How to Convince People We’re Not Crazy

Marian and I first came up with the idea for a new roommate-finding platform in the summer of 2014. That following fall I decided to transition to working full-time on our startup and since then I have had many people ask me about our startup idea. I absolutely love our idea, and I love telling other people about it, even if the person on the receiving end is convinced that one or both of us must be crazy. Because I’ve constantly been told such, I’ve decided to put together a handy guide for how to navigate the majority of these conversations so that everyone can walk away feeling confident that we are not, in fact, crazy. Or at the very least, everyone will walk away without any more arguments up their sleeves about why we might not be cut out for our startup endeavor.

Conversation Part 1: Are these girls headed for complete failure?

Part 1 is usually where people test the waters as to whether our startup is in any way viable. My answers to Part 1’s top questions are as follows:

Question: How are you going to make money?
Answer: For our platform to be successful, it needs to attract an enormous user base. That will probably only happen if our product is free for users. Thus, our monetization strategies will need to be indirect and numerous, in case one or more strategies fail.

Then I’ll usually continue the answer to this question by listing some of the broad monetization strategies we’ve devised.

Question: How are you going to stand out from your competitors?
Answer: If you’ve noticed that the online roommate-finding space is starting to get crowded, then you’re right! We have a lot of competitors, but at the end of the day that doesn’t scare us (it would actually be more scary if no one was trying to get into this space!). Our vision for a product is vastly different from anything else available today, and we’re also placing a huge priority on scale so that we can bring our product to, eventually, every city in the world where people live with roommates – something our competitors have not managed.

Question: Will you hire someone to build it?
Answer: Eventually. Probably. Only when we really need to. Marian and I met each other while wrapping up math degrees, and mathy people usually have a huge capacity to learn how to code. And we’ve learned! We’re definitely not professionals but we have gained enough knowledge to do a lot of our web application development on our own. Though we don’t expect our coding knowledge to stand up to that of industry professionals, we also don’t intend to start a tech startup completely in the dark about how our product is built. For mission-critical components, such as security, we’ll hire professionals; but, we can learn a lot and save a lot of money by doing the small stuff ourselves.

Question: How are you going to get funding?
Answer: Marian and I are both thankful that our work experiences in the past few years have enabled us to self-fund for a while. At some point we will need to ask for money, but when we do we will prioritize the knowledge and guidance firms can offer over how much cash we can get. The right investor for us would connect us with resources we really need such as lawyers, accountants, HR professionals, and will also advise us on how to successfully launch our product. Attracting this type of investor will be difficult, and we likely won’t be able to do so until we’ve built something tangible. Until then, we will be paying for everything ourselves.

Conversation Part 2: Advice

Passing Part 1 with flying colors will usually get others feeling relatively comfortable with the fact that Marian and I are serious about our startup and that we have a solid plan going forward. In other words, they might start thinking that our craziness is reasonably under control. At this point (if I haven’t yet talked their ears off), my conversation counterparts will proceed to Part 2: advice. I love advice. Many of the pieces of advice I’ve received about Chimney have manifested into new monetization ideas and into new ways of thinking about the quest to find the perfect roommate. Advice makes fighting through Part 1 worth it every time.

Lesson Learned: Cybersquatting is Real!

Figuring out the name of your company and finding the best-fit name for your product can be tough. My partner and I threw around tons of names to test on a crowd to see which would be best received. When we finally figured out our perfect company name, Timnie LLC, we were overjoyed. Little did we know we had overlooked a crucial step between figuring out our name and incorporating our business.

After we decided on Timnie we completed the new business incorporation process (with some bumps along the way). Hooray! The company was created and it was ours! Unfortunately, our feeling of elation would quickly disappear. Our next step was to buy our domain name, “www.timnie.com.” This might be a good time to mention that before we incorporated our business we checked that no other business existed with the same name, and that www.timnie.com was an available domain name. To our surprise,  when we tried to buy the domain name  it was already taken! How could that be? What a head scratcher. Not only was the site unavailable, but it was up for sale by its owner at an exorbitant price of over $1,000. For reference, the standard new domain name purchase price is around twenty bucks. So I did a little digging.

I found out that our domain name was actually purchased the day we incorporated our company. How suspicious. I was worried that someone leaked our name to some rogue organization that takes domain names hostage. I asked around. I asked the incorporation company if they knew why our domain name was suddenly occupied, but this seemed to be the first they had heard of our domain name situation. After some more searching and asking around I finally found the answer. It turns out that there are “cyber-squatters” companies out there. These cyber-squatters make it their business to wait for someone to incorporate a new business. They then quickly check to see if the domain name is available and if so, they purchase it right away with the assumption that the new business might at some point want to purchase their domain name. . After that they put the domain name up for auction so that the new business can buy its domain name from them at a much higher price. This is how they profit. Unbelievable! We learned a good lesson. Luckily for us, we decided to purchase http://www.chimneyroommates.com before anyone else could. So folks, be aware of those cyber-squatters and make sure to purchase business domain names before incorporating new businesses.

How NOT to Incorporate a Business

Marian and I usually work remotely from different cities but earlier this year we reunited in Washington, D.C. to work on Chimney Roommates. One item on our agenda was to officially incorporate our business in Delaware. We understood that the first major step in incorporating a business in DE would be to obtain a DE address, therefore, we embarked on a road trip to Delaware to obtain a P.O. Box. The following is a glimpse into our journey.

