Learning to solve real world problems is a hallmark of a Michigan education. Jason Okrasinski and his team of fellow alumni at Cribspot are working to solve a very real problem for students: housing.
“Helping students was our driving factor in creating Cribspot. We weren’t really looking at making a lot of money, and I don’t think that’s the focus now either,” CEO Jason Okrasinski, ’14, says. “The way we look at it, we are solving a huge problem, which is finding student housing. It’s really stressful, and one of the most taxing things a student will do during college.”
Jason leveraged his U-M network by interning at another Wolverine startup, SeatGeek. “I now credit that internship for where I am today with Cribspot. For three months, I was able to see first-hand what makes a startup tick.”
At its core, Cribspot is a search engine, like Google, but for rental locations. Jason and co-founders Tim Jones and Evan Nancer started working on this idea during a Ross Business School entrepreneurship class.
“We had to focus on a problem and solve the pain point. What we found was since college housing is so atypical from a normal rental search, it makes it very difficult to find a place since students are typically leasing 8 months to a year in advance of when they move in.”
“The business school was very helpful in us starting up, Zell Lurie provided a lot of resources … And I don’t think we would have been able to keep going without that.”
They tested their idea, creating a pilot called A2 Cribs. They garnered some success, but after graduation the team went their separate ways. Jason went to New York, while Tim and Evan went to San Francisco. When they had the opportunity to pitch their idea to investors, things changed.
“We quit our jobs two weeks later. Evan and Tim drove back from San Francisco only a month and half from moving there. I quit my job and drove back as well.”
The ensuing months saw Jason and company sleeping on couches and air mattresses, working to make their idea a reality. The team wasn’t without their doubts, however.
“For startups, nothing is clear cut. You can go in a million different directions and never know if that’s gonna work. You are always doubting yourself. We all have loans and we thought ‘Is this something we want to risk?’ We were giving up a sure thing for something that’s unproven.”
Since the air mattress days, Cribspot has expanded to six full-time employees, with as many as ten U-M students helping them in their Ann Arbor office space.
“We live by the mantra ‘Built by students, for students.’ We started this as college students. We’ve brought on tons of students to work on it since … We want it to be student-driven and to stay young at heart.”
Cribspot is currently at 15 schools, with an online rent payment tool now live and a mobile app set to debut in a few months. By the summer, Jason says they plan to expand to several more campuses and hire more full-time employees.