With over a quarter of a million college graduates working minimum-wage jobs, living alone is often a luxury. And when living at home isn't a desirable option -- or an option at all -- finding a suitable roommate is at best a matter of luck.
That's where Roomie comes in. Roomie is like an online dating service for finding roomates. It's a mobile app that allows young professionals, entrepreneurs and adventurers to find roommates based on:
Unlike some existing roommate-finding services, Roomie is specifically targeted toward a younger demographic that is looking to move to a different city or within a large city. Additionally, Roomie can be used for people currently renting who are looking to fill a room in a house or apartment.
. . .
Similar to OKCupid, Roomie's matching process would utilize multiple-choice questions that users would then rate the significance of the answer. These questions would be worded in a conversational manner and reflect common concerns about potential roommates. For example:
What kind of relationship do you want with your roommate?
A. I want to be best friends!
B. We can hang out, but I like my space too.
C. This is my side of the apartment, and that's yours.
This answer is: 1-Not very important; 2-Pretty important; 3-Mandatory
. . .
For now, I envision Roomie starting as a freemium mobile app (users would be charged if they wanted more detailed search criteria, income verification and background checks). It would later develop into a full website. The actual apartment/house search will be up to the Roomies for the time being, but I am interested in integrating an actual aparment search feature as well.
+ + +
Assignment: What are the holes?
When I asked my potential users what Roomie's holes are, here's what they asked/said:
"Will pictures be mandatory?"
"How will you verify income?"
"Would background checks be offered?"
"Wouldn't there be slumps in business at various times of year?"
"Would this be a one-time use app (customer retention)?"
. . .
Top 3 Holes
From these interviews, I determined that the top three holes are:
- - - - - -
Potential solutions for my top problems:
1) Background checks: Users could pay a premium to post the results of their background checks. This feature is used on Sittercity; you pay $10 or so for a background check, and all anyone else can see is that you're in the clear.
2) Retaining customers: Thanks to Jennifer's feedback, I realized this might not be as big of a problem as I thought. My goal is to make this a successful enough product that users at least refer their friends, if not use it again themselves.
3) Proof of income: The user could have the option to privately provide their yearly or monthly income; and while it would only be visible to the user, the system would still use that information to find matches with comprable incomes. Users could then decide whether to be matched only with others who have provided their incomes, or they can decide for themselves to take the chance.
While this is still more or less the honor system, Jocelyn's feedback gave me confidence that people (mostly) recognize their responsibility to crosscheck and verify important details themselves.
+ + +
Another solution for identity verification: I was super pumped to stumble across a website called Airbnb, which is a similar idea but is meant for short-term stays as opposed to cohabitation. It's actually a sweet website--it's like a hotel reservation website that uses real peoples' homes instead of actual hotels.
To be honest, I was kind of worried at first -- does this mean my idea is taken? But I realized this means there's market for this kind of product, and the fact that it came up in casual conversation was even more exciting.
Airbnb has a new system for identity verification (new since the last time I looked a couple weeks ago!) that uses a combination of other online profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn) and information that only you would know and have presumably verified elsewhere (i.e. last four digits of your SSN, previous addresses, etc.). You can also scan in your driver's licsence or some other form of photo ID for verification (I just used the other one).
Another great aspect of Airbnb is the reviews. Pasts guests and hosts can review each other, so there is incentive to be as honest as possible; you don't want to sugarcoat your experience with someone while they're slamming you.