It was about 8 weeks before graduation weekend in my college town in 2012. I was a senior about to graduate. My mother was bugging me to help her find a hotel near campus for graduation weekend. For her, my father, my grandparents and my sister. Three rooms.
I called about 10 hotels around campus. Checked Priceline. There was nothing available at all. AirBNB was the same.
The closest city with availability was about 30 minutes away. They only had 3 rooms left in the entire hotel and they were $350 per night plus fees, each, with a three night minimum. Even they were cashing in on graduation. Thats $3,150 + fees. I refused. I’d rather them stay home and miss graduation.
The closest hotels with normal pricing and availability were over an hour away.
I thought about my friends who were sophomores and juniors renting apartments in the area. Classes ended about 10 days before graduation. They all were gone for the summer working internships or back home. Their apartments were empty. I texted a group of three friends living in a three bedroom apartment. I offered them $500 if they let my parents stay there over the weekend. They quickly agreed. All set with my family and we saved about $3,200.
My college had recently added a feature to the email (Google powered email). If you started typing someone’s name it would autofill and provide you with their email address.
My school had about 4,000 students in each class and the facebook group had about 3,000 each. I joined each group.
I then went through using one screen on the facebook group members page and one screen on the gmail page typing in names and mining email addresses. About 20 hours later I had a list with the email addresses of 3000 juniors and 3000 seniors.
I typed out a nice email to the Juniors:
My family and a few of my classmates’ families are looking for a place to stay on graduation weekend. If you will be gone that weekend and would be interested in renting out your apartment to them let me know.
I then typed out this email to my fellow seniors:
A few of my undergraduate classmates are offering to rent their rooms to the families of seniors during graduation weekend. If your family needs a place to stay right near campus during that weekend let me know!
I sent both emails and then headed out to track practice.
When I got home 4 hours later I had over 400 emails in my inbox.
I ended up tiering the pricing based on location, cleanliness, ability to provide linens and amount of rooms. I paid out about $35 per room per night on average and I did a three night minimum for everyone. Graduation weekend is quite an ordeal so that was pretty standard anyway.
I rented the rooms at about $100 per room per night. This was a big savings over hotels but the guests had to be okay with a dirty apartment and bringing their own linens for the most part. But they got to stay in the heart of the action and save a lot of money.
I set low expectations for the renters. I told them it would be dirty. I told them it would be sweaty. I told them to bring linens and cleaning supplies if they wanted to.
I strictly told all of the underclassmen to clean their apartments very well. I sent them detailed checklists. I did the best I could to make sure it would be presentable.
As soon as I collected payment from the senior I would pay the underclassman and connect them on email telling them to organize the key hiding and check out stuff. I kept a few apartments extra in case of emergency and ended up using one of them so I’m glad I did that.
Overall I brokered about 60 rooms and cleared about $10,000.
EDIT: A few people have asked what I’m up to since this time. Here is my story I posted here a few weeks ago. If you enjoyed this you might enjoy my podcast on service based entrepreneurship.