This is the first in a series of posts comparing mobile apps in the same space. If the initial Twitter reaction is any indication, this may have some legs and be very enlightening.
My goal for this series of is to catalog my own discovery of new apps and ideas in the mobile world. Technology is getting smaller and faster all the time. Connectivity is better everyday. Soon our smartphones will be a gateway to everything we need. As a result, I chose to focus on the mobile space as I see it as the future.
This is an analysis piece and longer than most of my other posts. Reading this will definitely take more than ten minutes.
First Things First
Before you can understand my observations and conclusions, you must first understand the lens by which I examine these apps. I realize the majority of mobile apps are NOT designed for me. I'm 43 and not a digital native. My grandparents rented their house phone from AT&T until I was about eight years old.
On the other hand, I earned my MBA via an online school completely of my own desire. I wrote about and attended Celebrate 2015 along with Seattle Startup Week. Those of you who know my work from Tech.co and this site understand how much I love and embrace technology startups. Take all of that for what you will.
A Few More Parameters
Both of these apps have background check and ID verification features. These are important functional pieces for the overall usefulness of the app and have no real bearing on my impressions of the respective apps. I firmly believe feelings not functions sell products. As these two pieces are not really different between the two, I'm not wasting my time there.
My thoughts about each app will center on how I feel as I move through the process. Colors and structure matter to me as a part of overall UX. I will close with some funding and company information to build a full picture.
I'm approaching this from the standpoint of being in need of a place to live. Each app needs both sides of the equation to be successful. Partnerships with real estate agents and other rental listing services like Craigslist are easy ways to get landlords to sign up.
Finally, each app has several extended features. Roomi has premium services that assist in making the ongoing roommate relationship easier to manage such as rent collection and portioning the monthly bills. Room.me just launched an app extension called rentPal to help making rent easier to collect. I won't cover those features. They are what renters and tenants use after the connection is made. I'm more concerned about first impressions and reasons to even use the app in the first place. If these apps can't keep people beyond the first impression, all the extensions in the world won't mean a thing.
Here Comes Roomi
After downloading the app from the Google Play store and registering my email to begin the app, the first screen is city selection. I'm initially struck by the deep orange shades of the background and borders of the app. Orange is a color that makes people pay attention and focus because it's so bright. Safety clothing is florescent and bright for this reason.
After selecting San Francisco, I'm immediately taken to listings. The screen look like this:
I realized I need more filters to make a good decision where I want to live in SF. The menu on the top left is for adjusting settings and building my profile. Nothing new to really understand there. There is the chat button. The next button over is the map feature. It has a search function so I can see listings in a particular area or compare locations to my work or family. Very nice.
The button I'm really seeking is on the far right. Here's what slides into my screen:
This is the entire filter list. I like that I don't have to scroll to see all the filters. The need to scroll could mean I forget to add a condition and the one thing that might be a deal breaker resulting in a bad experience for everyone.
The filters are self explanatory. The age filter is interesting. There is an over 40 parameter. I don't feel as left out as I did before. The features tab provides plenty of choices based upon my wants and needs. I like knowing I can have my own bathroom if I want. It'll definitely increase the cost, but if that's important, people will pay for it. The rules tab is wonderful. I'm certain this solves many problems before they even pop up.
I guess I'm too picky. I chose a bunch of things important to me and got no listings as a result. I readjusted my filters and got the same result. I'm now certain I'm too picky. The age filter is not the issue. I completely removed that requirement and still got no listings. I played with the filters a few more times and couldn't populate my list.
I started getting frustrated so I shifted my perspective. The real issue is my unwillingness to compromise and get along. People who need a roommate and want to save money make accommodations on their requirements. Old people like me sometimes don't want to give up their little quirks. Plus, I don't want to be around drugs, and in SF that's a thing. That choice probably restricted many listings.
What isn't readily apparent to me is how to change cities. After some searching, I found the tab in the menu under settings. This presented an interesting thought: Roomi is in multiple cities. That is a selling point to investors, but is it to tenants? My first reaction is I want to be able to change cities easily. Then I think about those who would use this app. Are they the type that moves cities often or not?
More pondering lead me to the realization that people who have a hard time affording their own apartment in urban environments most likely aren't changing cities often. Making this feature prominent isn't that important to Roomi.
Room.me And Me
I downloaded and registered on Room.me. I chose San Francisco to have a consistent playing field, and Room.me is currently only in Southern California. Here is an example of the first screen:
I was required to answer a series of questions about my living preferences. Essentially, I was forced to filter before I could do anything else. I had to answer several questions about my basic lifestyle.
- Night owl or Early riser?
- Do I smoke?
- Vegan or Omnivore?
- How clean do I like my place?
- How loud do I like my music?
