It was August 12th, 2014 when Lia Wayman pitched Josie Hubschman her idea of an "online dating inspired roommate matching service" that would later become The Room Ring. Lia Wayman, a Georgetown University grad, had just moved back to her hometown of Boston, MA to pursue a new opportunity after working in Manhattan for several years in finance. Josie Hubschman, a Brown University alum, had been happily working at SoulCycle with no anticipation of leaving her steady job within the next six months...but life tends to work in funny and unpredictable ways.
One might argue that timing wasn't ideal for these two 25 year old woman to be starting a company. Lia had just moved back to Boston, while Josie was still in Manhattan. Lia was beginning a brand new job. Neither of them went to business school. They must have been technical at the very least, right? Nope. Most people thought they were crazy and would soon lose interest. They didn't and officially founded The Room Ring, LLC on September 8th, 2014.
Lia and Josie's backgrounds, while impressive, don't carry the prestigious business school names or typical work experience that most startup founders tend to have before buckling up on the roller coaster ride that will surely ensue. Their drive, charisma, dedication, thirst for knowledge, flexibility, and sense of humor are the ingredients that hold The Room Ring together and give them the edge they believe all aspiring startup founders should have. Let's take a look at how these two self-proclaimed "dreamers" took the road less traveled and discover more about how their idea became a reality:
Why did you start The Room Ring?
Lia: I came up with the idea from my own personal experience. I was sharing an amazing apartment in NYC with friends from Georgetown when I decided to move back to Boston. We really had a hidden gem on our hands and I didn't want them to have to move out because of my decision to leave. I emailed everyone I knew asking if they knew someone looking for a place in Manhattan. I received no responses and then decided to resort to posting on Facebook and eventually resorted to using Craigslist. Thankfully, one of my roommates found someone through a friend of a friend, but the process was long and stressful. Once that was settled, I had to look for a roommate in Boston. Even though I grew up in the area none of my friends were looking to move at the same time. I was able to find a one bedroom apartment, but the rent was obviously much more than I was hoping to spend.
Josie: Lia's experience really sealed the deal for me in terms of my interest in working on this project because she was one of several friends that had experienced the same exact trouble while finding a compatible roommate in a crunch. Lia and I put our heads together and knew that there had to be an easier, safer, and more transparent way of finding compatible roommates than emails, Facebooks posts, and Craigslist ads. We like to think of ourselves as the "Hinge or Match.com of the roommate matching industry" because we decided to use the same systematic approach to match-making that popular online dating platforms use to optimize love connections in cities. We also knew that we hit a sweet spot in terms of the timing of everything because rent prices were continuing to skyrocket in the most popular cities millennials tend to reside in the U.S. and online dating industry was blowing up before our eyes. We were confident millennials not only wanted this type of service, but more importantly needed it. Lia and I conducted research in the spring of 2015, which confirmed the demand and launched the beta website in the two most expensive U.S. cities, San Francisco & New York City, on October 1st, 2015. We recently launched an updated site and iOS App on June 22, 2016.
How exactly does The Room Ring work?
Lia: The Room Ring is specifically designed to match like-minded individuals together based on a host of roommate specific filters (such as budget, location, smoking, pets, etc.) as well as mutual friends they share. We really feel like being able to vet potential roommates through your already trusted sources eliminates a lot of stress and unknown that surrounds the current process. Through Facebook authentication, a Room Ring user is able to view the mutual friends of the people they match with and has the option of reaching out to a potential match through the chat functionality. Users can sign up one of three ways: (1) looking for a place (2) listing a place (3) looking for a roommate (however, users are not limited to only one product! Oftentimes, users utilize multiple products at once). Our website has been live for a few months and we have just launched our iOS app. Stay tuned for our android app! We are working on getting this out as soon as possible.
Where do you see The Room Ring 5 years from now?
Josie: Five years from now The Room Ring will be in all major US cities, offering users more than just roommate matching. We see The Room Ring being the one stop "shop" for recent graduates and millennials to find anything they would ever need in order to make the moving process and overall living experience in expensive urban areas easier and more affordable. We want to take away every roadblock or hiccup that can taint the experience of moving into a new place.
