No matter what stage of your life you’re in, living with roommates can fast change from pleasant and convenient to a complex situation. Ongoing money exchanges, chores that may or may not be completed in a timely manner, and dealings with landlords or service providers can often lead to uncomfortable interactions.
“The whole inspiration behind Roof was based on this idea that people should appreciate and respect those who you share a home with,” says co-founder and lead designer Tyler Hayes. “We considered this app a tool to encourage people to get along and value each other’s company.”
North Carolina-based Roof was created by a trio of college students, Hayes along with CEO João Ritter and co-founder/developer Tomas Roy, to help dissipate any frustrations between roommates.
The app allows roommates to easily split payments for monthly bills, pay rent, assign household tasks and receive reminders, share shopping lists, and keep an updated history on which chores have been completed.
“João and I initially started Roof when we were undergraduates,” says Hayes. “We both had roommates and despite our good relationships with them, we would talk to other people about how they managed tasks — a chalkboard up on the fridge or a chart on the wall to track chores, utilities, payments, and grocery lists.”
Ritter and Hayes (later joined by Roy) started building the app as a passion project to make their lives easier. They received positive feedback from friends and decided to move forward as a business in 2016.
“As we moved through iterations, we found feedback and validation within our own team since we were the target audience and casual feedback from college friends,” says Hayes. “We had a good sense of the issues people around us were experiencing.”
In 2017, the Roof team realized that the product was only serving one part of the equation in the renting ecosystem. They decided to add a landlord dashboard to let users pay rent directly without having to mail a check, as well as task out repairs needed within the property.
“We found that in the segment of small to medium-size property managers (less than 100 tenants) and entrepreneurial landlords, they are often acquainted with their tenants without formal processes,” says Hayes.
“Most communication occurs via text message or email. These landlords often care a lot about creating a good experience for their tenants, but there aren’t many software options that exist right now priced for smaller operations.”
The platform allows the small to mid-sized landlord to manage properties from the dashboard with details on rent pricing, lease information, and other details that are often hard to remember when you have multiple properties across a city. Landlords are also able to communicate with tenants through the platform, keep a history of service requests, and access bookkeeping features when tax time rolls around.
One challenge the team encountered while adding landlords into the equation was marketing. “It’s a tricky thing to solve. We’ve talked to landlords over 50 years old and they are not interested in switching over. Those are not the landlords we’re targeting. They are usually under 40 years old and that treat their property management business as a brand,” says Hayes.
The team believes they can’t serve the market well without solving problems on both sides.
“We believe that landlords and roommates can both enjoy their transaction more if they have a better tool for interacting with each other,” says Hayes. “It is an ecosystem, it’s a service provider and customer relationship. Based on that, we cannot begin to change that space coming only from one side.”
The startup is currently only using the landlord side of the platform for revenue, charging the landlord $2 per tenant as well as offering a referral program if a fellow landlord signs up for the platform. That referral program has helped ease the barrier of entry for acquiring new landlords, who often don’t have an online presence and cannot be targeted by social media ad campaigns.
The roommates side of the app is free to use.
While they’re bootstrapped at the moment, the team plans to start exploring more funding options as they look towards hiring later this year. In the meantime they continues to evolve their brand, the thought process behind certain features, and share more roommate psychology studies through their company blog as a marketing tool for the startup.