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Website to Help Students Find Homes Gets $60 Million

  • Student.com to tap surging international student numbers
  • Vy Capital, Spotify founders among backers of U.K. startup

When Luke Nolan was living in Shanghai in the early 2000s, his Chinese friends and neighbors kept asking him to help their children who were going to study in the U.K. find places to live. That inspired Nolan to create Student.com, a London-based company that lets the increasing number of students studying outside their home country shop for accommodations.

On Thursday, Student.com said it has received $60 million in funding from Dubai-based VY Capital and a group of investors that include Horizons Ventures, the technology investment arm of Chinese billionaire Li Ka-Shing’s fund and London-based startup adviser Expa. Also participating in the funding round are Spotify’s co-founders, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, as well as Hugo Barra, a former Google executive who helped run the Android operating system and is now at Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi Corp.

In the upcoming academic year, Student.com will boost its listed properties to 426 cities around the world from about 300 now. It will use the funds from the investment to grow in new markets and expand in the U.S., the Middle East and Latin America. The cash infusion will also allow the company to make key hires, Nolan said in an interview, adding to the 200 employees in offices in seven cities, including New York, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In 2014, Nolan brought in Shakil Khan, a London-based entrepreneur who had served as an adviser to Spotify and co-founded popular Bitcoin exchange and wallet CoinDesk, as a co-founder to help direct strategy. Nolan and Khan had met 10 years earlier when they were both studying Mandarin in Shanghai.

Student.com currently is free for students to use. It charges landlords who rent properties on the site a commission that varies depending on local market conditions, Nolan said. He said the company carefully vets landlords to make sure they are offering high-quality accommodations. The website also helps landlords present their properties, sending professional photographers to take pictures and aiding in writing profiles for the service.

"We want to make sure the property owner has the right standards and the right ethos," Nolan said. He said each property was checked to make sure it was well maintained and clean, that it was safe and that it was not too far from the university it claimed to be serving.

Last year, $110 million worth of housing was booked through the Student.com’s platform from students in more than 100 countries, according to the company.

Nolan said some of the largest groups of students using the site are from China, India and Nigeria and the most popular study destinations to date are in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Student.com is seeking to capitalize on the growing numbers of people seeking education abroad. Currently some 5 million students are studying outside their native country and that number is growing 6.4 percent annually, according to the company.

"Even now, we are just scratching the surface of this potential market," Nolan said.

(Corrects to show Khan was adviser to Spotify, not Skype, in fourth paragraph.)
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