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Life After CEA Barcelona: Startup Advice from Ryan Blum

CEA interviewed a study abroad in Barcelona alum, Ryan Blum, to get a sense of how his study abroad led to his startup, Study Abroad Apartments, which was recently acquired by Roomi. 

CEA: What are some of your memories from your semester abroad in Barcelona? 

I chose to do independent housing instead of a CEA option and had quite a few mishaps with my first apartment when I arrived. After having to switch apartments, which is what led to the idea of Study Abroad Apartments, the second apartment I lived in was across the street from the historical Sagrada Familia. Every morning, I would grab a café con leche and walk past it; this was always a special part of my daily routine. 

Being able to travel on the weekends to cities such as: London, Florence, Madrid, Rome, Prague, and Switzerland, meeting locals, and other abroad students that were living in these cities was one of my favorite parts of being abroad. I also took an entrepreneurship business course and an international business course which both helped with international business practices, product development, and business execution. Some of the aspects I gained more insight into were business plan creation, financial modeling, and marketing strategies. 

Living in the city of Barcelona opened my perspective on culture, customs, and a new way of life. Coming from a small town in New Jersey, I never lived in a city before and I learned what it was like to live in a foreign city with locals. I respected how different the way of life was in Barcelona,  the breaks in the middle of the day (also known as siestas), and how the pace of life was slower than what I was used to. 

CEA: What got you interested in developing your own company? 

Many entrepreneurs, and some of the best companies today, are built off problems that the founders faced at some point in their life. This is exactly what happened to me. However, I've always been interested in entrepreneurship, since I studied business at Syracuse University. I studied Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises with a minor in Information Technology, so I was waiting for a problem I was passionate about and started building a product service around it. I'm fortunate that I was able to partner with the right people, with the same work mentality, and we worked as a team to progress the company forward and in the right direction. We became familiar with being under pressure and executed on milestones to get the next step! 

First welcome party in Barcelona hosted by Study Abroad Apartments

CEA: What are some of the highlights you've experienced in the last 5 years?

In 2014, my co-founder and abroad roommate, Brett Newman, entered into a pitch competition at Ohio State University's Business Club. He ended up winning $1,000 and took home a giant check. This was a first of many wins for us (see picture below)! Two weeks after I graduated, I was on a flight to Europe and traveled for over a month with my business partners, visited 6 cities, met with over 40 real estate companies, and pitched Study Abroad Apartments. In 2016, we opened up our European headquarters in Barcelona. The office overlooks the entire city with beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, and it's one of my favorite parts about going back. In the summer of 2016, we were accepted into a top business accelerator program, called Dreamit, which helped us test our business model assumptions and expanded partnership network. I traveled to San Francisco and met with some of the top venture capital firms in the U.S. and worked alongside other talented founders running startups. 

Alumni-RBlum-Fair Booth

Exhibiting at Techday in Washington, D.C.

CEA: What are your thoughts on the Roomi acquisition, and what are you looking forward to? 

Roomi is a platform and brand our users can embrace as students and for life after graduation. The midterm online rental space is still new, and I believe that there will continue to be global consolidation with companies domestically and internationally. Roomi and Study Abroad Apartments have a lot in common. They bring people together making the process of connecting and finding housing safer and more reliable. I'm excited to be working with their team full of talented people and help to bring Roomi to the next level as their VP of Business Development, and my co-founder Brett Newman, joining as VP of Supply. 

CEA: What advice would you give to a recent CEA alum looking to get into the world of startups and entrepreneurial ventures? 

Reach out to your current network whether it is through CEA, your university, or any other groups you or your friends are affiliated with. Start building your network within the startup and business owner space. Schedule time to talk to other founders and pick their brains. Take them for coffee. Learn from them what worked, what challenges they ran into, and how they overcame them. You'll save yourself from making a lot of mistakes if you surround yourself with the right people! 

Ryan Blum is a CEA Barcelona alum.

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