The wheels are turning, the stereo’s blaring and the windows are black black black – we’re on the road. Our Tales from the Tour Bus series gets the low down from a marketing heavyweight about a project they’re in the throes of right now – the good, the bad and the wrong turns they’ve taken along the way. 

Taking us for a spin in his tour bus this issue is life-long Londoner Tom Gatzen, co-founder of ideal flatmate – a digital matching service for generation rent to find their perfect pairing. Better wave goodbye to those passive aggressive fridge notes…

Tom, tell us about your tour bus and how you came to be on it.

After working for years in PR, myself and my best friend from university, Rob, came up with an idea. It focused on flat sharing and how the existing sites people use to find a flatmate, like Spareroom and Gumtree, are just crap. From our own experience and a lot of research we realized the most important factor in whether you’re happy in your house share, is the people who you live with. You can live in a bit of shit hole, but if you love the people you live with you’re going to make the best of it. So we came at flat sharing from a different angle. We worked with Cambridge psychologists and data scientists to develop an algorithm which matches people up based on compatibility. ideal flatmate is essentially Tinder for renters, giving you a more informed choice of the people you’ll be sharing your space with.

Where’s your marketing tour bus taking you at the moment?

At the moment we’ve set two KPIs: boosting both the properties uploaded to the site and the people sending enquiries to property owners, because they drive engagement. So our marketing efforts are all geared around those, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure we meet the targets set. That being said, you can really fixate on the numbers and only spend money on actions that drive those. But then you miss the awareness pieces, which are equally as important, so I make sure we have a balanced approach. 

As a digital business, at the moment we’re heavily focusing our marketing efforts online and spending a hell of a lot of money on digital campaigns, using Google ad campaigns, Facebook and Instagram ads and video ads on YouTube. These are hugely effective for us, driving around 300,000 users a month. 

Have you had to make some diversions along the way? 

Just last week we decided to divert more money into our Instagram ads, because Facebook seems to be dying for our generation. It might seem that these posts have a shit conversion rate, but they don’t really, because they’re hitting 10,000 people that might not be actively looking for a flat right now, but in a month when they are, they’ll think, “I saw a cool Instragram ad for this company called ideal flatmate, I’ll go there.” And that’s harder to measure, because you won’t get that last click attribution. Already so many people have got in touch with us about it, saying, “Wow, you’re really smashing it with the marketing, things are going really well for you guys.” 

“We decided to divert more money into our Instagram ads, because Facebook seems to be dying for our generation.”

Any flat tyre incidents so far? 

Yes. We spent 20 grand on tube ads far too early – only a few months after we’d launched when the site was crap. There were so many bugs and things not working, and we didn’t really have much traction, so we thought, “Oh yeah, let’s spend 20 grand on a tube advert.” We ran that campaign and then did nothing else other than our non-digital marketing activities, so maybe we should have followed that up with a bus campaign, or a radio advert or something like that, so it stayed in people’s heads a bit longer. I don’t regret doing it, because you learn from everything you do, but that could have been money focused somewhere else. 

What have you learned along the journey so far? 

To make sure you have a rounded, coherent strategy, so you’re not missing out on reaching different audiences and fully capitalizing on the user journey. We just designed the tube ads and then waited for them to go up and see what happened. Now we know that out-of-home campaigns need to have much better ways of tracing efficacy, and to have other campaign activity surrounding them. You can’t just sit on your hands and hope that it’s going to drive loads of users – think about what comes next.

Also, to have people on your team that love numbers and enjoy being really geeky with them. Giovanni, our Head of Growth is forensic, and gets really excited when he sees the numbers going up. He shows me graphs everyday. It’s like gambling, if you can see certain things going well, you put more money into it. 

“Out-of-home campaigns need to have much better ways of tracing efficacy, and to have other campaign activity surrounding them. You can’t just sit on your hands and hope that it’s going to drive loads of users – think about what comes next.”

How do you make sure you’re still on the right road? 

We have a weekly catch up on how things have gone, which focuses on the numbers from the previous week. Within that there’ll be actions for the week and month ahead. We don’t have prescriptive quarterly strategy meetings, because fortunately we’re small enough, with a team of ten, that we speak continuously and we’re always bouncing ideas around. Everyone knows the long-term key goals of the business, so we discuss things on a pretty in-depth level very regularly, and hopefully the core goals are pretty clear to everyone. For example, I can turn to my social media guy and say, “Let’s make sure we put an extra couple of grand next week into that.” We don’t have to go through a committee and get things signed off; we can make decisions quickly. 

If you could go back to the last major stop on your tour and give yourself some advice, what would it be? 

Don’t rebrand. We rebranded three times in our first year. We’d just launched the site, with hardly any users and we thought that the branding was not quite on point. But at that time, no one cared. If you’ve got no users, no one’s going to think, “I wish their logo was a slightly different shade of red.” We’ve learned that sort of stuff is nice, but it’s not the most important thing. It’s making sure that the user experience is perfect, rather than worrying about logos. We spent tens of thousands of pounds on designers and developers, to adapt these things that weren’t really important. It’s about focusing on the product. 

Find out more about ideal flatmate, and follow Tom on Twitter

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