Business

Coliving startup wants to make Latin Americans rethink the concept of home

Casa Campus CEO talked exclusively to LABS about the plans and forecasts for the region, as well as the global behavioral shifts that have been driving even the more traditional markets

  • The company based in Argentina was first founded in the UK
  • Coliving startup aims to expand into Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia

We have become used to new types of services emerging for quite some time now, as technology gradually fills up more space in our daily lives. Uber took mobility to a whole next level; Netflix did the same with the streaming service; Amazon with e-commerce, Whatsapp with instant messaging, and, by now, we already have a long list of new ventures that made a huge impact in the way we live.

These are recent changes that sure have empowered our smartphones and TVs, saving us money and time. But although we might think “Yeah, this is everything and I’ve seen it all,” a closer look at the big picture might point out quite the opposite: these are just the tip of the iceberg.

You may think that you have changed the way you go to work the moment Uber stepped into the scene, making it easier and cheaper to simply ask for a driver through the app. But actually, you, me, and many others like us had already longed for this kind of change for quite some time. We just didn’t realize it: Uber did. And it didn’t take long for them to become a huge success. As new generations emerge, society moves on, behavior changes, and savvy market players that watch those shifts first, come up with solutions. 

These generational changes keep pushing further and further away the manner in which society is set, shaping new services, products, and solutions – in virtually all sectors. That’s why we have been seeing all sorts of new businesses tracking, following, and sometimes setting the way we live. And this is not just a fad or trend – society changes and will keep changing over time.

Among these changes, there are ones that we are already used to and ones that we are still watching as they gradually arrive: that’s the case of Casa Campus, a coliving startup based in Argentina.

Casa Campus building in Argentina

Focused on students, freelance workers, and tourists, the company, first founded in the UK by Fahad Siddiqui, offers a different way of living to a generation eager for a fresh concept of home. With four buildings in Argentina and three more in development, the startup is now expanding to Brazil and plans soon to be at full steam all over the main Latin American cities.

“We believe in the future of these two cities (Sao Paulo and Rio), they have unique cultural traits, their academic institutions have prestige, they have tourism potential and a growing number of self-employed professionals,” explained CEO Fahad Siddiqui in a press release.

Siddiqui, 31 years old, talked exclusively to LABS about Casa Campus future plans in Latin America, its main goals and the generational shift that has been globally pushing even traditional markets further, such as the real estate market.  

Housing must be a solution, not another problem

Whereas you can immediately order a pizza through Rappi and rent a scooter by using Lime’s app; the process is quite the opposite when you think about renting an apartment. To start with, it takes way longer to find a place – especially if you’re new to a city – and in most cases, you need to commit to a contract of at least 1yr or so. In a nutshell: bureaucracy from the very beginning. 

If this was a widely accepted reality before, people currently have been starting to look for more flexible and less bureaucratic options when looking for a place to live, as a reflection of lifestyle changes. Travel became cheaper and easier, exchanges turned more accessible, and home offices became more usual. A Mastercard survey showed that In Brazil alone, local travelers made about 6.5 million landings at international destinations in 2017 – an increase of 91% compared to 2009, while the number of US freelancers grew to 56.7 million, an increase of 3.7 million in the past five years, according to a report from Freelancers Union and Upwork. 

This was the landscape that shaped the perfect conditions for coworking spaces to reach a booming growth, suiting the needs of thousands of people looking for a solution that could better adjust to this new way of working, especially as the Gen Z enters the workforce. And this same mindset was the one that made Casa Campus and the coliving model break into the scene.

It’s all about connection 

If we changed the way we communicate, exchange information, work, travel, and everything else; why would it be different when it comes to housing? For the Casa Campus owner, it doesn’t have to be.

Fahad Siddiqui, Casa Campus CEO

The residential industry has always been created following the working scenario. Before, there were mining towns, because of the mining industry; then the central business district, with houses closer to these districts. This is now changing.” Fahad Siddiqui explains that, if people are traveling more and are able to work from anywhere, housing solutions must also adjust. 

For the Casa Campus founder, a global issue is that companies in the real estate market don’t build to rent, because they construct to sell and then reinvest anywhere else. But this no longer seems to meet people’s needs. “Not only is travel now more affordable and communication easier, but we are living a longer period in which people don’t get married and don’t form families, so they don’t have to buy a place,” Siddiqui points out.

Given that barriers are becoming less important and people are no longer tied to one particular place, being able to move, communicate and live with broader perspectives, connection is more central than ever. And it was this precise paradigm shift that the company realized and turned it into a hotbed for business success. 

Tailored for this new generation’s lifestyles, Casa Campus facilities are way more than just a place to live. With flexible contracts and the possibility to move from one city’s residence to another with the same contract, the coliving model provides a range of social activities led by a community manager for each building, promoting interaction and bonding among its residents. 

The purpose? Making people get out of their bubbles, enhancing experiences, and networking professionally and personally. This can be especially valuable, explained Siddiqui, if you’ve just moved to a city, for instance, to work on a project during a couple of months or for any other reason. Normally people would stay in hotels, where the experience, after a few weeks, can be quite isolating and impersonal – and way more expensive.

Latin America on the expansion roadmap

Besides the 4 buildings in the cities of Buenos Aires and Pilar, one of the next facilities soon to be launched by Casa Campus is a unit in the vivid cultural area of Palermo, in Buenos Aires, among more launches planned on other important neighborhoods of the capital. As for their next step, São Paulo, they aim to place Casa Campus residencies in Faria Lima area, Paulista Avenue, Rebouças Avenue, and Itaim Bibi, great neighborhoods of the big metropolis.

“There’s enough potential. The demand has never been an issue: We opened a building and within two months there was 85% occupancy – without too much of marketing efforts,” Siddiqui emphasizes. 

Paulista Avenue – Sao Paulo – Brazil

Just like the vibrant Palermo area, Casa Campus decided to target similar places in São Paulo and Rio, to start with, but will soon expand to other cities with the same potential and a set of similar traits, like the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

But it’s not only the biggest Latin America economy that is in their roadmap: Chile, Peru, and Colombia also appear, since the company plans to operate in a regional level between the second half of 2019 and the first half of 2020.

For the Casa Campus CEO, the generational shift that made the coliving business model thrive is something global. In a certain way, everyone has access to the same information nowadays, he stresses. From Europeans to Latin Americans, the millennial’s expectations are quite unilateral – except that we in Latin America have more sun. 

But although this is a global behavior, the region stands out as a fertile soil for Casa Campus: while in London and other European cities, for instance, there are a lot of student residencies, here in Latin America this is not a reality. “It’s a very interesting, unique and available market, since we can target both students and young professionals,” he points out. “Another thing is that in a student house you stay isolated, only having contact with other students.” The coliving model is about boosting interaction, connecting people with different backgrounds and perspectives.

About hurdles regarding local laws, Siddiqui doesn’t seem concerned. In Europe, they have regulation for the segment, and what they are doing in Argentina is to adapt their strategy with the local regulation. He emphasizes that, while there aren’t so many players in the coliving market, there won’t be specific regulation. They had been talking on a regular basis with local governments and municipalities and they are getting along, since it’s a service that attracts people to the city and helps to move the tourism market.

Just like in Argentina, the startup aims to settle agreements with the main universities and multinationals/companies that usually send employees to travel by work. After all, the idea is to strengthen this community. So, for instance, if you are in a Casa Campus accommodation in São Paulo and travel to Buenos Aires, you could be in one of their facilities within the same contract, enjoying all the structure and activities available there. It’s like a Gympass, but bigger. 

It’s a great time for Latin America.” While there’s a moment of instability in Europe, here in the region there’s less competition, the market is still underdeveloped and the region is in a great position for any kind of business and any venture capital investment, points out the entrepreneur.

Inspiration and future ahead

Housing must be a solution. “You start a project, for instance, and you don’t know if it’s going to work, if it will be a 6-month project, a 10-year project – so, in the same way, you sometimes can’t commit to a 1yr house contract. This is a new way of living. You can work this year in Brazil and the next in Singapore, and if you have a non-flexible contract, you have another problem to solve, not a solution. More expenses and more time spent on that – and time is our most valuable resource.

Overall, Fahrad thinks the solutions that allow people to save time would be the ones that will thrive. “The more AI grows, the more efficient we will be in society, being able to process more information. Integrating this technology, data processing and analysis into all types of industries: food, health, housing, and so on.” He believes that payment flows will be more and more transparent for both parts involved and fashion will become more sustainable and ethical. “There is the internet, there is information and awareness is coming: people are becoming more concerned and conscious when buying all sorts of stuff.

Having access to information and being able to travel a lot, the London-born of Pakistani origin got inspired when he realized that “we [people] are basically the same, doesn’t matter if you come from Argentina or Dubai.” He emphasizes that this made him think about products and services in a more universal way, which allows things to be a lot more scalable.

The coliving model is not just for young professionals and students. We have people from 18 to 70 living in our facilities. It’s a matter of mindset: people want to rent in a more friendly way. It’s a mindset that can be virtually applied to any sector or business.”

Besides the internal community (the residents of Casa Campus’ buildings) they intend to connect residents with the external community – people near the building. The plan is to go further with this initiative, something that they have already started to carry out. “Working with underprivileged people, connecting through activities and integrating the internal and external community – making people get out of their bubbles.” For him, although this kind of activity is optional, it can have a positive impact on people in a broader sense. 

Connect people from different backgrounds, who are eager to find better and more friendly solutions. Less bureaucracy, fewer costs, and more time to save for what really matters. Through technology, sustainability, and a deeply rooted idea of social integration, Casa Campus’ purpose may seem ambitious, but they have the tools and inspiration to disrupt even the more traditional markets.