Talking Business: Fabienne O’Neill and Charlie Rosier, Cuckooz

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 30 January 2017

SAN talks to Fabienne O'Neill and Charlie Rosier, the co-founders of new London serviced apartment provider Cuckooz.

• Can you give us some insight in to your backgrounds and careers to date, and how did you come to hear about the serviced apartment sector?

FON: "I'm half French, half Irish, and spent my early years with my two brothers in the Australian outback, where my dad was a flying doctor and my mother a nurse. I finished school at 18 and moved to east London, working in events with UBM. My role focused on big scale property, design and technology events and awards ceremonies with an international audience, largely working between London, Paris and Sydney."

CR: "I'm a property geek and have been ever since I cut my teeth in the industry straight after university, as a land buyer for a provincial developer in Swindon, where I grew up. Since then I've been obsessed with the industry, and did an MSc in property management while working in the business, and then eventually set up my own property investment company while I was living in Hong Kong. I have lived and worked abroad, from Holland and HK, and have travelled extensively for business in both the USA and Asia."

FON: "We met in 2008 when Charlie was chairman of the Young Entrepreneurs in Property and I was organising property events with UBM. We partnered one of our magazines with her new awards programme and quickly became friends. We did a good amount of leisure travel together in our early years and then as and when we both lived overseas, travel was to the other's new home or meeting for an adventure somewhere altogether different."

• What was the inspiration for launching Cuckooz? Tell us about the company and what makes it different from other London operators?

CR: "This is quite long, are you ready!? The idea for Cuckooz happened quite organically. While on holiday in Argentina, December 2015, Fab and I stayed in a real spectrum of places, from a hostel in Buenos Aires, to a vacation let, to a private Airbnb apartment, the Palermo Tower (a boutique hotel) and finally a splurge at Francis Mallmann's The Vines in Uco Valley."

"As conversations unravelled (after an afternoon's wine tasting they inevitably do) we commented on how genius the Airbnb concept was and discussed the various pros and cons, alongside those of hotels, and we wondered if there was another solution in the world that we were unaware of. Having lived in Hong Kong, and spent a substantial amount of time travelling the USA, I noticed that the concept of serviced apartments was that much more under-developed in London, and unless you work for a corporate that mandates such accommodation for prolonged trips, you are unlikely to know the sector really exists in the hospitality industry."

"Eventually, both back in London we looked into it a bit more, and realised how huge it was, but felt we could provide spaces that were perhaps a little more bijoux and provide a similar Airbnb vibe that really felt like a home. We thought about what we wanted and what our friends would want - we love Airbnb but is there a way to create a blend between that and hotels and bring some much-needed consistency? Both from a product and price-point perspective? What sort of serviced apartment would we want to choose for business or leisure?"

FON: "We want to be (and hope we will be - but we will let out guests be the judge!) different in design, service and location. This applies particularly to location where we want to help our guests experience the immediate environment that we personally live and work in, and that we love. We will share our C-Z Guides, with intel on our personal recommendations of Eat, Drink, Do, See, Live - we'll book them tables at our friends' restaurants, we'll get them access at the best fitness spaces, we'll tell them where to shop at the weekend, and where to take their friends and family when they come to visit. We want to plug them in to our neighbourhood."

• What have been the biggest challenges to getting the company up and running, and what do you know now that you wish you knew a year ago?

FON: "We haven't yet been in business for six months, so we are learning every day. And I'm sure most new businesses, whatever the industry, would agree that this is one of the very best parts of being a startup - you never stop learning. You have to think on your feet and the rewards are many. Most importantly from an operating perspective, we need to think about creating our design-led interiors for longevity - our principle of collaborating with local designers as we add new properties to the portfolio will absolutely not be altered by this, however - simple items in regular use, by guests who don't own the property, have been damaged simply because they aren't straightforward to use. There are many examples but put simply, curtains on pulley rails should cover this!"

• Who is your typical customer, and how are you building up your customer base?

CR: "Having spent the last 10 years in London property, I know the social and economic trends to watch, and that London's population is moving east. The tech and creative sector in particular is booming, with Old Street or Silicon Roundabout having the third largest concentration of tech firms in the world. The concept of Cuckooz, a blend of Airbnb and a boutique hotel with a focus on design-led interiors and service, caters for this demographic perfectly. Whilst we are too young to have a typical customer, our target audience is the younger generation of professionals, or millennials, working in fast-growing tech or creative companies with offices in US and Europe. Our locations and growth plans are based on this customer with apartments in Aldgate East and Hoxton, and pipeline projects in Old Street, Dalston and Kings Cross."

FON: "We are currently at 60:40/leisure:business, with a good deal of young families and an age range of six months to 70 years! That said, we have a minimum booking age of 25 years. We're also seeing a lot of families using the apartments as meeting points for adult children and parents which is really lovely. We are working with the likes of SilverDoor and Oakwood to bring in these types of business travellers, as well as joining ASAP for networking opportunities and becoming members of London and Partners, which we hope will give us the regular insight to inbound tourism we need and also help us to boost the global interest in east London and all it offers."

"Needless to say direct B2B sales efforts are a fundamental role in building our customer base and we have already established very strong relationships with some inspiring and brilliant brands in the tech and creative industry. That aside, we've found a wonderful network of like-minded people through friends of friends, in the tech and startup worlds, and find everyone is keen to help everyone!"

• What are your plans for expansion over the next few years, and what do you look for in a building and a location when considering taking on a new lease?

FON: "We're hoping for a rapid expansion in London before the end of 2018. The growth will be in similar size blocks of apartments (no more than 10 to 15 apartments) in various neighbourhoods around the City fringe.
Location is essential; with no more than a five minute walk to the nearest tube line, with cross-city access. In addition, the environment needs to offer the lifestyle that one will come to expect with Cuckooz; fantastic food and beverage options, fitness spaces, co-working habitats - all things that will eventually come with various benefits to Cuckooz' inhabitants!"

• Do you have any plans to move beyond London in future?

CR: "All being well, we'd like to take the Cuckooz brand and #LiveLocal ethos into tech hubs within Europe, where/if the demand exists and it makes sense. But first and foremost, our focus is on getting London right. Winning here and building loyal guests who believe in us and will continue to travel with us as we grow. Our brand is only as good as the guests who want to nest with us!"

www.cuckooz.co.uk

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