Roomswap is a platform for college students living "off-campus" to find subletters for housing under their lease. This becomes incredibly useful for students who are studying abroad, taking a semester off from school or have decided to live elsewhere on campus. The founder, Carey Flack began the company while she was a student at the University of Oklahoma.
If successful, Roomswap will not only slowly change the way in which students, find off-campus housing, but it potentially can change the way individuals find housing after graduation. In an economy wherein work is becoming increasing temporary, Roomswap offers the potential for housing to become a far more fluid and communal arrangement. So far Roomswap has saved students $70k in rent.
We catch up with Carey to learn more about the process of creating Roomswap, her overall experience as a young entrepreneur and what's next for her real estate platform.
1. So Roomswap is providing a room swapping platform for college students. How does it work exactly?
So with Roomswap, students who need to get out of their housing lease can post their sublet on the website along with pictures, a description, and all of the important information one needs when they're looking at a potential room. Let's say a student in need of housing really likes their room, they can contact them directly, ask questions about the space, and really get the subletting process going. So far this process has saved students nearly $70,000 in rent.
2. When did you start Roomswap and what made this a problem you wanted to develop a solution for?
I started Roomswap in November 2013. I was 20 years old and began to live off of campus for the first time ever. I had no idea who to live with though, so I posted in my University's Facebook housing group about needing a place to live.
After that, roughly 10 people offered me their room plus cash or discounted rent if I took over the lease. Students would tell me that they were graduating or studying abroad and we're really in need of subletter like me. I eventually signed into a students' lease, and in that very room which I took over, began brainstorming how I could solve this financial problem that students on my campus were facing.
3. What is Roomswap doing that Craiglist, AngiesList or some other classifieds tool isn't doing?
So I'm going to talk about Craigslist specifically. As you probably you know, it's not the safest platform if you're looking for ...well anything. The problem with Craigslist is that users are not vetted, so you really have no idea who you're talking to. But also, it's not a very organized tool for finding rooms either, which causes a lot of back and forth between those posting the room and those interested.
Roomswap is only for university students and recent graduates who still have access to their college email. This helps vet out a vast amount of potentially random people, which helps keep students safe and the platform very campus-oriented. We also have organized listings where you can easily see the number of beds, baths, and even the discount you'll get on the room. It's a super transparent and welcoming website, which is what students need with such busy schedules.
3. How widespread of an issue are broken college housing contracts and the inability to easily change their living arrangements? How have students been getting by until now?
Being stuck in a 10-13 month housing contract is a huge issue for students because universally, the only way you can get out of a contract is by finding a subletter. Before Roomswap, most students would just eat the costs, which for some totaled $7,000 in wasted rent. About 40% of students would find subletters on their own either through a Facebook housing group or Craigslist.
4. What makes college housing contracts so logistically different and challenging compared to "normal housing?"
I think the biggest difference isn't so much the contract than the person signing it. College kids are very young, and often don't understand what they're signing into and also how much their will life change during a 10-13 month housing contract.
Let's say a student doesn't have a guarantor, being trapped in a housing contract means taking on a large amount of unnecessary financial pressure if, for example, they got a full-ride to study abroad of intern somewhere. For a student working minimum wage, knowing that you owe a complex "x"-thousand-dollars feels a lot heavier compared to a person in the same situation with a full-time job and college degree.
5. What are some of the personal hurdles you have faced in building out the technology for Roomswap? Do you think race or gender have posed any unique problems for you in executing strategies for Roomswap?
Launching Roomswap's new website was definitely a challenge. It launched about a year ago, and took 4 months longer than anticipated due to the learning curve I had to overcome with coding/HTML. Studies prove that not having strong exposer to STEM from a young age 100% affects the success of both African Americans and women. And so I know that not having that background played a role in Roomswap's delayed success.
I have good friends who teach younger kids how to code so that in the future they too can easily build their own dreams. That makes me hopeful, but in the meantime, I'm on Codeacademy.com and learning what I can so that I can be self-sufficient!
6. What has been your approach to managing and developing the product? For example, do you have a technical co-founder? Have you joined an incubator? And how have gone about funding the idea?
I don't have a technical co-founder at the moment, but I am always open to it! I've had some really strong business and tech interns though who have done great work for Roomswap, and that's been a cool experience.
In terms of Roomswap's growth, I definitely followed the lean startup method and began with technology that I could easily build. As I began making more sales, I invested more into the platform as well as myself. It was through Roomswap that I began learning how to code HTML, which is such a valuable skill. It makes me proud to know that the brand has been built from the ground up without a huge source of funding. It's hard to make a financially sustainable model work in real life, but when it does, that proves the viability of your product.
After 2 years of growth I held a Kickstarter that helped my brand expand to the University of Texas.
7. As you find your market for Roomswap, do you think you'll stick to housing or do you see the platform expanding to other needs college students may have beyond housing? And have you thought about the product serving non-college students? Or do you just want to focus on student housing?
I could see Roomswap expanding to more than students. So many people (especially in larger cities) have told me how important a platform like this would be for them and their friends. But right now, I have such a full and exciting plate with students, so I'll be sticking to that while of course always innovating Roomswap's offerings. I feel purposeful about what I'm doing now. But still, I know that there's so much more out there for the brand, and I'll always keep those possibilities on the table!
8. In your day to day of scheduling meetings, working with others to develop and market Roomswap or just management in general, what has been, in your opinion, your most valuable or favorite tool/app?
This is kind of boring, but my go-tos are definitely the scheduling and notes app. Having my day perfectly planned out was integral in balancing college, Roomswap, and my social life. As a recent graduate, I love the notes app because it's where I really brainstorm ideas, jot down expansion plans, and think of how to push the Roomswap brand to the next level.
Carey Flack is the founder of Roomswap. Outside of technology, Carey is active in creativity and justice. You can follow Carey and her moves via her website at Careyjflack.com.
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts. He primarily covers startup, tech and small business ecosystems and resources.