Incorporating a Business: Ultimate FAIL

We faced traffic, sleet, and snow on our drive from D.C. to a post office near the DE border with the intention of opening a post office box for our company. We expected our drive to be slowed down by big rigs and construction, but we did not expect to find ourselves tailgating a horse and buggy going 20mph down a no-passing two-lane farm road. Welcome to rural Delaware.

Our thought was that once we walked into a post office with two valid forms of ID each, we would walk out with the keys to a P.O. box. Upon arriving at our destination, we learned about a mandatory weeklong P.O. box approval process. The logic that a person’s identity is reliably verified by confirming (via fax…) our home addresses according to our hometown post offices escapes me. But alas, there’s no arguing with the U.S. postal system.

There was nothing more we could do but drive back to D.C. and wait.

As expected of the U.S. postal system, we never received a call back from our post office friends in DE to tell us whether we were approved for a box. At the end of the week I called to inquire about the status of our application and learned that neither of our two hometown post offices had replied to our identity verification request. Thankfully some hand waving happened and I was told to come in the next day to receive our P.O. box key. Hooray!

After another long drive, this time solo and in blindingly heavy rain, I arrived in DE to pay the one-year fee for a P.O. box — cobwebs included.

Lesson Learned: Didn’t Need Road Trips After All

With the P.O. box key in hand, our next obstacle was to find out how to receive mail from our box without always traveling to DE to do personal pickups. We needed a third-party solution since the U.S. postal service does not offer mail forwarding for P.O. boxes.

On the drive back to D.C., I happened to pass by the office of an incorporation services company and inquired about any P.O. box mail forwarding solutions they might offer for businesses.

That office taught me two very important facts:

First, it is illegal to hire someone to pick up mail from someone else’s P.O. box.

Second, having a P.O. box in Delaware would NOT help us incorporate a business in Delaware.

Go figure!

How to (Correctly) Incorporate a Business in Delaware

The representative at the incorporation services company also taught me about the paperwork needed to incorporate a business in Delaware, which can be found online here. This handy form asks for the address of a registered agent in Delaware. A registered agent must have a street address in Delaware. A P.O. box is not a street address. Additionally, the agent we spoke to offered business mail forwarding at a yearly rate that was less than what it would cost to maintain a Delaware P.O. box.

Most importantly, the agent told me that her office frequently incorporates businesses in Delaware without requiring the business owners to physically travel to Delaware. At this point I did three things.

First, I apologized to my weather-beaten vehicle for unnecessarily bringing it approximately 400 miles closer to its final mileage. Second, I tried to block out of my mind all the productive things I could have been doing in the hours lost to unnecessary driving. Third, I drove back to the post office to try to cancel our brand new P.O. box ownership.

The final fact I learned on this journey is that once a P.O. box is opened, it is impossible to return it for a full refund regardless of how long it has been opened, and in our case, for less than two hours.

TL;DR: If you want to incorporate a business in Delaware, do not open a P.O. box in DE. Instead, hire a registered incorporation agent.

Chimney Roommates is Getting Started

Hello dear reader, and welcome to the first blog post by Chimney Roommates.

Chimney Roommates is the newest platform that offers a time-saving and intuitive approach to finding roommates, for free. Will Chimney Roommates be for you? Your answers to the following 5 questions will determine if our platform can serve your needs.

Does Today’s Roommate Search Suck? Let’s find out.

Question 1
Have you ever invested precious daylight (and nightlight) hours into narrowing down hundreds of roommate Ad’s into a small collection where YOU would be the PERFECT roommate?

Searching Roommate Ad's

Yes or No?

Question 2
Have you dedicated even more time to crafting delicate individual responses to the aforementioned Ad’s where you make your best case for why you are a perfect fit and thus the only logical roommate to choose?

Send roommate emails

Yes or No?

Question 3
Did you feel rejected because you only received a small (almost insignificant!) fraction of replies to your aforementioned outpouring of roommate-seeking soul and emotion?

Roommate Rejection

Yes or No?

Question 4
Was one of those replies a courtesy to tell you that the listing was no longer available?

Roommate Listing No Longer Available

Yes or No?

Question 5
When you finally traveled across bus lines and subway connections to meet your few remaining potential roommates, did you feel that you wouldn’t be a good match after all?

Bad Roommate Match

Yes or No?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then it’s fair to say that your experience finding roommates online has sucked. At Chimney Roommates, we’re building a FREE platform to make it suck less.

That’s where this blog comes in. This blog will not solely function as a marketing platform for Chimney Roommates (though we do hope that you will spread the word about us!). This platform is a startup and while starting this startup we have learned a lot. We would like to share what we have learned and are currently learning with you. And, if you have had similar experiences we would love to hear about what you did to get past some of the challenges we have had and are currently facing.

What have we learned about?

Startups
Despite the fact that we are in our early stages, we have already hit some bureaucratic bumps in the road (stay tuned for our post on how NOT to incorporate a company). As a public service, we feel the need to share these challenges and how we solved them (or how we think we solved them).

Technology
Prior to building Chimney Roommates, neither of us co-founders had technical experience coding web apps. We have managed to learn development at a reasonable pace and would like to share some web development tools we found helpful, as well as our own walkthroughs to some of the practical functionality we implemented into our web app.

Thank you for reading, and please stay tuned.

— Marian & Tatyana