Random Roommates No Longer: Enter RoomForFriends

Having a bad roommate has become a universal experience, right along with learning how to drive and graduating from kindergarten. That freshman year roommate with the permanent stink face or the housemate who seemed to always eat your cereal? Yeah, you shouldn’t have to put up with that, and thankfully, you don’t have to anymore. Enter RoomForFriends.com, created by four friends from Cambridge who had the novel idea that no one should have to put up with the terrifying notion of having a random roommate. The concept is simple: RoomForFriends.com looks at your social network to see who needs a roommate. So even if none of your Facebook friends has an open room, you can browse mutual friends as well.

We sat down with co-founder Joe Raciti and chatted about this groundbreaking idea. Intrigued? Read on:

Sweet Lemon Media: It seems the world has needed something like this for a while. What made you crystallize the concept that random roommates are scary and can be avoided?

Joe Raciti: All of us have heard the roommate horror stories. A friend of ours once had a roommate who cut a hole in her door for her cat and then promptly skipped town without letting anyone know. She didn’t respond to texts and ended up dodging her share of the security deposit. Another friend found a roommate online who seemed like a perfectly normal guy but turned out to be an absent-minded nut. On a more serious note, the roommate relationship involves a lot of trust and for folks moving to new cities it can be hard to find someone that you have some connection to. We think that our site can help connect these folks with people that will be a good match, and, most importantly, a safe match. The specific technology we’re using to connect users was inspired by new dating sites like CoffeeMeetsBagel and Hinge that use social networks to improve matchmaking.

SLM: How long did it take before RoomForFriends got off the ground?

JR: RoomForFriends is still, and will always be, a work in progress. We’ve been working hard on the project since last summer. Most of us on the RoomForFriends team have had to teach ourselves to program HTML, CSS, Python and other languages by spending hours on Code Academy, working through online tutorials and reading through StackOverflow. It’s been a big investment but we believe in the idea and wanted to build it ourselves so we had control of the design and logic of the site.

SLM: What were some of your biggest challenges in building the idea?

listinScreenShotJR: The biggest challenge has been time management. Most of us have other commitments like Ph.D. dissertations, jobs and teaching responsibilities so we’ve been burning the candle at both ends. Fortunately, we’re a tight-knit group committed to the idea so we’ve been able to cover for each other and keep the project moving forward.

SLM: Currently your app is available in NYC and Boston. What cities are next on your list?

JR: We’re asking potential users where we should expand and will build our expansion strategy around user interest. Potential targets on the East Coast include Philadelphia and Washington D.C.–both cities with a lot of young folks that we’d like to help find good roommates. Our site works well once we’ve got a critical mass of users on board so right now we’re focusing our efforts on two cities because the most important thing for us is to deliver a product that is useful to apartment or roommate hunters.

SLM: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to build meaningful startups?

JR: Do it yourself. Our mantra has been to do all the design, programming and outreach ourselves. While this required a significant time investment to learn the tricks of the trade (and we still have a lot to learn!) we’re able to respond quickly to what our users want and our only costs are our time.

SLM: When life gives you lemons…

JR: Dine on citrus and keep on coding!

Interested in seeing exactly how RoomForFriends works? Check out their breaking it all down.


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