When Penn closed on-campus college housing for the fall semester, students frantically scrambled to find housing off campus. For four Penn students, the mad dash for housing exposed the decentralized and confusing process of finding an off-campus place to live.
To create a structured online resource for students to find and list off-campus housing availabilities, Wharton and Engineering seniors Dhruv Iyer, Amit Lohe, Liana Patel, and Catherine Wang launched Dormsy, which doubles as their senior design project.
“This is a problem that's been around at least for the past four years, and probably longer than that,” Iyer said. “COVID put so much pressure on the existing system, that it just made it obvious that we need something better.”
Dormsy, launched on Oct. 20, currently has more than 200 users and 15 active off-campus housing listings. On Dormsy, users can post their own listings as well as search for sublets based on location and filter searches by price. There is also a chat platform for users to communicate with each other.
“Dormsy is a structured, secure, and student-centric marketplace for college subletting,” said Iyer “We're really just trying to make this subletting market at universities easier to navigate and safer.”
Lohe said the team saw a need for a centralized location where students can list and find sublets. Currently, he said most students use platforms such as Facebook groups, group chats, or just word of mouth to find housing, which can be a disorganized process.
“You're at the mercy of the Facebook algorithm. It's very difficult to get traction,” he said. “If you're searching for something, it's really difficult to filter. You have to remember very specific characteristics about a post that caught your eye.”
Iyer added that currently popular subletting methods, such as Facebook posts, are susceptible to scams, which may make Dormsy a safer alternative.
Dormsy initially began as a Google spreadsheet the team launched in July, which proved popular among students looking for off-campus housing in Philadelphia.
“Once we saw the response from the student community after we made the Google Sheet, it inspired us to make a great platform that everyone can use easily,” Lohe said.
The team took down the spreadsheet in August and began working on the website to create a better user experience. Lohe said that some users found the spreadsheet difficult to navigate, and the team was responsible for collecting and uploading all of the listings.
Wang said that Dormsy has received a positive response from the Penn community since its launch.
“We are growing pretty fast,” Wang said. “We are pretty much doubling our users every week.”
All four Dormsy creators are in Penn’s Management and Technology program, and Iyer said it is helpful to have both a business and a technology perspective. He also said working on the platform through the senior design project has been helpful with time management.
“It's really nice because senior design gives us a chance to use one SEAS [credit] worth of time to build out this product,” Iyer said. “That's one of the things I like about Penn, just being able to take what you learn and build something that people want.”
Patel said the team is constantly improving the platform in response to user feedback. She added that the most meaningful part of working on the project is the excitement of seeing people utilize the site.
“There's some type of rush of actually seeing that the project that you've been working on is useful to other people,” she said. “Whenever we get an email that there's a new sign-up, we always text on our chat, like ‘Oh, my gosh, we got a new user.’”
Iyer said the process of creating Dormsy was exciting, but it continues to be a significant amount of work.
“It's a really interesting experience, just building something and releasing it,” he said. “Because what happens is — you work on something for a long time. And finally, you get it out there and people try using it and, you know, things break and people want new features.”
Lohe said Dormsy plans to integrate sublet payments into its platform by January 2021 in time for students to book housing for the summer. He said these payment transactions will be more secure and formalized than currently popular methods like Venmo.
“We found that a lot of students are interested in having a more secure way to pay in terms of a peer to peer transaction,” he said.
Although Dormsy is currently focused on streamlining the subletting process in the Philadelphia area, Patel said the team is looking to expand to other cities and be used by students from other universities. She said this would aid students looking to sublet for internships or study abroad.