When Paul Burke first wanted to move out of his mother’s house after college, he started out by checking ads on Craigslist.
The 2010 Redmond High School graduate was amazed at how “horribly done” the ads posted on the site were.
Burke, 24, felt there was a better way to do things.
And so, he began asking others what they would like to see in a mobile app — whether they preferred a focus on housing or on finding a roommate. He received more feedback for the latter.
From those comments, he came up with the idea of RentHoop, or a “Tinder for roommates,” referring to the popular dating app.
The app is available on iPhone and Android operating systems and while Burke, who serves as the company’s CEO, may have come up with the initial idea, he did not have the technical knowledge to make it happen. He teamed up with Lori Hill of Issaquah and Ejiro Akporobaro of Renton, who co-founded the company with Burke and are the programmers for the iPhone and Android versions, respectively.
“The fun thing about our team is that we are all in different phases of life, so we each bring a unique perspective to the company and market,” said Akporobaro. “When Paul pitched me the idea, I could relate to the problem from trying to find a roommate while I was at (the University of Washington). Three months in after launching of the app, this startup feels different than ones I’ve previously worked on. Customer feedback shows we’re on a great path.”
After downloading the app, users sign in through their Facebook profile and RentHoop uses the information they have entered there, such as their age, school and interests — as well as the geographic location of where they are looking to live — to pair them up with potential roommates. RentHoop also uses a person’s mutual friends in the pairing process.
Burke said using users’ mutual friends to pair people up is key to RentHoop as the typical process of finding a roommate is filled with variables of who the other person or people are.
“With Craigslist, you don’t really know who’s behind that post,” he said.
By utilizing the mutual friends feature from Facebook, Burke said people can reach out to those friends to ask questions about their potential roommate and learn whether they would vouch for the other person.
The app launched nationwide in May and Burke said they have already received feedback from users with success stories of finding roommate. He said that has been cool for him to hear.
In addition, RentHoop was recently featured on the front page of the NBC News website as well as on CBS in Arizona and they have seen a spike in users since then.
“As the developer responsible for the RentHoop iPhone app, I am proud of the product we have created and the opportunity to offer roommate seekers an alternative to Craigslist,” Hill said. “It is so rewarding to see the app downloads grow in number and to know that means more and more safe roommate matches.”
In addition to cities where it is expensive to live and a roommate is often needed to share the cost — such as New York, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles — Burke said RentHoop is popular in Ohio in the cities of Cincinnati and Columbus. He added that the Seattle area is still their biggest market as all three founders are local and able to attend events to promote the app.
“We do have a lot of roots here,” Burke said.
He added that RentHoop has grown more organically here as he will tell his family and friends about the app and they will often tell other people they know.
Burke — who has always looked for problems to solve and enjoyed being an entrepreneur — said they target market is people ages 18 to about 30, the typical renter’s age range. He added that about 65 percent of their users are women.
RentHoop took about 13-14 months from the time Burke came up with the idea of the app, to when it launched a few months ago.
Burke said one of the reasons the app took so long to create was because he did not have the technical knowledge of how an app works.
“I’m not the technical person at all,” he said.
This was where Hill and Akporobaro come in as they were the ones who did the coding work for RentHoop. And while Burke won’t be doing any code work any time soon, he said he now has enough technical knowledge to talk about how the app works.
For Burke, his favorite part about RentHoop has been seeing how excited their team gets as the app has been doing well.
“That has been awesome,” he said.
On the flip side, Burke did acknowledge that he has gone through a lot of changes as a person. He said he has gone from an OK student who had a lot of free time to someone who works pretty much all the time, seven days a week. Burke has also noticed that his circle of friends has become small as a result.
“That’s a big adjustment,” he said, adding that that’s OK because he loves his work.
Burke is still living in the Redmond area but plans to move to Los Angeles in October and use RentHoop to help him find a roommate.