Ajay Yadav sees every day as a new opportunity to “crush it” and to make positive coliving experiences easier to find. Ajay created Roomi after helping a friend search for a roommate, spending countless hours emailing back and forth, sifting through candidates with conflicting preferences, and worrying about safety when going to see a listing. He knew he could find a better way and got to work. Ajay developed the concept for a new app to help connect people looking for a place to live with those looking for a roommate. He wrote the code himself until he could afford his first employee. Since then, he’s guided Roomi through its debut in New York and expansion to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, with other markets and services launching in 2016. Before Roomi, Ajay studied computer science at NYIT and helped to launch two other startups. He’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but he experienced the link between motivation and achievement when his father offered him the chance to study in the U.S. once he passed his high school exams in India. Since then, he’s continuously moved the marker, meeting his funding goals and growing his company rapidly while innovating the rental market and building a culture of service to customers.
How did you get into the industry?
I came to America to study Computer Science at NYIT so I always knew I wanted to work in the tech industry, and even before that I knew I wanted to start a company. I actually started other companies before Roomi, so it was more about finding the right problem to solve. It didn't matter what industry, it could have been anything that I was passionate about.
Any emerging industry trends?
The idea of co-living and breaking away from traditional leases is on the rise. Millennials don’t want to buy and they don’t necessarily want to stay in the same place for a full year. They need flexibility and the option to get up and go if they need or want to.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
When it started out, co-living got a negative reputation as a way for adults to live who didn’t want to grow up. A sort of renters “Never-Never land”. I think some people, both real estate owners and renters, also perceive it as a free-for-all. Co-living needs it’s reputation to reflect its current state. That of a professional, emerging industry. To do that, we have to show everyone we have safe, secure, effective systems in place to enjoy this unique way of living and form a profitable business model around it. The good news is, we’re already doing that at Roomi. And a lot of our peers in the industry are making great strides as well. That’s important, because changing the reputation of an entire industry is too big for any one company to take on. So I’m excited to see everyone involved taking it so seriously. I think once that reputation piece is addressed, a lot of the other challenges we’re facing right now will fall into place.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
So, no joke, I once got robbed by my roommate. It became very clear to me there was a problem to solve in the way we search for roommates. Craigslist felt unsafe and you never knew what you were going to get. Personal contacts are great, but you only have so many friends looking for an extra roommate. It’s not flexible enough to rely on by itself. I started Roomi because I wanted to solve those problems for everyone.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We just acquired The Room Ring, so we’re pretty excited about that. We’ve already really simplified roommate searching, but it's going to make finding roommates even easier than before.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One thing I can’t stress enough for startup success is building a work culture that elevates failure to a virtue. Make failure valuable. Many startups avoid risk in any form. But launching a startup is just naturally risky. There’s no avoiding it. So embrace it. Once you’ve got a culture where it’s okay to fail, you’ve got a workplace that is constantly learning. It’s awesome. Unstoppably, patently awesome.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
At a startup every day is difficult and any day it could all go away. That's why I'm constantly trying to innovate and dig in deep to what we are doing in every part of the company. I've learned that you should never feel comfortable. Always question everything. Always innovate. It’s how I work, and I encourage everyone on my team to do it as well. Some bosses don’t like to be questioned. When someone questions my ideas, I’m thrilled. It means my strategy is working.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
For Roomi the ideal customer experience is being able come to our website and either find a room or find a roommate, quickly and easily. Also, the customer should have their lives changed for the better because they found a great place or live or connected with a super cool roommate. Someone they can have a long term friendship with. We understand security is a concern for our customers, so we want our users to feel safe. Like they can come back to Roomi time and time again and yield the same awesome results.
How do you motivate others?
I've always believed in having my employees working with me, not for me. I want to facilitate a culture where my employees feel like they have a real voice, because they do. Nothing is better than being challenged by my employees and allowing them to challenge me. It doesn’t get more exciting than having a brainstorming session and watching a solution bubble to the surface because people feel empowered to share and build on each others ideas.
Career advice to those in your industry?
You need to really care about what your company is doing. Care about solving a problem and satisfying your customers. That is what is going to drive you to build the best company that you can. Yes, I know startups are strapped for cash. And it’s a business, so of course, profits are important. But you might be surprised how much that side of the equation sorts itself out when you focus on the other side. The customer satisfaction, employee happiness, human element of running a business. Any business.