The company behind one of the most well known college lifesavers is headquartered right here in the Queen City. StartCharlotte Lead contributor Emma Speckman, who found her college roommate through one of their products, tells us their story.
Founders Justin Gaither and Dan Thibodeau created the venture as an alternative to Facebook groups while in college together at the University of Miami. The website launched in 2010 and today has more than one million users.
“Our school had three or four thousand students in the [Facebook] group. Everyone was posting these long questionnaires about what time they go to bed, cleanliness, all types of questions and you’d have to read through all of it,” Gaither said. “It was kind of inefficient.”
RoomSurf asks users a series of questions, then asks how an ideal roommate should respond to the same questions. After completing the survey, users can immediately review all same-sex respondents ranked in the order of compatibility percentage.
Today, RoomSurf supports around 1000 colleges and universities, Gaither said. Some colleges even partner with the company, paying the messaging fee that RoomSurf uses to generate their own revenue.
After the success of RoomSurf, the eCampus team brainstormed other ideas that fit into their college niche.
“We thought, what are the other services that students would need throughout their college experiences?” Gaither said. “We made a list and textbooks were at the top.”
Campus bookstores, he said, were usually the most expensive place to buy books, and often students turned to web stores like Amazon.com for their textbook needs.
A couple years after the launch of RoomSurf, eCampus Ventures launched TextSurf.com, a price comparison, “Kayak-for-textbooks” website. The site aggregates listings for certain titles and ISBNs and shows users the prices for each. The service is free and eCampus makes a small commission from clicks on their links.
In 2014, the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in again for the eCampus team. They went through the RevTech Labs program at Packard Place to develop JoinU, a college social media program that groups users by shared interests.
“RoomSurf and TextSurf were very seasonal,” Gaither said. “We wanted something to engage them 365 days a year.”
JoinU did not see the kind of success or widespread popularity that RoomSurf and to a lesser extent TextSurf did, and Gaither said the company plans on shutting down JoinU to pursue different ideas. A couple months ago they launched ClassWithMe, a social networking app that connects students with others in their classes.
Each iteration of the company has been met with support from the Charlotte entrepreneurial community.
“Charlotte is a very friendly place to start a business,” Gather said. “The cost of living is low, which I think is good if you’re starting something new. You’re seeing a lot from the chamber of commerce and the whole fintech scene is really starting to explode.”
“Overall it’s definitely a great ecosystem that’s still in its infancy. It’s cool to be a part of that while it’s still developing.”