Would you store your stuff in someone else’s closet? This start-up is banking on it.
Now you can also make a little money on your closets, driveway and parking space.
Roost, a San Francisco-based start-up that expanded to the District last month, has connected more than 100 area residents with takers for their extra spaces. Among its clients: the ride-sharing company Zipcar, which uses Roost to secure parking spots throughout the city.
Jonathan Gillon, 26, a graduate of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., founded Roost two years ago when he was unemployed and making ends meet renting out his apartment on Airbnb and assembling furniture through TaskRabbit.
Today, the company has grown into Gillon’s full-time job. He has raised $2 million in venture capital and says he expects to be profitable by 2018. Revenue, now in the six figures, is growing 30 percent a month, Gillon said.
Among the listings recently on the site: Off-street parking in Dupont Circle for $350 a month and assigned garage parking in Georgetown for a monthly rate of $300. No storage spaces were available, but Gillon said those typically command about $1.75 per square foot. The site makes money by taking a 15 percent cut of each deal.
In many ways, he says Roost is an obvious offshoot of a new economic reality in which people are eager to make a quick buck any way they can. But there are also obvious hurdles — namely security and privacy.
Roost insures items for up to $1 million and encourages people to take photos of their possessions before leaving them behind. Gillon also cautions against stashing valuables in other peoples’ homes.
But, he concedes, there are risks.
“Trust is the biggest issue for us,” he said. “Everything we do with our software is built around that: Ratings, reviews, vetting hosts, offering insurance.”
Experts say more public rental spaces — a vacant storage facility, say, or parking spot — may be an easier sell than closet or attic space, at least initially.
“For something like parking, there is huge potential in the peer-to-peer model,” said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “There’s a shortage of it in pretty much every large city, and it typically doesn’t require using space inside someone’s house.”
But, he added, it wasn’t so long ago that the thought of sharing cars and homes with strangers seemed crazy. Today, Airbnb, Zipcar, Uber and Lyft are all booming businesses.
“Over the last 10 years, our sense of trust with strangers has gotten higher and higher,” said Sundararajan, author of “The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism.” “We used to be wary of these things, but now we’re getting into their cars and sleeping in their bedrooms.”
Gillon got the idea for Roost three years ago when his brother moved from Austin to San Francisco and needed a place to temporarily stow his belongings. Traditional storage facilities were too far away and most required a year-long contract, he said.
That got him thinking: What if he could find a way to bring together short-term renters with homeowners in their neighborhood?
Gillon put in $5,000 of his money to get started. His brother put in another $5,000, while his father, a lawyer who lives in the District’s Palisades neighborhood, contributed $20,000.
Eight months later, Gillon had a running site. But now he needed users. He went door-to-door in his San Francisco neighborhood looking for people willing to rent out closets, attics, basements and other unused spaces.
“It was basically me, with a glorified spreadsheet, running around the city knocking on doors, trying to find space,” Gillon said.
After he had secured about 100 rentals, Gillon caught wind of a local storage facility that was going out of business. For two weeks, he showed up to the facility with a folding chair, turkey sandwich and laptop, and spent six hours a day camped outside the building. Whenever a customer came in to empty a storage unit, he handed him a flier for Roost.
He was able to rent 30 units that way.
Today, he has helped find renters for more than 2,500 storage and parking spaces in the Bay Area. Among Gillon’s investors are NewGen Venture Partners (which contributed $200,000), 500 Startups ($100,000) and ChinaRock Capital Management ($50,000.) The company has eight full-time employees.
This is hardly Gillon’s first venture. His first four — ideas he came up with during his time at Lehigh University — fizzled within months. They included a line of indoor socks and Terra Water, a nutrition-packed bottled water.
Gillon, for his part, makes $75 a month renting out a hallway closet to a neighbor who uses it to store books, Christmas decorations and a snowboard. He is also a paying client, shelling out $250 a month to rent a parking space in an apartment building near his office.
Zipcar, which uses more than 1,000 parking spaces in the Washington area, rents four spaces through Roost.com, according to Forrest Neilson, general manager of the company’s Washington office. The ride-sharing company typically partners with private companies and residents, as well as public agencies including the District Department of Transportation to rent parking spots.
“We’re continuously working to find the most convenient parking spots for our members,” he said. “And Roost is one way in which we are able to identify optimal locations right where our members live.”
Nolan Rodman, 26, makes $300 a month renting out a parking spot on 14th Street NW to Zipcar.
Rodman, a manager at his family’s business, Rodman’s Discount Gourmet, originally posted an ad on Craigslist asking for $300 in exchange for his parking space. But days passed without any replies.
Then he got a call from a Roost representative. Within a week, his parking spot had been rented out.
“Coming from someone who’s really busy all the time and doesn’t have time to deal with showing people the space and collecting checks, it’s really nice,” he said.