Housing website founded by alumni sees rapid growth

By Hillary Crawford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 25, 2014

Each September, the stresses of a housing search kick in for thousands of University students. Cribspot, a startup that serves multiple universities, is aiming to make the hunt easier.

University alumni Jason Okrasinski, Tim Jones and Evan Dancer, each of whom graduated in 2013, decided to work on a solution to the housing problem they experienced year after year. Cribspot is an online aggregator that gathers and crowdsources a variety of options for off-campus housing. The website focuses mainly on the “mom and pop” landlords whose apartment spaces are more off the beaten path than larger property management companies.

In addition to allowing students to search through thousands of houses and apartments, the aggregator provides users with the option to pay for rent online with a debit or credit card.

The startup originated as a marketing project at the Ross School of Business, where students were required to engineer a product to alleviate an unsolved problem.

While Okrasinski and Jones quickly identified the college housing search as a stressful process that could be easier, developing a solution took some time. During their senior year, the team constructed a website called a2cribs in a course. By the time Okrasinski and Jones had finished the course removed the website it had received 40,000 hits.

After graduating, the founders pursued jobs and moved to different cities. After about a month, the trio decided to quit their jobs, return to Ann Arbor and transform an undergraduate homework assignment into a full-time occupation. The site officially launched as Cribspot in September 2013.

“The perception of startups has changed a lot so it’s a lot easier to take that jump,” Okrasinski said. “We’re young and we have the opportunity to do that.”

After working closely with venture capital firm Huron River Ventures over the summer, Cribspot raised $660,000 — completely funded by Michigan-based businesses and investors. Okrasinski said many of the funds would not have been acquired if it were not for the connections made with other startups in the area.

“It’s actually a really growing community of startups in Ann Arbor and Detroit,” he said. “There’s maybe a handful of startups, so it’s a tightknit community and all together, it’s just a really great place to start a business and really start to grow it.”

Cribspot has helped 56,000 renters — 15,000 of them local — find leases since September 2013, according to their website. The site has also shared 1,600 sublets submitted by its users.

Cribspot is headquartered in Detroit but has offices near 15 campuses including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Iowa, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin.

Though the company has spread past state boundaries, its leaders are trying to involve current University students interested in gaining business experience or launching their own startup. This past summer, the Ann Arbor office hired 10 interns.

“We try to stay open and get lots of students involved,” Okrasinski said.