First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jessica Chen: We’re grateful that our team, families, and friends are well and safe during this challenging time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ROOM8.
Jessica Chen: We have always been passionate about innovations that help people achieve financial health and prosperity. ROOM8 streamlines the apartment search process by combining both “people” and “property” data and makes rents affordable during this uncertain time by sharing housing costs with roommates. Check out this interview for our ROOM8 story.
How does ROOM8 innovate?
Jessica Chen: Our innovation is led by technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) and data. We use AI to simplify convoluted apartment data and use a proprietary matching algorithm to create optimal co-living solutions.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jessica Chen: We view challenges as opportunities. In response to COVID, we launched new features in April 2020 to help users “search and connect safely.” These features include free in-app audio- and video-calling capabilities, as well as a partnership with Google Street View Trusted Agency LCP360 to provide immersive 360-degree virtual apartment tours, drone photography, and built-in virtual meetings with leasing professionals. With skyrocketing unemployment rates caused by COVID-19 business closures, many renters need to reevaluate their current living situations by downsizing or finding roommates to share the financial burden. During a time of shelter-in-place orders and quarantine, ROOM8’s new capabilities will help users navigate the intimate process of vetting potential roommates and looking for apartments virtually from the comfort and safety of their homes.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jessica Chen: We made changes to our product roadmap and prioritize the key features that are most relevant to the current environment. We had to quickly expand our rental inventory from urban high-rise buildings to more affordable apartments and single-family homes in the suburbs.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and ROOM8in the future?
Jessica Chen: We find “connection” and “community” to be especially important during this time. We are very fortunate to have a very supportive board and a group of impressive investors with strong networks. More than ever, we are connecting with other founders within our investors’ communities, and we are sharing stories and exchanging ideas. On a personal level, I follow several successful entrepreneurs for inspiration. Sara Blakely is one of my favorites.
With an uncertain economy and rising unemployment, we really strive to make rents affordable for all renters by providing suitable co-living solutions and affordable housing. We think there’s also a huge opportunity to reinvent how below-market-rate housing works today.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jessica Chen: We differentiate ourselves by combining “people” and “property” aspects in one solution. At heart, we are a data and AI company. There are other offerings that focus solely on roommate matching (e.g., roomster, Craigslist, Facebook) or solely on apartment listing (e.g., Zillow). We can continue to gain market share by providing the simplest and most effective apartment search experience.
Your final thoughts?
Jessica Chen: I’m immensely grateful for my co-founders and the team. It’s amazing to see how quickly the team has energized and mobilized to execute shifting priorities and helping our ROOM8 users during this challenging time.