Here’s a concept that might squeeze the adrenals of the average social media manager or community manager: fuse a “hyperlocal” social network with an e‑commerce apartment rentals site. Sound tricky? Not to Ori Allon, co-founder and executive chairman of New York-based startup Urban Compass.
Urban Compass scooped £8m in seed funding last year and is now stepping out of stealth mode into public beta. And it’s managing that tricky juggling act between social and e‑commerce admirably well. If that’s elicited a wave of skepticism amongst community mangers and social media managers, here’s how it works.
In January, Urban Compass began hiring a talent pool of “neighborhood specialists” with intimate knowledge of different locales in the Big Apple. Let’s unpack that. These people are data collectors, reporting all the highlights of a specific neighborhood and feeding them into the startup’s Neighborhood Guides. These are the building blocks of an “Urban Compass Network”, the social network’s twin: an online housing rentals e‑commerce platform that helps homeseekers locate, secure and pay for accommodation.
But neighborhood specialists are also agents: with training and licensing provided by Urban Compass, they go out and bring prospective residents to view possible homes. By the end of the year, the startup plans to have recruited 200 of them.
An answer to the skeptical social media manager
Inveterate social media managers may balk at the idea. After all, don’t social networks work best when they’re organic and non-commercial? Allon says he likes big challenges like this, and Urban Compass’ social and e‑commerce wings are run by the same people and are built on the same platform, meaning that they both get equal weight.
By cutting out expensive brokers and bypassing sites like Craiglist.com, Urban compass is offering an attractive package: a one-stop shop for the entire rental deal from beginning to end. The evidence that’s emerging is showing that it’s already paying off. A big New York corporate has signed on and is referring all employees who are relocating to the city to the UC. In turn, these people are referring others to the site. With every lease completed, UC draws a percentage and revenues are already impressive.
A homes-to-buy service will shortly be added. As Allon puts it, “We want to help people find a place to live, both as a neighborhood and a home.”