Happy New Year from Symbi!
We are looking forward to an exciting 2015 full of learning, building, and discovery.
With 2014 having come to an end, we’d like to share with you what we’ve learned so far. Over the last few months, we held over 35 hours of in-depth conversations with potential customers. We learned about what makes for great or terrible roommates, what typically goes well or poorly using existing processes, and the New York City real estate market in general. (We also have many great roommate stories to share at cocktail parties! One word: bedbugs.)
Below are a few of these learnings.
#1: NYC Moves Fast!
The biggest thing we learned very early on was the sheer speed of the New York real estate market. Listings only come available within a month of the move-in date, and are snatched up instantly. Roomseekers have to decide within a day or two on an available apartment, or risk losing it. Sometimes an hour or even a few minutes can make all the difference. Is there any wonder why the room hunt is so stressful?
#2: An Asymmetric Market
NYC is truly a roomholder’s market. With a vacancy rate of under 2% at any given moment, rooms are in high demand. This gives those in posession of a room all the power, while those looking for rooms are in tough competition. This has a few important implications. Roomholders seeking roommates get too many responses, and have to prune them down with incomplete information. Roomseekers, on the other hand, struggle to stand out and get low response rates from roomholders. These are some of the challenges we now focus our efforts on.
#3: Focus on the End-to-End Solution
We also learned which customer segments to focus on first. You can categorize the roommate market into three groups. First, there are the room holders. They have a room to lease, but need a roommate. Maybe a former roommate moved out and needs to be replaced. Maybe a group wants to renew a lease but one person’s not on board. You get the idea. Then there are the room seekers. They need a place to live, but can’t afford to live alone. There is also a third group: those who want to find a roommate to go apartment-hunting with. We call them free agents.
In 2014, we’ve been thinking about the roommate problem every which way. We realized we need to zero in on where we can provide a complete solution. Symbi’s initial focus was on the third group, the free agents. We aimed to match them together, person-to-person, a la online dating. However, at the end of the day, this matched pair still needs a roof over their heads. How much have we really helped them if they still have to resort to Craigslist apartment listings?
For this reason, we have shifted our efforts toward the first two categories of roommate seekers: room holders and room seekers. This means our matching will occur between three actors: a person posting a room, a person looking for a room, and the apartment itself. This three-part matching, and how to solve the unique problems each side faces, have been our focus for the last month.
Utilizing these customer learnings, we are now working hard on developing the initial version of our product. We hope to launch within the next few weeks. Wish us luck, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop!
Simone & Pete