In this episode, Legislate meets Hannah Chappatte, co-founder and CEO of HYBR, a supportive, safe space platform for student renters to understand how to find the right property and what to look out for when renting.
Hannah shares why the HYBR platform was started and tips for negotiating student contracts.
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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast a place. Learn about the latest insights and trends in property technology, business, building, and contract trial. I'm excited today to have Hannah Chappatte on the show, co founder and CEO of HYBR, a platform that students can rely on throughout their time at university and in the process to tackle the injustice in the student rental industry.
Hannah, welcome to the show. Please, can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a bit of background about HYBR.
Hannah Chappatte: Thanks so much for having me. So my name's Hannah and I was a student at the university of Bristol. I graduated in 2019. And shortly after graduating, I launched HYBR. While I was a student. I was shocked by the constant cycle of students that rent every year and absolutely hate the whole process. You pray or befriend, this hyper-organized type that will take over everything so you don't have to worry about it, but really all students just end up wasting valuable time when they could be studying or living out with friends, getting independence the first time in toxic relationships and disputes with landlords and letting agents.
And really I realized that it all came down to a breakdown in communication. Both sides think that they're going to get messed around by the other, and everyone starts relationship on the back. So I wanted to do something about that. If you think about what renting is, it should be an exciting part of being at university, living out with friends for the first time.
And really students don't know what they're doing. It's a very intimidating process, very anxiety inducing, you're spoonfed throughout your time at school and then you're shoved into the real world. So HYBR is a supportive, safe space for student renters to understand how to find the right property, what to look out for when renting.
Understand basic job and that's used on a daily basis and I'm relaxed knowing that when they go through HYBR, if anything goes wrong, they will not be dealing with it alone. They will always have some in the HYBR team to hold their hand throughout the process.
Charles Brecque: And so when you say a safe place and holding their hand, are you acting as a letting agent or just as a platform that connects students with landlords?
Hannah Chappatte: We do manage a few properties. But mostly we just connect students to landlords and we help with contracts, background checks, referencing, inventories, check-in, checkout.
And we have lots of big network of maintenance men, handy men -or women- in the cities that we work in so that we can help out our landlords who can pick and choose different packages depending on their business needs.
Charles Brecque: Great. And you've been doing this for the past two years.
What has been your favourite moment so far?
Hannah Chappatte: Great question. We probably launched at the beginning of 2020, so very interesting time with COVID. I'd say that I spent the first few months pretty much being a therapist on the phone to students who were really struggling, as you can imagine with the anxiety around COVID and being stuck in tenancy and trying to get out of contracts.Didn't know who to live with, having fallouts with their friends, because everyone was so anxious. So it was a strange day. It's a favourite memory, but I think I made me much more passionate about what we were doing and really prove that there was a need for HYBR. And I really enjoyed helping students when they were really in need. So yeah, it was a pretty, pretty powerful few months.
Charles Brecque: Do you think that launching pretty much at the start of the pandemic helped your business or did it lead to a certain direction that you didn't anticipate?
Hannah Chappatte: I think two fold. I think in one way, it's slowed us down because we would have expanded at a faster rate and we would have grown the team earlier.
But then as with so many other startups, I think it really made sure that you are building robust foundations, because if you can weather COVID, you can weather any issues. And as I said, it just really proved that there was a need and demand for the platform.
Charles Brecque: What would you wish you'd known before starting?
Hannah Chappatte: Good question. What I wish I'd known before starting, I guess I wish I'd known about the so many different, really interesting grants and entrepreneurial communities that exist. And I think it would have been great if I had been exposed to them a bit earlier on, I think it'd be quite lonely starting your own business, and I'm sure you guys know at Legislate and big part of the community is where you can share stories and learn from each other has been really helpful.
Charles Brecque: Which communities are you part of or would you recommend to other entrepreneurs.
Hannah Chappatte: Founders Factory. It's quite interesting. There's quite good communities with angel lists angel.co is quite an interesting one. LinkedIn has quite a few communities, Prince's trust, Startup grind. There's quite a good, a few newsletters can't cover and springing to mind.
