Never let a good crisis go to waste, says DigsConnect.com CEO as she signs global deal

South African online student housing market, DigsConnect.com has reached an agreement with the world’s largest student housing site, Student.com, allowing the start-up to expand its presence to 30 new countries and 400 new cities over the next six months.

DigsConnect was founded in 2018 and is a student and homeowner service that connects students with suitable accommodation in the vicinity of universities and colleges. To date, the platform has connected more than 65,000 owners and tenants.

DigsConnect.com Managing Director and Co-Founder Alexandria Procter explained that the service is free for students and also free for owners to create ads on DigsConnect, although they have gone through a verification process to make sure that their standards were up to par.

“If a landlord is successful in finding a tenant through our platform, DigsConnect charges them a success fee of 3.5% of the lease value. Each student is then assigned a ‘reservation concierge’ from DigsConnect who helps them navigate the rental world, ”she said.

Luke Nolan, CEO and Founder of Student.com, said he was excited to see the partnership come to life.

“Our global network combined with the reach and experience of DigsConnect.com in South Africa will create a solid foundation for growth, especially as South Africa is such a popular student destination,” said Nolan .

“More than anything, this partnership is built on the Student.com and DigsConnect.com culture. We share the same vision and live the same values ​​- it’s exciting to come together to help even more students around the world.

Procter said in an interview with Business Report that she contacted Luke Nolan, CEO and Founder of Student.com, in July, and “this is how we started the professional relationship between Student.com and DigsConnect.”

“We realized very quickly that there was something special here, and by working together we could create something global and bring Africa to the rest of the world in terms of student accommodation. In September, we got together. all met up in Dubai for a week of planning, meetings and workshops, that’s where the agreement was signed, ”she said.

Asked about the challenges of internationalization, Procter said, “The partnership will allow us to operate in hundreds of cities around the world, and we currently have a team of 7! The Student.com team is fantastic, and I’m sure we’ll be relying on them a lot as we evolve to adapt to this hyper-growth.

“The past 18 months have been difficult for the real estate sector in South Africa, which has been among the hardest hit due to Covid. I think part of what this partnership means is that the student housing industry is bouncing back as we prepare to welcome local and international students to our universities, campuses and country for the 2022 academic year, ”said she declared.

Asked about local competing businesses, she said: “We have no competitors in South Africa or across Africa. Covid and lockdowns have been tough on the real estate industry, and potential competitors have mostly liquidated or given up. “

Procter said it was an exciting time for the company, best known for its record start-up investment of Rand 12 million in 2019. The deal with Student.com follows an increase in additional investment in early 2021 , which helped the decision to investigate. international expansion.

The company this week also announced that it has secured $ 200,000 (Rand 2.95 million) in funding from the Michael And Susan Dell Foundation, which will see DigsConnect.com roll out the # 1000digs initiative where it will put set up a specialized program to help domestic students Financial Aid Program and scholarship funded students across South Africa looking for accommodation.

Procter said that DigConnect.com’s main growth regions include the United States, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

“Growth in the northern hemisphere is important because of the academic calendar – with international operations we will be able to take advantage of the academic seasons in September (northern hemisphere) and again in January, our own peak period in South Africa. This diverse geographic representation gives us multiple seasons per year, which allows us to generate revenue year round and have continuous feedback cycles to continually improve our products and services, ”said Procter.

“We will leverage the partnership and resources of our recent funding to quickly cover the rest of the continent to deliver our services. What I find most exciting about this partnership is that it puts Africa on the map for international students. We open the door to them and say “come and study in South Africa”. We want this to open more links between our continent and the rest of the world, encourage travel, open borders, internationalization, tourism and the free movement of people. Let’s bring business to South Africa, ”she said.

Going forward, Procter aims to become the Airbnb of student accommodation.

She said Covid-19 and the lockdowns threw a wrench into the works.

“We were on a phenomenal trajectory when we entered 2020, then March came, and the real estate industry practically collapsed, and every venture capital fund and lender in the country got cold. Now is not the right time to be a young PropTech startup. The next 18 months were extremely difficult for us and our clients – the owners we work with – and we had to adapt quickly to survive, ”she said.

But, Procter said it forced her to acquire a lifetime of business skills in just a few months. During some of the toughest days, someone sent him a quote from Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

“It made me pick myself up and put everything I have into this business. I think that’s what gave me the inspiration to reach out to Luke.

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