“Hey, wanna start a business to help students find off- campus housing?”
When Sean Crowe sent that text to Thomas Gorczynski, neither of them knew it would take them to San Francisco for their final semester at Miami University. In fact, they didn’t even know that a few weeks ago.
Such is the life of an entrepreneur, and such is the life of Crowe and Gorczynski – a management information systems major and an electrical engineering major who decided to start a business in the housing market.
The journey that their business – Hutster – has traveled is much longer than the 2,500-mile trip from Oxford to San Francisco.
The city by the bay
Every spring, Miami sends a dozen students to intern at startups through the Armstrong Interactive Media Studies San Francisco Digital Innovation Center. This is the first year the university added a competition to send one student startup as well.
Students who aimed to take their business out west each submitted an application, and the chairs of the entrepreneurship and interactive media studies departments chose three to pitch their ideas to them. From there, the top two business ideas advanced to the final round where they pitched their ideas to Miami alumnus Ryan Graves.
Graves created the app called Uber, which is used by millions in over 50 cities for hailing, scheduling, and paying taxis, according to its website. He returned to Miami to judge this competition. Graves picked Hutster as the winning startup that would get to spend spring 2014 in the San Francisco RocketSpace office space in San Francisco. According to RocketSpace’s company profile, this is where Uber got its start, as well as another well-known company: Spotify.
There is a reason this place is known as a top-notch entrepreneurship incubator in the country.
Crowe and Gorczynski are thinking big too. Their goal is not only to solidify their business in the Oxford market, but to expand it across the country.
Gorczynski described their vision for San Francisco as simply, “we want to work our butts off and see what happens.”
The third result
Crowe got his business idea from his frustrating search for housing in June and July of 2012 between his sophomore and junior years at Miami.
“I Googled the heck out of ‘student housing in Oxford’ for weeks,” says Crowe as he sits down at his kitchen table and turns down the Pandora ‘Whispers’ station. “I couldn’t find any good information and the websites that I did find looked like they were made in the 90s. It just wasn’t a good user experience.”
So he decided to fix it.
“It’s such a stereotypical startup story,” Crowe says with a laugh. He starts to take a sip of the tea he just made with his tea-making kit.
“I didn’t see it as a problem. I saw it as an opportu– okay wow, that tea is hot.”
He took advantage of that opportunity. Within three weeks, he and Gorczynski surveyed students and talked to property managers, validating that other people saw the problem too. They had a business plan and a working website by the end of July.
Now, when you Google “student housing in Oxford,” Hutster is the third result.
“I remember high fiving when we walked out of the meeting.”
Hutster didn’t have to wait long to gain its first customer. Part of the new business’ revenue model was charging property managers to have their houses featured on Huster.com’s homepage. Crowe remembers the feeling he got when they signed their first client.
“I remember high fiving when we walked out of the meeting. It was so awesome to have someone believe in us at an early stage.”
Crowe and Gorczynski could have been content with what they had accomplished. Their business was up and running, their website was getting traffic, and word was getting out among property managers in Oxford about this new service. But to them, this meant the real work had just begun.
“You can’t fall in love with your solution to a problem that’s always subtly changing,” says Gorczynski. “We’re always looking to change our business model to accommodate nuances in the market. We’re very open to changing rapidly if we know we can do something better to solve the problem that we set out to solve.”
Crowe’s older brother, Justin, has seen the Hutster business adopt the characteristics of his little brother as he’s watched them both grow.
“He’s stumbled into an addiction of expanding his knowledge,” says Justin. “He’s afraid of boredom. Sean doesn’t just take advantage of opportunities – he puts himself in a position to take advantage of any possibility that comes his way. Maybe only 50 percent of those