Charles Brecque: That's really helpful. And you've been at this for a year and a half what's the plan for the next year or three years or five years?
Hannah Chappatte: The problem isn't just a uniquely UK student problem. It's definitely a problem that exists in Europe and in the U S so definitely want to scale outside of the U K. Once you've got a strong position across most universities in the UK. But there's a lot of additional features that we're introducing. We're talking a lot of focus groups with both our students and our landlords to see what additional features that we can introduce that no one else is really doing.
I think that's really important for us right now. It's the questions. All of the systems within the rental space that you've taken as the status quo, like why do you need the UK guarantor? Why do you prepare a deposit 12 months in advance? And why tenancy agreements written in a certain way and just be as basic things, crushing them and see how we can shake up the industry.
Think it's time for fresh set of eyes to reset the standards.
Charles Brecque: For sure. And so when you say you've been running these focus groups, are there any early features that you can share that are coming your way?
Hannah Chappatte: I think during COVID one interesting thing was that a lot of students, because they didn't have a first year, they didn't have a freshers, didn't have anyone to live with. So were doing lots of housemate-matcher events and working on an algorithm that would allow students to quite easily meet up and figure out whether they both want to rent in a certain area with a certain type of person to help them regroup.
And then also just looking at the deposit replacements and guarantor replacement schemes that we can introduce to help students that don't come from wealthy backgrounds. The whole system is geared towards students with wealthy UK guarantors. And if you don't fit into that box, it's really difficult to rent.
Charles Brecque: I see. And so with your platform, do you provide any guidelines to landlords in terms of, for example, not using a guarantor?
Hannah Chappatte: So we have community guidelines to be a HYBR landlord or to be a HYBR student. More specifically in terms of guarantors, what we do is if we have a student that got a grant from the university and a part-time job, but they don't have wealthy UK guarantor that fits the, what's been asked of them in terms of how much salary they need to be earning a year then we'll put together a case for that student to say: this is how/why they can pay the rent, this is why we back them and we might also ask the university to have them say that they've vetted the student and that they're a very good student and they're on for a first or whatever it is to show that you don't need to have a UK guarantor per se.
But look at the fact that they've had great landlord reviews last year, they paid their rent on time, they're doing great in studying economics, they're working part-time and Tesco. This is a good student to rent to.
Charles Brecque: At the start of the podcast season, we brought on the founder of Checkboard. I don't know if you've ever come across them. They're effectively objective checking platform where they can connect to bank accounts, leverage open banking to say "yes, this person has made these payments on time, over the past 12 months". And hopefully can bridge that gap as well.
Are you currently based in Bristol and with Bristol university? And you've mentioned obviously conquering the UK for going global. How far are you in that journey?
Hannah Chappatte: So we've got a great case study. we've now just scaled into seven new university cities, including Lincoln, Lancaster, Liverpool, Cardiff, Exeter and a few others. And we're just establishing ourselves in these new cities with our ambassador scheme.
It's really important for us to feel like we're giving back and interacting, engaging with the student communities. Making sure that they're happy at part-time employment and helping them with a bit of money on the side and giving them exposure for their CVs. And also making sure that we're constantly in tune with student opinions and the data on where students want to live, what's important for them, what services we can offer students. So that's what we're doing currently, and we're also raising money for the first time to help our expansion into five new cities. That's the plan.
Charles Brecque: So, are you a fully remote or virtual company?
Hannah Chappatte: I think quite similar to what a lot of companies are doing at the moment, which is flexi working. So most of our team are based in London. We have part-time people we work with in all of the cities. So that's kind of contractors, handyman, people help viewings but our core team are based in London with two or three people working entirely remotely.
Charles Brecque: Interesting.
And so you mentioned tenancy agreement, I guess you indirectly mentioned contractor agreements, employment agreements. As a CEO of this young business. What are the key contracts you interact with the most?
Charles Brecque: Great. And do you provide the templates to the landlords and students?
