Cribspot website provides UB students off-campus housing listings
When Jason Okrasinski, Evan Dancer and Tim Jones attended the University of Michigan, they struggled to find off-campus housing and had bad experiences with landlords.
“We all saw how difficult it was to find housing. We went through that process ourselves,” Okrasinski said. “We thought there had to be a better way to do this.”
An entrepreneurship class project would eventually lead them to creating a website they say makes finding off-campus housing simple. More than 400 UB students have viewed to find housing, according to the site’s management team.
Cribspot, a website where students and landlords can post off-campus housing listings, is currently used at 175 schools across the country and was recently launched at UB. Students can post their apartments for free with their buffalo.edu accounts. The website states it “brings together thousands of student apartments and houses on one simple, searchable map, so you can stop going from door to door or site to site.”
The founders of site recently graduated from Michigan together and launched the site in 2013. Okrasinski studied business, while both Dancer and Jones studied computer science.
The three friends and roommates gathered information about off-campus housing from around the University of Michigan campus, put the information into an excel sheet and then transferred the information onto a website for a class project.
What at first looked like just a bunch of dots on a map eventually got attention from the trio’s peers and students at other universities. To the start-up group’s surprise, their friends told them they wished there was something like that at their own schools. They then began to crowd fund to launch the model at different schools.
Dan Ryan, director of Off-Campus Student Services, said the site is similar to Craigslist and apartments.com. Ryan said it’s not hard for students to find apartments. It’s hard to find a “quality apartment.” He said there are lots of sites to find apartment listings, but warned the apartments may not be up to code.
UB’s off-campus housing site only posts apartments that have been inspected within the past 36 months. Ryan said students are often taken advantage of when landlords don’t want to give back security deposits or fix things in the home. He said he has seen students with only one exit in the house, living in the basement, without locks on doors and windows, as well as bed bug and cockroach infestations.
Ryan said both UB’s site and Cribspot lack postings for homes in the University Heights. He said the reason his site does not have many is because University Heights landlords are sometimes not comfortable with the inspectors coming into their apartments.
“Sites that take money are looking out for the landlords,” Ryan said. “It makes more sense for students to use our site.”
The Cribspot owners said it doesn’t cost much to run the website and they currently make no money from it. The founders don’t want to charge students, so they said they are trying to figure out how to profit from the site without charging.
“We want to be like Reddit and Wikipedia, where everything is crowd sourced,” Okrasinski said.
Okrasinski said the website is currently being run by five people fulltime in one house. He said he doesn’t even have a bedroom.
“We all want to make this work, and we don’t have a lot of funding, but it’s eye-opening to go from something that was just a class project to something lots of people are using,” Okrasinski said.
Okrasinski said he, Dancer and Jones had “tons of fights” in the beginning stages of Cribspot and still continue to disagree. He said they are passionate about the site and stubborn about their opinions because they care about what they are working on. He said the disagreements have made them stronger friends and better working partners.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and play off that,” Okrasinski said.
The site hires students at different universities to market the site. A growth team deals with everything having to do with the website, which includes the marketing, site analysis and coming up with new ideas to improve the site. There are also open positions available as an engineer, social media expert, designer and growth hacker.
The founders are currently working on a feature in which students can pay their landlords through the site.A beta focus group has been testing out this feature at the University of Michigan for the past eight months and the website is working on moving this feature to other schools.
The founders said the most rewarding part is knowing that they are making some students’ lives easier.
“When someone says, ‘Thank you, this is awesome,’ it’s the most rewarding part of it,” Okrasinski said. “That’s what keeps us going when things get hard, knowing that people are using it.”
Jashonda Williams is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org