Ideal Flatmate: Tom Gatzen and Rob Imonikhe

After living in a flat with a toxic environment (no thanks to some mischievous housemates) this duo decided to help people find their ideal flatmate

Name: Tom Gatzen
Company Name: Ideal Flatmate
Location: London
Date Launched: 1/2/17
Twitter handle: @idealflatmate
Website: www.idealflatmate.co.uk

Tell us what your business does:

The website uses a bespoke algorithm to match potential housemates based on their compatibility. Similar to the matchmaking technology used by dating sites, the algorithm has been designed to pair up users according to their personality, lifestyle and sociability.

Users complete a simple 20 question survey, which focuses primarily on the living habits and sociability of users. Once users complete this stage, they see who else they have matched with on the site and are then free to message those matches.

The site then allows those who have found a compatible flatmate to find properties on the site together that fit their criteria. The landlord gets to see the user profile and as a result, gains full transparency of their potential tenants

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea for Ideal Flatmate came up during a conversation a couple of years ago, when Rob and I were discussing our frustrations with the current flat-sharing sites available.

After university, I lived in a flat-share where one of the tenants was a really bad fit and ended up turning a number of flatmates against each other. The atmosphere became toxic, meaning we ended up going our separate ways.

For Rob, he lived in a flat-share where two of the inhabitants developed a ‘secret’ relationship which ended badly and meant people had to move out.

Great ideas are born from past experiences that leave a lasting impression on us, for better or worse. Having a flatmate empty the contents of a bin over your bed, or one with a worrying obsession for fish, are examples of this and in the end, led us to devise Ideal Flatmate.

How did you know there was a market for it?

According to research by PwC, just 40% of Londoners will own their own home in 2025, by which time nearly three-quarters of 20-39-year-olds will be renting privately.

While the birth of ‘generation rent’ has given rise to dozens of flat-hunting and house-sharing websites, these have primarily focused on helping users find somewhere that matches their location and budget requirements, as opposed to finding them a household with likeminded individuals.

The introduction of longer tenancies was timely with our launch – if you soon have to live in longer tenancies, living with the right people becomes even more crucial to achieving good living standards.

What were you doing before starting up?

I’ve had a pretty varied career. I started off in law but soon after realised it wasn’t for me. Following this, I worked for a think-tank where I helped draft a paper on modern slavery which actually ended up becoming government legislation.

I then went on to work as political adviser for a government MP over two years which included speech writing, select committee work, lobbying and constituency work.

For last two years before finding Ideal Flatmate, I have worked at financial PR firm, Tulchan, specialising in government affairs, working with FTSE 100 companies and being involved in crisis communications work.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

It has definitely always been an ambition of mine to be my own boss. There is nothing quite like it, and in my case, owning a company with my best friend has been a bonus.

How did you raise the money?

The project was initially self-funded, with the majority of work being carried out by myself, Rob and our psychologist behind the algorithm, Dr Paula Banca.

Ideal Flatmate has since drawn interest from private investors through word of mouth and dabbling in all the right networks.

In terms of advice, we have been lucky to work with mentors who have provided great guidance for us on how to grow the company and make the best business decisions going forward.

This has been a huge help as we aren’t from an entrepreneurial background. There are so many things to do when you launch a business which you’d never think of, from managing books to dealing with HMRC – it’s a constant learning curve!

Describe your business model and how you make money:

The site is currently free for both users and landlords to build up a solid user base. Having a healthy number of users which is diverse and high quality is crucial to our business model. Without our users, we are nothing. Profitability is something that will come once this has been established.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We need a solid quantity of users to be able to deliver relevant, high quality matches. Without a large number of users, the service wouldn’t work. Getting enough people on board was always going to the most pressing issue initially.

However, offering free access combined with a highly accurate algorithm has evidentially encouraged people to sign up to Ideal Flatmate – within just two months, we have over 30,000 users and 1000 properties listed on site. Anecdotal feedback so far looks positive with users saying they feel they’re getting matched to “people they gel with”.

What was your first big breakthrough?

It was probably coming up with the idea. When Rob and I discussed how there was nothing on the market that focussed on compatibility, we didn’t realise how true our initial thoughts were.

Our main competitors all focus on filling spaces- it’s crazy that no one has thought of putting human relationships first before when it comes to house sharing- one of the most important factors in a successful relationship of any kind.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Enjoy what you do and keep going! Don’t get disheartened by small setbacks in the long-term process

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

The team is eyeing up a wider roll-out across the UK, with Manchester being a location on the horizon. We want to become the number one site of our kind in London over the next few years, and then, number one in the entire UK.

We have the opportunity to grow into the largest community of online flat hunters as well as become an attractive portal for landlords and letting agents to advertise their properties in the UK. We want to transform the private rented sector for good and completely disrupt the market!

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