publicity came from word-of-mouth."
After a successful first year, both Burns and Condit have high hopes for the future of Campus1Housing and its website, Campus1Housing.com.
"In two to three years, we want to be on a national level," said Burns. "We want to build on all aspects of the dynamic atmosphere of living off campus."
"We’ve made it work at five schools, we’re working out the kinks at three more, there is nothing to stop us from going national," said Condit, who credits Tom Petters with giving them the opportunity to succeed.
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