Affectionately known as Chuckie to his friends, 34-year-old Charles Adrian is the proud owner of one of the highest-rated hostels in Singapore - Hipstercity!
A licensed Civil Engineer, an avid cosplayer and also an IT Consultant for the past 14 years, Chuckie stumbled upon his passion by accident through renting out his rooms on Airbnb to supplement his rental fees. That was few years back when Airbnb just gained popularity here in Singapore. He realised he has an innate talent for hosting when his ratings soared and his rooms were constantly booked.
So, when short-term rentals are declared illegal in Singapore in 2017, Chuckie decided to take a leap of faith. Together with co-founder and silent partner Andrew, he embarked on a grand plan to open a hostel so that he can channel his strong hospitality abilities to more travellers!
“I realised I am good at it, so I thought let’s just make this a legitimate business!”
There are so many hostels in Singapore. What is your differentiating factor?
I wanted to bring in the cosy Airbnb home experience into the concept of a hostel, so I combined all the elements to stand out from other hostels. The warm atmosphere, the home comfort, cleanliness and freedom of privacy but at the affordable price of a hostel. Based on my experience and research, I know that the comfortable price point for my target group is around $70 - $90 so my branding of Hipstercity is that our prices will be no more than $99.
My initial target were the Asian older millennials, those with a little spending power. But, it turns out to be a hit with the European travellers and now they make up around 60% of my clientele.
Pretty sure opening a hostel is quite a big investment. How much money is needed? Around $150,000, including the lease deposit! The amount is just similar to that of a condo renovation. You really don't need much money to start a business, you just need a strong will.
Tell me some challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
Well, a problem is space because of rental costs. For Airbnbs, you have your own room and privacy but in hostels, you do not have the luxury of space. So, I had to learn how to design and maximise the number of beds, while ensuring privacy. So, my hostel has folding wall beds (expensive yes) and double loft beds that are inspired by Ikea for couples to stay!
There is no DIY book on how to open a hostel, you really have to research and do everything yourself. The interior design, space planning, electrical wiring and even the flooring, and also understanding fire safety and licensing regulations. Also the double beds upstairs, I made them with my bare hands.
I was in total shock when I saw the amount of work to be done as I can only afford to pay the contractor to do general work such as the partitions, lighting, cladding and plumbing. In fact, I could not afford a professional contractor so I got a handyman. The rest, I researched and did everything myself.
Instead of focusing on the failures, focus on the solutions. You just have to keep going!
What is an important lesson that you learnt from this entrepreneurial journey ?
Initially, we got approached by this bigger hostel chain who wanted to partner us. Of course, I felt honoured because we were just starting out. After collaborating, I realised that they were just making use of us through corrupted middleman overbookings and redirecting of business. A lot of our earnings went to them! It was a tough 6 months and I even had to use my savings to cover expenses.
It was an important lesson learned for me - never be too trusting. But rather, trust in yourself.
You go through all this hard work and invest effort, time and money. What keeps you going?
A relentless belief that my vision will come true.
I believe this hostel will be a game changer in the accommodation industry. I believe travelling in luxury does not have to be expensive. Big hotel chains and travel agencies have built multiple layers of systems overlaying service charges & commission fees, all at the expense of travellers. My hostel is living proof that accommodation in Singapore does not have to be expensive, while providing near similar quality service to that of hotels.
I’ve always believed that this hostel will always be full. And that dream came true, despite the low seasons declared by Singapore Tourism Board. We are running a full house everyday!
What are your future plans for Hipstercity?
I have plans for it to be paperless, keyless, cashless and humanless.
My future plan is to head towards technology. The vision is to have an automated self check-in service, just like how the airlines do it. Also to create an interface that serves as a virtual receptionist and directory to provide tour & itinerary information for our guests. This technology is not to replace the receptionist but rather to reduce repetitive admin work and cashier duties so that there will be more meaningful interaction with the guests and we can focus on providing true hospitality.
What is your proudest moment?
Wow so many haha. The proudest would be being the highest rated hostel in Singapore on booking.com! We got awarded 9.1 rating since December last year and we have maintained that until now.
I also have a second proudest moment. We are recently featured in TheSmartLocal as one of the prettiest hostels in Singapore!
By changing the dynamics of what a normal hostel is supposed to be, Chuckie combined the coziness of a home and the affordability of a hostel with stylish interiors and genuine hospitality. Barely a year since Hipstercity opened, this stylish new hostel is seeing full occupancy every day.
Even in an established industry, one can succeed by finding market gaps and seizing the opportunity.
Being resourceful, not depending on other people, a strong willpower and always "doing the right thing” are factors that made Chuckie realise his entrepreneurial dreams.
A self-confessed former introvert, he has this somewhat cliche but genuine piece of advice for people who are still searching for that passion life, “You may not know what your passion is yet, but be curious, open up yourself and explore to try new things and your passion will find you!”
Stay tuned for more inspirational stories on local entrepreneurs and businesses!
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