Lia: We also envision other functionality so that users are taken care of from the moment their living situation changes to the moment they are living comfortably. As we expand we plan to release a number of additional features designed to take the headache out of moving and finding places to live and people to live with. We have a weekly brainstorming session to come up with new ideas and problem solutions. We have some big projects in the pipeline that we are excited to implement and share once they come to fruition.
What are some of the crazier roommate horror stories you have personally experienced or heard about?
Josie: Luckily, I don't have a roommate horror story to share (knock on wood). Lia and I were curious to see if the crazy roommate articles on Buzzfeed were actually legit and decided to send out a survey to over 500 people. We asked them to share their roommate experiences to get an idea of the magnitude of the situation
Lia: We were shocked at some of the responses and truly couldn't believe our eyes. Here is one response to give you a taste of what people are dealing with:
My roommate and I left NYC for a weekend. When we came back on Sunday evening, we found a man's suitcase in one of the bedrooms and toiletries in the shower. We immediately called the police, who told us to wait downstairs at a bar (convenient), until the "intruder" came back to collect his things. He would then read a sign that said his suitcase is at the precinct. We decided to sleep at friend's that night, so we wouldn't see the "intruder." The next evening, the man came back and said (through the door), "hello, my name is Tomas, I am the man who accidentally thought your apartment was an Airbnb. I have my suitcase from the police, but can I please come in for my toiletries?" I told Tomas I had thrown them out. After some research, we found the apartment across the hall had been illegally listed as an airbnb for over a year AND the keys to that apartment also unlocked my apartment. Needless to say, I got my locks changed immediately.
What has been the greatest challenge so far?
Lia: Josie and I face a lot of the obvious challenges with starting a new business ... making big decisions, wearing a million hats and, the most difficult, not being technical! However, as hard as it is starting a new business I think Josie and I anticipated many of the difficulties that we face daily. Personally, the biggest challenge keeping a balanced outlook on work and life. Josie and I carry The Room Ring with us everywhere we go... the good and the bad. It is not easy to unplug when you are so involved in every aspect of the business. Some Sunday's Josie and I have to remind each other to take the day off! Keeping the work/life balance is definitely one of my biggest unforeseen challenges.
Josie: There have been many challenges along the way and it's going to be a bumpy ride no matter how prepared you are before diving in head first. Each day comes with new challenges that we may not have experienced in the previously. Today we in the throes of building our user base, paid marketing, customer experience and product development/enhancements. Tomorrow will come with a different set of challenges. Taking everything one day at a time is difficult, but necessary. Seeing the big picture, being patient, and communicating are key factors that help me bounce back after a tough day.
What is a typical day like working at The Room Ring?
Josie: Every day is completely different. Meetings pop up and it seems like we discover new projects that we add to our to-do lists on a daily basis. I'll make a game plan at the start of every week and without a doubt things change by the end of the week. It's important to set due dates to stick to because if you don't hold yourself accountable things will start falling through the cracks.
Lia: There really isn't such thing as a "typical day" for us because we have so many different responsibilities. One day might be full of meetings with potential investors and running around the city pitching The Room Ring and and another might be conversations with lawyers, making difficult development decisions and working on our marketing strategy. Overall, we have found that being flexible is key and having a co-founder has been one of the best gifts as each day is different and has ups and downs! We definitely keep each other balanced.
What advice do you have for females who are thinking about starting their own company?
Lia: Be flexible, have thick skin and, most importantly, have a trusted partner! Josie and I are often reminded of how much easier this is to do with someone that you can trust and confide in by your side; whether it's offering another opinion on a tough decision or just someone to relate to the emotional roller coaster that starting a business really is.
Josie: Find a co-founder that brings a completely different skill set to the table. Create a MVP (minimum viable product). Conduct as many calls and meetings with people who are willing to listen and give advice. If you aren't technical, do intensive research on the developers you may be working with - ask for references and do your homework. This can turn into a money and time suck if you aren't extremely careful. Most importantly, have a sense of humor. Starting a business is no easy task and can be stressful, scary, and intimidating. Make an effort to bounce back and laugh at the end of each day.