The Report

Roomidex makes a business out of finding a roommate

Posting in Cities

Renters can research candidates before making an ill-fated commitment, while brokers and building owners can secure leases more quickly or address lower apartment turnover rates.

Starting a new career often means moving, either for a job or into a bigger economy, away from your closest friends and social networks -- your Rolodex, so to speak. That in itself is stressful and complicated, but rents also are rising and so are the number of people seeking roommates to share the burden. When you finally find someone to share a place, how do you know your new roommate isn’t the type to eat all your food and leave dishes in the sink for days?

“We thought the method for finding roommates was incredible inefficient,” recalls Medha Khandelwal, co-founder of Roomidex, a new startup aimed at making roommate-finding a breeze. “When I was moving after college and trying to find a roommate, there was no reason for it to be as painful as it was.”

Khandelwal and her co-founder Merritt Hummer -- who met while working at Bain & Co. -- know this as well as anyone. Both women graduated from college in 2010 and like many recent grads, they have moved around. Khandelwal has had at least seven or eight roommates since graduating from Harvard. Hummer relied on the "native-New-Yorker knowhow" of a fellow Princeton alumni to snag her own digs in Chelsea.

Not all of us can be that lucky. So Roomidex discreetly pokes into your social networks to identify a compatible roommate, eliminating the uncertainty that can go with finding a new cohabitant on a service like Craigslist or sending out desperate pleas on social media. To use the free service, you sign up on Facebook and enter when and where you want to move. Roomidex offers a list of people who fit the criteria, along with mutual friends and information such as where they work.

No names or photos are revealed until your profile is complete. From there, you can add candidates as friends or send them messages to start the conversation. Along the way, users can research things that can be awkward to discuss: neighborhood preferences, price ranges, number of roommates, and the like.

Even though Roomidex is consumer-facing, the service won’t just benefit those looking to move. The startup is talking with brokers, building owners and corporations seeking to leverage the service to their benefit.

“The brokers were so glad,” Khandelwal says, “because people come in and want this specific neighborhood at this price range, and a lot of the time it’s not doable without a roommate.”

Roomidex can help secure that roommate, potentially bringing in more revenue for the broker, who might not otherwise be able to close a rental agreement. The service might also help brokers and movers offer recommendations that make the move to a new city easier for their clients, adding more value.

After a vetting process, movers, cleaning services and brokers will pay for a Roomidex spot, and users will be directed to their business. Khandelwal projects that the “win-win” in this monetization plan is that users will be directed to quality services. They might even receive discounted rates.

In addition, Roomidex could be valuable for building owners seeking to counter high tenant turnover among the 20- and 30-somethings that typically inhabit larger apartment complexes in big cities. It’s in the owner’s interest to minimize new leases: Roomidex could help by finding new roommates to fill rooms if just one person in an apartment vacates.

Just launched June 17 in New York City and San Francisco, Roomidex is in its beta stage and planning a summer 2013 buildout. One new feature users can expect is the creation of different use cases, such as the process of looking for a new roommate versus seeking a new abode.

For now, the target audience is the most transient among us, college students and new grads, but expect that group to diversify along with the company.

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Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure