Co-founder and CEO
Location / Year Founded / Industry:
New York City, NY / 2020 / Communication Software
What is OneRoof:
OneRoof is the first social network for apartment buildings. The app connects neighbors in interest-based chat rooms, where they can talk and create community; buy, sell, and barter things; introduce their pets and kids; share resources; and gather at events.
Why it matters:
We are living in a loneliness epidemic, with more than 52% of Boomers, 71% of Millennials, and 79% of Gen Z feeling lonely. By focusing on the neglected social circle and support system of “neighbors”, OneRoof builds hyper-local social infrastructure and economies to create a sense of belonging at home—where people predominantly spend their time—for healthier and more resilient urban living.
Why you should care:
OneRoof is redefining how we live in our built environment through the densest network in the world. Over the next decade, residential buildings will be founded on social interactions, where the people are just as important as the space, where resources are shared, and asset value fluctuates multidimensionally, including social bonds.
When Selin Somez and Nikos Georgantas moved into their new apartment building in Brooklyn during COVID, they thought, What if we actually met our neighbors? How crazy is that? The serial entrepreneurs and designers, who were featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for Consumer Tech in 2022, quickly made a Slack group and snuck paper invites under each apartment door asking residents to join. “We realized we don’t know our neighbors, at what cost,” says Selin. “Our paper invites had an incredible turnout from complete strangers who were willing to break the ice over an app—as it is with dating!—to build IRL connections.” This test run built the fundamentals of what OneRoof, an app that creates resourceful hyper-local communities, is today.
The duo raised $1.35 million Pre-Seed from the likes of General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins, Script Capital, and others to build OneRoof, which connects neighbors in interest-based chat rooms, where they can talk and create community; buy, sell, and barter things; introduce their pets and kids; share resources; and gather at events. Since their launch in 2021, they have onboarded more than 40,000 active neighbors across 1,300 buildings in New York City and Miami, with other major cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Seattle, to follow. “More than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050—that’s over 5 billion people,” says Selin. “As more people make this transition, self-sustaining neighborhood communities are needed to create robust, well-balanced, and sustainable cities that are socially, culturally, and economically resilient. OneRoof is essentially creating the densest network in the world.”
In 2018, you both founded a travel tech startup called Knock Knock City for travelers who didn’t know where to store their luggage until their flight. How did this experience prepare you for OneRoof?
Selin: We know how to capture an audience and use tech to solve a problem. With Knock Knock City, we connected travelers with local businesses such as coffee shops, hotels, and clothing stores that had extra space to store their luggage for the day, and the business grew really quickly. We sold it 18 months after launch to a European competitor, three months before the pandemic hit. This success helped us understand the importance of connecting people to support each other’s life experiences.
Right before we sold the company, we got kicked out of our apartment because we were storing travelers’ luggage to meet our users and gather content for Instagram. Three days later, right before the pandemic, we moved to a new place where we didn’t know anyone. Despite being surrounded by hundreds of people in the same building, we realized we didn’t have a support system where we lived. It’s the most isolating experience to live in a big city. You can’t get the same value from connecting with people on social media that you can in a hyper-local environment.
We wanted to tackle this big opportunity—to create a network to make people feel not only more resourceful and have more fun, but also feel more supported at home, which is the most crucial place in someone’s life.
How does OneRoof work?
Nikos: Neighbors join OneRoof via a building code that is mailed to them. They’re then asked to answer a few questions about their interests—for example, if they have pets or kids—and we connect them to other neighbors in interest-based chat rooms where they can talk and create community. We recently launched an event feature based on feedback, it was one of the most requested asks from our users because they want to bring the online offline, which empowers the online. In the last month alone, neighbors have hosted more than 200 events in their communities.
How is OneRoof different from Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network platform?
Nikos: Nextdoor groups people by zip code, which in urban cities can include thousands of people. OneRoof communities, on the other hand, all share the same elevator; they have seen each other at least once in the past, somewhere in the building. This leads to a naturally healthy community—you know you’re going to run into your neighbors, you know you’re going to need them, ask something from them, or sell or buy something from them. Because of that, our communities are super positive. The more positive the community, the better the long-term retention, and the more in-real-life connections neighbors make.
Selin: Proximity leads to intimacy—the more you bump into people who live around you and the more recurringly you see each other, the better the community becomes. Neighbors are a neglected social circle, and we’re building a platform to connect them. We have already seen high levels of quality engagement with 54% of users returning to the app even after 6 months. OneRoof is a new standard of urban living—an essential.
Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where Kramer puts up pictures of each tenant in the lobby of their apartment building to create community? Before technology, he was trying to build OneRoof!
Selin: [Laughs] People are naturally curious about their neighbors and they want to find a way to say hello, but it’s very awkward to break that silence in person. That’s why the tech-enabled way makes it easier, giving people the motivation to meet in real life after they meet through the app.
I lived in five apartment buildings in New York City and never once talked to my neighbors in real life.
Selin: You’re not the outlier. That was the norm, before OneRoof.
Why is creating a hyperlocal community so important for our well-being, and how does OneRoof help to create self-sustaining neighborhood communities?
Selin: Data shows that 52% of Boomers, 71% of Millennials, and 79% of Gen Z are lonely. Neighbor relations are not just a way to really feel like you’re part of a community, but that you’re actually part of a social tissue that cares about you. Knowing your neighbors creates an immediate circle of intimacy, affection, support, resources, and exchange. This social infrastructure combats loneliness.
