Interview with AskCuCu, an accommodation booking platform in China
1. Tell us about AskCuCu. AskCucu is a housing platform where global citizens can book rental accommodation before moving to China. It launched in July 2016 by a young team of international and local entrepreneurs that strongly believe moving to China should be simple, fast and convenient. By working only with reputable landlords, verifying each property with pictures and video and offering multilingual support, global citizens can feel comfortable knowing all they have to do when they land is pick-up the keys. AskCucu finally allows the thousands of incoming citizens to avoid language-barriers, intermediaries and other hurdles by securely and conveniently booking a place to live online. It has the potential to quickly become the new standard in the Asian medium and long-term rental market. Being the first platform in China that moves the entire rental search online, users can browse properties, take virtual tours and book it, even before landing in China.
Why is it call AskCuCu?
Our platform is named after the cuckoo bird that grows up in the nests of other birds. Just like the Cuckoo bird we help global citizens get comfortable in another nest, away from home. Our aim is to transform the market with a new, unconventional and fun platform, so being named after a bird that in many languages is also slang for “crazy” or “eccentric” is only right.
Why did you start the business?
Being global citizens ourselves, we know how exciting it is to move to another city, another country. We also know that finding a new home is not easy. What are the best places to live, how much is the average rent, how to find a good landlord or roommate? In Asia this can be even more complicated as the market is extremely fragmented and almost entirely offline. Add language barriers to the mix and it is clear what we try to solve. We believe that in today's online world, global citizens that move for work or study should be able to expect a convenient and trustworthy way to find a new place to live. Wherever they are from, wherever they go. We aim to become the new standard in global medium and long-term housing.
Tell us about your expansion plans and how you go about choosing the next region to expand into.
Currently AskCucu is live in Shanghai. We decided to take the learnings of many other start-ups to heart and first do one thing very well and have a narrow focus. We will expand the platform once we have a solid grip on a single segment of the market in a single geography. At that stage we also plan to build out the web functionality by adding services like airport pick-up. Additionally, we plan for expansion in the domestic market and are even already exploring potential in other Asian countries.
How do you go about building your network? It must be difficult to get in touch with all the landlords.
We are constantly looking to expand our network and we do this in a variety of ways. Our aim is to combine scale with personal service. We therefore work with both large property managers that manage many properties as well as individual single-property landlords. In just month we were able add over 3000 properties to our inventory. Most efforts currently go into verifying and checking properties. Our aim is to be THE trusted platform, so we want to ensure that you always know what you get when booking through AskCucu.
Do you plan to operate in Hong Kong?
Absolutely, we are registered in Hong Kong and are already talking to potential partners in the market. While the real estate in every city is different, the problem we are solving is absolutely valid in a market like Hong Kong. The shortage of properties and rental prices, increase the relevancy of a platform where users can confidently book a verified property, completely online.
However, as I mentioned before a marketplace business model can only succeed by starting with a very narrow and targeted focus. Only then we create relevancy in the market and build a brand. So let’s tackle one market first , before expanding. Stay tuned!
What's the founder’s typical day like?
We are a very small team of young entrepreneurs. We normally start with long to-do lists and end the day with even longer ones. Our partners and users give us great feedback, so every day we come up with new opportunities. The hardest and most important part is focus. I am responsible for the overall strategy, so spend most of my time prioritizing new features and bugs for the developers and helping our business team to get as much done as possible. In the end I try to make life easier for our team members so they can get the important stuff done.
Tell us one memorable story from running this business so far.
Our promise is that you can move into your new place as soon as you land in Shanghai. So when our very first customer booked a room through our platform he went straight from the airport to his apartment. We received a call immediately, with the comment that the bed sheets were missing. What didn’t realize was, that when you promise great service the user expectations might go beyond what you actually sell. So I personally went there and spent my afternoon with our user shopping for sheets. Today we communicate more explicitly on this and are sourcing suppliers so we can offer sheets and other products in the future.
Overall, this is a great learning and reminder that your end-to-end service needs to be great. We are here to super-serve our users to build up confidence in the platform.
What are 3 things you want people to know about your platform?
- Trust: every room is verified and each landlord is vetted, so you can feel comfortable knowing that what you see is exactly what you get.
- Transparency: we are very clear on the conditions of the room and the contract. You know exactly what you will be signing once you step off the plane and into your new home.
- Convenience: it has never been easier to book an apartment in Shanghai!