Cold, pricey, and impermanent.
When one rents an apartment, these are usually the three words that come to mind. The concept of rentals have long existed, but is very rarely associated with the word “home.” For many, rental spaces solely serve as a roof over the head until the next move.
However, Cove, a Singapore-based co-living startup, is challenging that notion. Cofounded by Sophie Jokelson, Luca Bregoli, and Guillaume Castagne in 2018, the company seeks to leverage technology and design to revolutionize the rental spaces.
“The three of us had moved around a lot when we were younger, and have rented around 31 different properties in 13 different cities. All of us had experienced flat-sharing before, and could relate with all the pain points that came with rentals and co-living,” Sophie shared.
At the same time, the trio had also observed a rising trend in rentals. “These days, young people are seeking a different lifestyle. Many of them are getting married much later, and instead, prefer moving around more for travel and careers. That meant that rentals are more important than ever, because people aren’t purchasing houses in the same way they used to. We felt it was just the right time for us to come in and bring out this change in modernizing rental spaces.”
Having connected over shared experiences and vision of disrupting the old-fashioned real estate industry, the trio came together with the core principle of prioritizing the needs of tenants.
“Oftentimes, properties are designed for investors, and not the end-user who rents the space. The landlords usually do not have the tenants in mind. Since the larger objective is to earn profits, they usually buy furniture that just creates a functional space. This is not what we were going for, as we strongly believe that a home should also meet the emotional needs of the tenants.”
Cove’s customer base is made up of mainly young working professionals, an age group who are not looking to settle down and have a family yet. Recognizing the reluctance of their customers to invest into furniture, the founders decided to furnish the homes themselves.
“We wanted to do a much better version of furnishing, so we used to go to IKEA to purchase the furniture ourselves. We created mood boards, and did everything hands-on. Since our tenants were mainly millennials and Gen Z, we also placed a multi-extension cord beside the bed for them to charge their devices,” Sophie reminisced about Cove’s initial journey. “It was not just about providing basic necessities, but adding those small touches that will delight our customers. We wanted our tenants to move into these spaces, knowing that we care about them.”
While Cove initially catered to foreign expatriates in Singapore, the company has seen a shift in customer base during the pandemic.
“When you face challenges, it can make you stronger if you’re reactive and agile. The pandemic had forced us to be more dynamic, because having the biggest customer base gone made us realize very quickly that we had to rethink our target market. Interestingly, we had realized the new emerging trend of young Singaporeans seeking rentals, and this was a market that we had not addressed previously.”
In Singapore, children do not typically move out of their parents’ homes unless married. However, as the pandemic drones on, there has been an increase in yearning for privacy and space. Young married couples are also breaking convention by renting apartments short-term due to delays in their BTO (Built to order) flats. During this period, Cove had seen an exponential increase of Singaporean tenants from 5% to 35%.
Observing this trend, Cove decided to make a pivot to their product, catering to those with a lower budget. Sophie explained, “Some of the young Singaporeans are probably saving up for a HDB in the future, or about to move, so they are more conscious about their budget. As compared to foreigners, the locals are also more open to different locations since they are familiar with their home country. There is less need for comprehensive furnishing and housekeeping services, so our aim is to bring them an option with lower price points and tailor to their needs.”
Despite the pandemic, Cove has also managed to launch in Jakarta, Indonesia. During the interview, I asked Sophie if they had used a localized approach in launching, and if there were differences in co-living cultures in Indonesia. She shared how co-living is unique in every country because every market has its own existing behaviour.
“In Singapore, a lot of our properties follow the apartment concept because that’s what people are looking for. However, in Jarkata, young people generally live in large communal spaces called Kost (boarding houses). There are 15 to 50 bedrooms in a Kost, and shared communal spaces such as kitchen and living areas. It is an affordable option for students and young professionals in Jakarta.”
The co-founders strongly believe that it is not their job to reinvent the wheel, but to put themselves into the environment and improve the quality in standards of living. With the intention to retain the concept of Kost in Indonesia, Cove currently has seven buildings in Jakarta, ranging from about 20 rooms up to 50 rooms for each of them.
When asked about the highlight of the journey at Cove, Sophie smiled. “The one thing that I’ll always remember is the very first community event that we held. We had only been running the company for four months, and had around 30 tenants. We hosted a barbecue session, and it was just a really lovely moment to have a chance to interact with all our customers. We got to hear from them first-hand about their experience and receive feedback to improve on. That was really special for me because Cove is my first entrepreneurial venture, and it was great knowing from our conversations that we had built a solution that really made a difference for them.”
For many, the definition of home is a mixture of practicality and comfort. It is a place where day-to-day activities can take place, and where one can fully relax and be themselves. In just 3 years, Cove has successfully brought the idea of home into rental spaces with a human touch, and is seeking to expand further into Vietnam and the Philippines.
Before ending the interview, I asked Sophie if her definition of home had changed after the journey with Cove. She paused before replying, “ My definition of home is ‘a sense of belonging.’ I don’t think that has changed much for me, because I’ve always known that buildings are not just about tangible assets necessarily, but the emotional needs that come with it.”
“I’ve also increasingly seen that for millennials and Gen Z, the living space is also a reflection of you. It’s a place you want to spend time at, a place you feel comfortable, yet want to invite your friends and family over. It reflects your personality as a whole, and Cove has really brought me a whole new understanding to that. If we can successfully cater to the needs and comforts of the ones living in the space, then we have created a home for someone.”