Additionally, being part of a hyper-local community can lead to collective knowledge, action, and power. For example, consumers play a significant role in combatting climate change, and with “home” being the place where one predominantly spends their time, OneRoof has the ability to organize people living in close proximity to reduce consumption by group purchases, and by sharing and repurposing everything from furniture and homeware to clothing and food. Neighbors can also use collective bargaining to lobby building management to switch to clean energy, provide compost bins, or install more EV charging stations. Lastly, the kind of hyperlocal community OneRoof is building leads to community resilience to alleviate the consequences of disasters and catastrophes by providing shelter, resources, and a support system. Focusing on local engagement and action.
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Can you tell me more about how OneRoof facilitates group purchases of consumables?
Selin: The future of CPG or e-commerce has to be hyper-local for the CAC to make sense—to be profitable and sustainable. Brands have struggled to reach a hyper-local crowd to optimize operations and save costs: they’re either going after commercial buildings like offices or landlord partnerships for group buying. For example, I’ve seen multiple grocery or product brands work with property managers to setup up promotional stands or vending machines in the lobby to get residents to order. It’s such an unoptimized process. This can all be digitized through OneRoof, where the app would support the full loop of a hyper-local social and commercial ecosystem.
You also mentioned community resilience. Can you give a specific example of how OneRoof could alleviate the aftereffects of climate disasters?
Selin: A good national example is the building that collapsed in Florida. During the aftermath, it was the immediate people surrounding that area that offered help. When there’s a crisis, an Uber driver won’t come over—you will rely on the people in your immediate circle. To give you a OneRoof example on a smaller scale, this summer we saw multiple building AC units malfunction. It was just too hot. In one building, a few ACs stopped working altogether and it was uninhabitable in these apartments. Using OneRoof, neighbors with unaffected AC units offered their couches as a place to crash until the building fixed the problem. We are already living in a climate crisis. In five years, the scope of these problems and the need for hyper-local community support will be much greater.
Switching gears for a moment: we know that 65% of startups fail due to co-founder conflict. As romantic partners, how did you decide to build OneRoof together and how do you delineate responsibilities?
Selin: There’s not a better CPO in the world than Niko—I’m lucky to have the talent sitting on the other side of the living room, so it made sense. Nikos designed the entire product. He project manages the developers, draws the product roadmap, and builds our web products. I’m on marketing and business development: hiring the team, having investor conversations, and steering our brand voice. Our founder partnership works because no one can understand the amount of work it takes to execute a startup, except another entrepreneur. Being on the same mission really helps keep our sanity intact.
Nikos: I can explain why we work so well together in one sentence. Selin makes stuff happen, I make stuff work. As long as your skill sets are complementary, [launching a startup with your romantic partner] can work really well. It comes down to being able to say, “Okay, this is my lane, this is your lane,” and then sometimes we meet to discuss.
Do you have any advice for other married co-founders?
Selin: Paperwork is very important. We went through a founder separation with a third founder in a previous startup, which was, by far, the most painful experience of my life. It taught us to be really upfront with terms, removing any kind of relationship. This is applicable whether you’re friends, colleagues, or together romantically. You have to be very clear about the consequences of any potential scenario, and having that papered is very important. It’s an awkward conversation to have, but it’s one that’s necessary.
Nikos: To keep a healthy relationship, overall communication has to be super clear. It would be very hard to have a co-founder who lacks communication—they have to constantly be able to explain and communicate how they feel, so the other person knows to offer a solution, or suggestion, or to stay quiet [laughs].
What was your fundraising process like? We know that only 2% of venture capital goes to female founders, but that number is slightly higher for companies with a male co-founder.
Selin: It’s a very complex question. The perspective is bittersweet; I generally try not to victimize myself for being a woman, but there are real consequences of, for example, not having the same tone as a man—a thicker voice comes with a more authoritative perception. The venture market is looking for that male speech, and to fit in that bucket you have to pitch like a man. The patriarchy has framed the perception of what success looks like and, as a woman who speaks with more realism, truthfulness, or humbleness, it can be harder for people to take your pitch—and the opportunity you are presenting— seriously.
What were your learnings along the way?
Selin: Mentors are important! Alexia Bonatsos, the former Tech Crunch co-editor, is an investor in OneRoof and I feel as a personal mentor for me. She’s seen a lot of pitches! Having her support through this journey helped me to zoom out and readjust. We need more mentors in the startup world.
Nikos: I have personal mentors in the product space as well. It’s extremely helpful to have extra perspective and learnings on how things scaled, how roles changed, and how the storytelling around the product changed. From a product standpoint, it’s helpful to see the path to success and the path to scale, it enables me to prepare for what’s to come. Mentorship is not a form of help, it’s a form of direction.
Where will OneRoof be in 5 years? What’s the big vision?
Selin: We are bringing the world’s largest social asset (community) together with the world’s largest asset class (residential real estate). Urban living has become more crowded yet more disconnected than ever. Residents’ voices are being silenced by operators and the only interaction that takes place is awkward eye contact in the elevator.
Connecting neighbors builds unity and empowerment, as well as a support system and a sense of belonging at home—where people predominantly spend their time. We believe that over the next decade, residential buildings will be founded on social interactions where the people are just as important as the space, where resources are shared, interests are aligned, and asset value fluctuates multidimensionally, including social bonds. OneRoof is redefining how we live in a connected, unified, and empowered way in our built environment.