After I answer these questions, my listings populate, and I get this screen:
The number on the left of each listing caught my eye initially. Without any research or digging, I assumed it was the percent of match between my questions and the landlord's requirements. This prompted me to dig deeper into the app.
The percentage symbol at the top is the filter mechanism. I can refine the filter further by answering more questions about my lifestyle and even go back to previous answers and change them if I want. These questions are from all over the spectrum from what pets I like, (I'm a cat person), personal values like universal health care and religious tolerance (Could I live with a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Atheist? Probably) do I like reality TV (No, NO, NOOOO), and many others.
These filters are definitely deeper than Roomi's. I'm sure with the chat function of Roomi these questions can be handled, but would lead to difficult discussions. Putting a device as a barrier between potentially emotional exchanges sure feels safer and easier.
I answered 17 questions then refreshed my listing screen. My percentages jumped to the mid 80's and the yellow squares turned green. I now see what Max meant when he told me about his dating-style matching algorithm. Depending on my attention to detail and how anal I am about living with someone, I could answer as many questions as possible and raise the matching percentage higher.
There is a direct message button next to the filter. The favorites button is the final one at the top of the screen aside from my profile picture. Right after I registered, I received a DM from Felicia with a greeting and direction on the next steps to take. I saw this as an invitation to a tutorial if I needed one. I responded to the DM. Twenty minutes later Felicia replied back. Maybe it was a bot, but it doesn't matter. At least she responded to me.
The map button at the bottom right shows locations of my matches with the corresponding percentages flagged. I can zoom in and out on the map. The difference on this feature is that Roomi lists rent amounts.
The visual feel of Room.me is very pleasant. I prefer green and blue over bright orange most of the time. I also find it interesting how Room.me focuses on the relationship aspect from the start. I would happily pay more for a room with someone I knew I had similarities with and would most likely connect. Desperation play a role here, too. How bad do I need a room, and how close to family/work does it need to be? Getting exactly what I want will cost me more.
Funding And Other Notes
I realize I framed this is a comparison of mobile apps. I also enjoy the business side of startups. So putting my MBA training to good use, the Crunchbase listing for Roomi shows $1.96 million in funding so far. That wasn't the case when I wrote about Roomi the first time. I wonder if I had anything to do with that change? The Angel List entry confirms that number. Based upon their site and the conversation I had with Ajay, Roomi is definitely in more cities than Room.me.
The funding for Room.me is slightly less. Crunchbase shows $1.1 million. Angel List confirms that. I spoke with Max on Twitter. He confirmed funding at $1.3 million. How much difference does $600k make? I don't have the experience to answer that properly. Money is life when you are a start up, and $600K pays for plenty of marketing.
If my initial post about Roomi was correct, getting $4.3 million in capital would put Roomi well ahead of Room.me. Being first to market is a benefit if used properly. Ajay is no slouch as an entrepreneur. He will use his money well when he gets it.
Roomi is much larger by the numbers right now. Being in multiple cities is an advantage from a name recognition standpoint. Roomi's Angel List page has some great media mentions. This means Ajay's marketing people are doing their jobs.
On a personal note, I met Max, Wilko, and the team at Celebrate 2015. I chatted with them about more than just their idea. I like them and their German sensibilities. I spoke with Ajay on the phone. He comes off as a genuine soul who cares about his team and product.
From a UX standpoint, I prefer Room.me over Roomi. I like the colors and the filters that ask me personal questions to populate my listings. I like being able to adjust the answers to previous questions. I like the DM feature because it led me to a tutorial if I wanted one. I neither sought nor was prompted for any kind of tutorial for Roomi.
Maybe digital natives don't need much support like me, but I did feel more connected to Room.me because of that DM. Maybe she would have directed me to some videos or a FAQ page for my concerns. I like thinking I'm talking to a live person.
In my build up to this post, I ran a few tweets to gauge interest. I mused about city choice being the only question I have to answer immediately. Roomi responded to me saying they had more filters on the way, and the slide in menu showed that.
The default map settings for Roomi gave rental locations with rent amounts attached to them. Room.me had the percentage of match attached to them. I'm more interested in relationships at the moment so I like Room.me and their map feature. I see how Roomi has built its following. Money is important to those who don't have much, and providing locations with rent flags solves a pain point very easily. People can compromise on details if they can afford the right location. I could deal with a smoker if it meant saving money for a place near my job.
From a business standpoint, Roomi is out in front of Room.me. Getting something workable published then adjusting based upon user needs is a great strategy. I firmly believe Ajay looks at his metrics constantly looking for ways to make his app better.
This takes me back to the MVUX conversation I had with Jono Young. Roomi has a product with plenty of traction that meets the needs of enough users to grow. The road to success is paved with flat squirrels. The fact Ajay got into markets first and cultivated users means he can fine tune his app to meet their needs.
If I was planning to live in SF, Room.me is my platform of choice. If I was planning to invest in this space, Roomi gets my money.