In 2016 whilst solo-travelling across Canada I built Trausing—a platform for match-making tenants with home owners in cities with high competition.
This was my first taste of building a great solution for a genuine problem with excellent user feedback. Within ~24 hours of launching I had over 300 people sign up. It was even featured in the media.
Where the idea came from
The idea came to me from watching others at the hostel in Whistler. People were spending literally hours a day browsing classified ads for housing.
There was so much competition you'd have almost no chance if you weren't one of the first few applicants. This was because property owners were swarmed with dozens of applications the moment they listed their home, so they'd only bother considering the first few people.
This forced people to browse classified ads for literally hours every single day, refreshing the page and applying to whatever came up regardless of whether it was relevant.
I thought it was insane and realised this was an obvious opportunity for an elegant solution. I was surprised nothing had been done about it.
From brainstorming by myself and with others in the hostel I came up with a simple solution:
- Tenants sign up, add a basic profile about themselves, and fill out a housing application form with their requirements.
- Landlords can easily filter through a list of hundreds of prospective tenants and call up the most viable candidates, bypassing the need for sifting through tons of irrelevant applications.
Building the site
Although I was travelling I couldn't help but work on this—even throughout the ski season.
Building the site took me about 2 months total. I worked on it in my spare time at the hostel on my tiny 11" MacBook Air.
Throughout the development process I sought feedback from friends and people in the hostel. As a result the final product was an impressive, fluid user-experience. It ended up taking users only a few minutes to sign up and apply for housing, in stark contrast to the monotonous hours they'd spend daily on alternatives.
First, users land on the home page. It contains a succinct explanation of what Trausing is, how it works, why it's awesome, and a relatable story on why I built it:
They'd then sign up:
Fill out a form with some basic details on themselves for landlords to evaluate:
Fill out a short housing application form to match them with relevant homes:
And that's it. Once the form is completed users get notified if a landlord is interested instead of wasting hours a day refreshing the page on Craigslist.
In terms of technology I used what I knew at the time: Django, jQuery, and PostgreSQL on a $5/m DigitalOcean VPS. It worked great for quickly smashing out a MVP.
Getting tenants was the easy part because it was addressing such a huge pain-point for them.
Initially I went around the hostel and pitched what I'd built to everyone. People were impressed and mostly signed up on the spot because it only took them a few minutes. I also made a poster to advertise the site and the hostel staff were happy for me to pin it on the wall.
This amounted to about 80 users if I remember correctly. So the next day I shared the site on the Facebook group for Whistler's community. I wrote a short, relatable story for why I built it and the problem it addressed.
People loved it. I deleted Facebook a while ago so I can't remember the stats, but it had something like 300-400 likes and 100-200 comments. In total I ended up reaching about 350 sign-ups from this.
After that I figured I'd pitch it to the local paper. I called up the Pique magazine and told them what I'd built. The journalist was impressed and delivered a write-up about a week or something later. I actually didn't get much traffic from this, so it returned worse than expected.
This was the hard part. I underestimated how difficult it'd be.
Despite having over 300 users signed up and looking for housing (which solved the chicken/egg problem), it was very difficult to find landlords.
Contacting landlords through listings was also ineffective, and if I recall correctly this was because they dismissed my message due to the amount of applications they were receiving.
I tried contacting the local council to get a list of home owners and their contact details, but if I recall correctly they weren't allowed to provide this.
It got to the point where I'd need to go door-knocking to get landlords on-board. Or perhaps there was something else I could've tried, but either way it would take a ton of time and effort.
Where it's at today
I wasn't willing to pursue it any further because the calculated ROI was small compared to the effort required to succeed. Alongside this I came to Canada primarily to travel, so I wanted to put it aside. But what underscored this was the fact I wasn't passionate enough about the project.
One might call these excuses, but for the reasons above it honestly wasn't worth it for me. It was better to set it aside and focus on my next project, perhaps picking it up again in the future if I ever wanted to.
I've considered picking it up again because the potential is there. Provided I'm convinced the ROI is worth the effort, and I can find someone willing to do the sales and marketing, then I'd be happy to work on the web development.