I think back at the process of how annoying it was to find off-campus housing. I dreaded the thought of it actually. Driving back and forth to the realtor to secure and sign the lease and pay all of the egregious fees just to have a place to live for a year. The nightmare rumors of complexes and horror stories from previous tenants made you wonder whether being homeless was the best option.
How did they link up? Sundeep and Sam met at a bar one night in Austin, Texas and it just so happened Sam was looking for a co-founder to help run the business. Sundeep had graduated from The University of Texas, was working at Dell at the time, and was looking for an opportunity to get involved in the startup world. Immediately impressed with the idea of LoftSmart, Sundeep began working part-time with Sam, helping him expand to new universities across the U.S.
Sundeep and Sam eventually ended up receiving a call, saying that Thomas and Carine from AngelPad wanted to interview them that Monday morning.
“What’s AngelPad,” you’re probably wondering? AngelPad is an incubator program that supports start-ups like LoftSmart. In the past five years the organization has launch more than 130 companies in 10 cohorts.
The two interviewed for the program on the 11th. That evening the they received an offer noting that the start date was April 13th. In the span of 48 hours, Sundeep put in his letter of resignation to Dell and moved to New York to start the program. The young entrepreneur told me that it was the “most intense and stressful” moment of his life, but “wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Can you break down the process of creating your first website (where students could write reviews on different rental properties) and how LoftSmart evolved and gained financial backing?
The first version of the website was developed by Sam when he was still at UVA. He created a Squarespace site where students would use a comment box to leave a rating and a brief review of a complex. Sam would then take the information from those comments, copy them over and create a single student review from that. He did this 100s of times until he had over 500 reviews on the site.The key thing here is he didn’t have the coding background to develop the solution, so he hacked it and found a way to do it regardless. That’s what entrepreneurship is about: Not letting anything stop you from finding a solution.
LoftSmart evolved to become a transactional marketplace where students could do everything from search to sign and property managers could identify and convert these students at a fraction of the traditional SG&A cost. Once this idea was fleshed out, we began fundraising in San Francisco and New York. Fundraising involves 40-50 meetings with VCs that specialize in all sorts of different spaces, in hopes of catching one of their eyes and ensuring them that investing in the founders will pay out. Ideas change all the time, markets change all the time…but the responsibility lies with the founders to find a way to make the product successful.
What was the turning point in leaving your job and focusing efforts on LoftSmart?
I stopped feeling challenged in my old job. I didn’t feel like I was progressing and I hated the fact that I couldn’t see the direct impact of my work. I wanted to build something that I could call my own and I wanted to be able to watch that product change the market in some way.
What was the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
“My toughest decision was to leave my job and follow this dream of running my own startup. That being said…I had made up my mind a long time before the opportunity came.
What has the support been like thus far since the company’s inception?
The support has been overwhelming. All my family, friends, coworkers, and mentors were all extremely supportive and really believed in the journey we were about to embark on. There are a lot of rough moments when you run a startup…it’s good to surround yourself with a group of friends and family that can help you get past the hurdles.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of starting your company?
Working for myself and envisioning/defining the product that we want to deliver to the world. The sky is the limit.
What Universities are you more likely to expand to next?
Keeping this somewhat under wraps…but in general we like focusing on schools with a sizeable student population so that we have the opportunity to help as many students as possible. Bigger schools tend to have the most diverse set of housing problems.
What is your message to anyone out there looking to start his or her own business or career?
Take the leap if you truly believe in what you’re building. You need full-time, laser-sharp focus on the end goal in order for the dream to become a reality.
LoftSmart has already raised $1.7 million for its local rental marketplace for college towns. You can read more on this story conducted by TechCrunch here. On top of that, LoftSmart has also gained an investment backing from Corigin Ventures. The business is currently set up with the following universities: