The Next Big Thing

Xiaomi-backed community living offers home from home for China’s would-be entrepreneurs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 April, 2015, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 2:48pm

One of the top challenges facing young people in China, especially those who want to start their own businesses, is the cost of finding a place to live, especially in big cities.

That’s where Liu Yang can help. The co-founder of YOU+ International Youth Community, Liu, 40, offers trendy and cosy community-style apartments for rent online to young people.

The three-year-old company converts buildings like old factories into small loft rooms with open public spaces, specifically aimed at young start-up businessmen. Last year it attracted an investment of 100 million yuan (US$16 million) from Lei Jun, the chief executive of Xiaomi, China’s largest smartphone brand, and related investors. 

“They are like the younger version of me, full of dreams with little money in their pockets. Our goal is to provide them a roof like a home and a useful network for their future,” Liu told the South China Morning Post in an interview. He drew inspiration from his own struggles to set up a business in the southern city of Guangzhou, far from his home in northeastern Jilin.

In the beginning of May, YOU+ will open two new communities in the Haidian district of Beijing, the location of two of China’s top universities and of the Zhongguancun technology hub, which was the original home of many of China’s top companies, including Lenovo.

The bigger development will have more than 400 apartments in the Suzhouqiao area, and the 200 rooms in the Shangdi area.

Liu said that he had visited many apartments, hotels, youth hostels and motels in Europe and America before building the YOU+ community. “I thought it would be a waste just to copy others' ideas. We really needed to create our own thing,” he said.

The 133 apartments in the first YOU+ community in the Baiyun district of Guangzhou were rented for a competitive price of 2,000 yuan (US$323) a month for a 22-square-metre studio and 3,000 yuan for 50 square metres with a bathroom.

One of the community’s top attractions is the public living space, where young people can meet and socialise over table football and karaoke.

“These young people left home to fight for their dreams. They need a place like home to connect to. YOU+ provides a platform for them to interact with each other directly,” Liu said.

He said that one of his oldest tenants is an IT engineer called Sam who initially failed with his first start-up and rented a studio in YOU+ to save money. When he later made money, he moved out, but then returned to YOU+ because he missed his like-minded friends.

YOU+ apartments are not open to anyone. Prospective tenants must meet a list of basic criteria: younger than 45, no children, and willing to make friends. That hasn’t been a deterrent, with sometimes over 200 people waiting to view an apartment, according to the company.

“It is hard to find place and space in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai at competitive prices. We are trying our best,” Liu said.