Hannah Chappatte: Yes, we are NRLA approved. So we had our own contracts that we constructed with the lawyers based on the clauses that we thought were fair for both parties. And now we use that alongside the kind of core contract that is approved by landlord associations as well.
Charles Brecque: Great. And so with those contracts, do you find there are any, you know, common questions or common issues or objections that arise either from the tenant or the landlord?
Hannah Chappatte: One of the biggest ones recently was getting out contracts. I think it's a normal part of life that sometimes you commit to something and then things change. And in the past it's been very inflexible. It's really expensive to get out of a contract. And tenants have to pay so much money. When in reality, as long as you make a clear clause that says a tenant, if they'd like to get out of the contract, they have to find replacement tenants. Then that should be relatively free. You should pay maybe 30 pounds max to re-reference them, for the company to send another contract, but that's not too much work. So I think that's been a really important clause that we look out for and we make sure our tenants look out for it because sometimes things do go wrong and you need to have that flexibility.
So getting out of contracts really important and then making sure everyone understands who's liable for the rent if you are in a several contract, you need to be able to trust your housemates because if anything does go wrong. In our experience, and from speaking to a lot of people, you don't usually charge the rest of the house, but it is in the contract.
So it's important to be aware that might happen if someone does decide to just run off to Spain and never come back. So yeah, it's important to know who you're living with and making sure you're reading through all the clauses, carefully.
Charles Brecque: And you mentioned replacement tenants. Is that something that HYBR would help with if ever it did arise?
Hannah Chappatte: Yes, we do that on quite a regular basis.
Charles Brecque: Great. And with regards to growing a business, do you use, I imagine you use, employment contracts and various other forms of agreements to hire and grow?
Hannah Chappatte: Yes, we do.
Charles Brecque: And is there any insights or common pattern that you can share?
Hannah Chappatte: I think it's quite interesting if you're starting in business to think through how long you want your probation period to be. I think that's a question that people don't really discuss enough. And I think it's really important because firing, especially post COVID has been very tricky. It's a crazy market with people moving jobs and people being offered crazy high salaries as everyone's decided to grow their businesses and bring on experienced teams. So I think that you can end up hiring someone and you might not be sure whether they're the right fit for the company so having a clearly thought-out probation period and really aligned of what you expect someone to achieve in that probation period and what will happen if they don't pass it. That's something that's really important to think through.
Charles Brecque:And what do you think is the optimal probation period?
Hannah Chappatte: I think it really depends. We actually do a six month probation just because I think it takes some time for people to really understand the company and understand the role. And some people might go off to a bit of a Rocky start, but they now really impress, get on well with people. So giving people the benefit and letting them settle into a company as important.
Charles Brecque: Good point. I'm conscious that we've already taken a lot of your time. So I'm going to ask the closing question that we ask all our guests. So if you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?
Hannah Chappatte: I think maybe not a very original comment, but something that is just no technical jargon and not 20 pages long. I think the shorter and the more concise a contract, the more likely you're going to properly read through it and clearly laid out what your obligations are and what the other person who entering the agreements obligations are. So you don't have to spend a whole day trying to read through it and look for loopholes. Yeah, I think clear and concise.
Charles Brecque: I think the shorter the contract, the more likely someone is to read it. But one thing at Legislate that we always try to do on top of the contract is also offer different views of the contract. So you can view the contract in its classical text form, which is resonant plain English and has highlighted areas which contain annotations.
But we also offer a question and answer view, which is a breakdown of the key terms. And also we're introducing shortly a visual representations of what are each side's obligations and restrictions, so that you can quickly go to what ultimately is important for any contract. Tenancy agreements and also employment agreements we're rolling that out shortly.
Hannah Chappatte: Audio as well and get someone to read through the contract to you. So you can just go on a walk
Charles Brecque: Yeah, that's a good feature. We will add it to our roadmap. So thank you very much, Hannah, for your time. Best of luck with conquering the UK and improving lives for students and also landlords. So thank you very much.