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Consumer

Chris Bledsoe

Cofounder, Ollie

The rent is too damn high, and not just in New York City. U.S. apartment rents rose 4.6% in 2015—faster than at any point since the financial crisis. It’s a market most Americans can’t afford to enter, even at the most basic level.

“A studio in New York City costs $2,500 per month—$3,000 for any new construction with a doorman and elevator in Manhattan,” explains Chris Bledsoe, founder of an all inclusive micro-living startup called Ollie. “And when landlords require tenants make 40 times their rent, what they’re saying is: There’s no place in the housing market for someone earning less than $100,000 a year.”

This has led to the creation of a grey market where apartments are shared, rented and divided before seeing a traditional listing. It’s a world where strangers live with strangers and temporary walls slice through living rooms—where more apartments are filled by Craigslist than by realtors.

“Ollie is the answer to that underground movement,” continues Bledsoe. “By deprioritizing space, we keep rent low. Then we factor in a plug-and-play experience wherewifi, cable and even cleaning services are built into the price. We’re like the halfway point between an apartment and a hotel.”

Ollie apartments may be 15% below market average, but the additional value and convenience is priceless. We caught up with Blesdoe at the Bloomberg micro-apartments in Midtown, which operate as part of the Ollie family.

An all inclusive micro-living experience

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“Ollie is an all inclusive coliving experience for people who have been priced out of the official housing market. Our core demographic—Millennials under 34—is willing to sacrifice almost anything, including space, for convenience, comfort and community. Take the studios in Carmel Place, where we are today: They’re only 300-sq.-ft. on average, but cost far less than similar units in the neighborhood… from $2,400-$2,900.”

So, what is Ollie?

“If you live in one of Ollie’s buildings—of which there are two in New York and seven coming nationally next year—all sorts of perks are included within your rent: wifi, cable, cleaning and even a butler via Hello Alfred. (Want your fridge perpetually stocked with your favorite drink? That’s what it’s there for.)

Most units are available furnished with pieces built specifically for micro apartments, and then there are shared spaces like rooftops and gyms. But the thing we’re most excited about is Ollie’s community. Our community managers on site in each building throw parties and introduce residents, ensuring every resident feels like they belong.”

Tell us about some of the benefits Ollie offers.

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“My brother, Andrew, moved to New York in 2008… couldn’t afford to live anywhere. So, with my mom and I as his guarantors, he took a one bedroom under the assumption he could put up temporary walls, divide the space and find roommates. And when he posted the apartment on Craigslist, he got 90 responses in two days—it was clear there was a massive need in real estate that wasn’t being met.”

How did you come up with the idea?

“We didn’t. At the time, I was covering equity research for Lehman Brothers; my brother was at Bear Stearns. We’d wanted to start a business right out of college, but had taken the safe route. Turns out, the safe route wasn’t so safe.

But I wouldn’t do things differently. I learned so much from my time in finance, like the ability to look at real estate as a consumer product—analyzing purchaser pain points and then solving for the best outcome. It was just a completely different way of looking at an outdated industry.”

So, did you found the company right away?

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“Residential buildings are the number one emitter of carbon worldwide. So, in a micro unit building where twice as many people can fit in the same building envelope, you can cut the per capita carbon emissions by half. That’s meaningful—especially since so many U.S. homes are far too large for our need.”

It's more sustainable to live in small spaces, too.

“Our brand is all inclusive, and we don’t just mean pricing. We embrace all genders, age groups, occupations—you name it. At Carmel Place, about 40% of the units have been set aside for low and middle income housing. We also have eight of the units for formerly homeless veterans… I love that.”

Is there space for low income housing in the world of micro living?

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We understand why micro living might sound off-putting. But when done right—with flexible furniture, communal spaces and dozens of additional perks—it becomes to difficult to argue with the obvious benefits. Ollie is more sustainable, less expensive and, perhaps most importantly, hassle free. It’s the future of urbanization.

Stay tuned for more updates on Ollie’s expansion plans, which include an upcoming building in Downtown Los Angeles and a roommate matching service called Bed Vetter (coming early 2017).

In conclusion.

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