Just about every week roughly a dozen singles meet up for drinks and chicken wings at a pirate-themed bar named Wicked Willy's in New York City's Greenwich Village. These aren't singles looking for love, though. Rather, these "singles" are looking for potential roommates.
MatchPad, the company that hosts the meetups, wants to streamline and simplify the often burdensome process of both apartment hunting and finding a roommate--which, if you've ever lived with someone you know, it can be traumatic.
"I had one roommate who would try to come in to my room at night, and another who would always lock all of the doors," says Anne Kavanagh, the 27-year-old Irish co-founder of MatchPad. She moved to New York in 2011 for yet another startup venture. Since then, she recalls a multitude of terrible roommates. "New York is full of crazies," says Kavanagh.
Therein lies the beauty of MatchPad: Users that sign up for the service receive curated roommate matches and apartment listings based on a profile that includes everything from smoking to significant others and even culinary habits.
"Lifestyle preferences are the most important thing, then location and budget," says marketing and events coordinator Alex Wood, 24, who runs the weekly meetups. "We try to think of things people may not think about when talking to people on Craigslist."
And allowing people to meet in a nonthreatening--albeit smelly at times--place to get to know one another is the key to MatchPad's magic, says Kavanagh. "You can tell when you're compatible with someone, and some people are just too high maintenance."
The technology behind the site is also vital, adds Wood. To match potential roommates, MatchPad follows the lead of popular dating sites like OkCupid and Match.com. "We use an algorithm similar to what a dating website would use," he says.
The site is completely free for users and the founders say it will remain that way. Eventually, all of MatchPad's revenue will come from real estate agents who pay for MatchPad users to see their listings, Kavanagh says. More than 100 agents have signed up so far and the company expects even more to join in 2015, after MatchPad's real estate portal went live on New Year's Day.
To ensure participation, the company's founders cite certain basic rules. Among others, there's a strict one address per broker rule keeps fraudulent listings that are so frequent on sites like craigslist, out of MatchPad's database. And to keep listings on the site relevant, any account with no activity for one week is wiped from the system.
In the meantime, the MatchPad team has adopted lean startup principals--admittedly, not by choice. With no outside funding--and no revenue--MatchPad's founders run the entire business from Wicked Willy's, which is conveniently owned by Kavanagh's counterpart. This bar-room setup may seem like a dream for some--the proximity to happy hour specials can't be denied, for instance--but it isn't without its struggles. "We come in before the bar opens, so it's quiet," says Wood. "Sometimes we stay late, and there are people yelling and playing beer pong around us."
Since launching in New York in September, more than 3,000 roommate seekers and apartment hunters have registered on the website. The company recently launched in Los Angeles, and hopes to expand to other major cities, like Boston, in the near future.
"Eventually we want to expand to every major U.S. city," says Kavanagh. "The goal is to make the cities ultimately self-sufficient and host meetups with partner venues. It's just a matter of time."