The leading student accommodation provider looks to expand into a new market
As the UK’s leading provider of purpose-built student accommodation, Unite Students had a large share of the market for first-year students. Most students transition to private accommodation for their remaining years at university, and Unite was keen to find a way to retain them as customers.
Using technology to become part of the private rental market for students
Unite wanted to create a new app-based marketplace for private student accommodation. Named “Conker” after the children’s game, Unite hired a branding agency to handle the brand design, and Rocketmakers to design and develop the software.
Discovering what problems needed to be solved for each user type
While the problem that Conker would solve was easy to articulate, the need to bring together different types of users required extensive user experience (UX) research.
Unite wanted the app to let students find rental properties in groups, jointly agree to the rental, and make individual monthly payments.
Landlords needed to have an easy way to list properties, ensure that renters were reliable, and collect their money every month with no hassle.
Conker would also need a sophisticated admin system which would make sure that users on both sides of the deal were able to provide all necessary documentation, and be ready to step in to sort out problems.
After interviewing landlords and students in London and Bristol, the UX team put together the workflows and wireframes, and the development team got to work.
Making an app with complex functionality that is simple to use
As an app that hoped to handle the entire rental lifecycle, Conker needed a wide range of functions.
Every listing needed to be precisely located on a map, include dozens of photos, and have all the information a potential renter might need.
Conker also needed integration with two different payment systems: Stripe for collecting the renter deposit, and GoCardless for collecting the monthly rent.
Information also needed to be collected and distributed to other users at multiple points during the user journey. Students needed to be able to book a house viewing with landlords, sign up for rentals, and then ask their parents to supply their information to act as guarantors. During the rental, students would also use Conker to request repairs.
The front end of the system was built using React, which allows a single set of code to work on both iOS and Android phones. The sophisticated backend needed to manage the data was built using js.node, and attached to a PostgreSQL database (which used an extension called Gist to keep track of the longitude and latitude of each rental property).
Before completing the MVP, the Rocketmakers team began testing an earlier version. To account for the needs of landlords who might be less comfortable with technology, the features on the admin version of Conker were expanded, allowing Unite to step in when needed to ensure a rental was completed successfully.
Reinventing the student private rental market
After completing the MVP, the app was launched in limited release for a handful of renters and landlords in Bristol. Despite the complicated information collection processes, the app worked extremely well and students were able to successfully rent properties through the Conker marketplace. Unite’s plan to extend their customer base beyond first-year students was becoming a reality.