A 23-year-old entrepreneur is taking his flatting finance software to the home of the most famous roomies of them all
Even the grottiest, mouldiest, most ant-and-rodent infested student flats have one. The responsible one. The ‘flat accountant’: the flatmate who keeps the landlord out of your hair and off your faintly urine-and-beer smelling doorstep with their careful management of the rent and finances.
But for anyone who has been this person, you’ll know it is a drag. And for those who haven’t – well, were you really ever sure you got your share of what was left on the flat card at the end of the month?
Now 23-year-old Christchurch entrepreneur George Smith has co-founded a solution and has his sights on the US, the home of those most famous roomies of all.
GlassJar is an online platform that helps flatmates organise their flat finances with ease and transparency. It recently received $300,000 in funding, and Smith is currently scoping the US market for expansion.
The startup initially aimed to take the burden off the “flat accountant” who is always saddled with counting the pennies, Smith says.
“One of our best marketing lines was ‘stay mates with your flatmates,’ and I think [friendship] is the essence of why people live together, ‘cause you can stay at home with your parents for cheaper.”
The company was founded by Smith, former flatmate Duncan Keall, and friend Matt Galloway in 2013 after their own flatting experience had them realise a need to make flat finances simpler.
It works by allowing a flat to sign in and see exactly where all payments are coming from and to, and what has been spent on the flat card.
While the platform is currently free, GlassJar’s future revenue will come from monthly subscription fees and ad revenue.
From the get-go, the company has set its sights on breaking into the American market, and have been strongly supported to do so by investors.
Smith has been in San Francisco for the last month networking, couch-surfing and talking to people in flatting situations to find out how their needs differ from your average Kiwi flatties.
“The US is quite backwards, but a cool opportunity for us,” he says. “The payment of rent is still dominated by monthly cheques which we see as completely archaic…it’s like NZ in the 60s.”
George Smith in Times Square
Since launch in April this year, GlassJar already has over 1000 flats using the platform to transact more than $3.5m, with customers in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.
Smith says the company got their break when they were selected for the Lightning Lab Accelerator program in March, run by incubator Creative HQ.
“Lightning Lab is when GlassJar really started sprinting. We learnt so much and we were able to really start scaling the business.”
At Creative HQ the team underwent intensive development and training, eventually pitching to a room full of potential investors on Demo Day, where they secured the initial $300,000 investment in pre-seed funding.
The money is going to the team’s limited salaries, travel and marketing to take GlassJar to the United States, where Smith is now based.
“Once we do finally close this investment round we’ll get the rest of the team over here and base ourselves here near full-time,” Smith says.
GlassJar will be opening up a seed-funding round in three months and hopes to secure US-based funding of $500,000-$2m.
Smith says the young company has already been on a startup rollercoaster ride.
“I read an article a year ago about startups, and how one day you feel absolutely amazing, and the next you feel like absolute shit, and nothing’s changed,” he laughs.
Smith says one of the biggest lows was when the company came second in a university competition they had “worked [their] asses off for”.
After waking up the next day with hangovers, the boys flew to Auckland and ended up making one of their most valuable and unlikely relationships – with NZ Post.
“NZ Post is New Zealand’s oldest and most cumbersome company, but the digital team within it is a pocket of gold and full of amazing people.
“We got a lot of mentorship from those guys, they connected us to a whole heap of other businesses,” Smith says.
Smith always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
In seventh form at highschool, he started BeanLab with his friends, a company that delivered customised coffee beans.
Then at university, Smith started Gradvids, built to deliver customised graduation videos online through Facebook.
However, the Christchurch earthquakes changed the climate for the product dramatically.
“After the earthquake struck, our university courses changed entirely, and it was no longer feasible to do it in an environment where our studies had completely changed and the city around us was destroyed,” Smith says.
He says the third time is the charm for GlassJar.
“What I learnt from the previous two [startups] was: don’t do real amateur stuff at the start and give away all your equity and develop the company in a way you can’t grow,” he says.
“We’re definitely gonna stick at this one, ‘cause it’s awesome.”
This story originally appeared in Idealog.