Skyline grads develop app to help household harmony
June 21, 2014
By Neil Pierson
New: June 21, 2:30 p.m.
Bill Doerrfeld and Vineet Rastogi are intimately familiar with the typical college-student conundrum: How do you maintain peace with your roommates?
Doerrfeld and Rastogi graduated from Skyline High School a year apart – Doerrfeld in 2009, Rastogi in 2010 – and both earned their undergraduate degrees this month from the University of Washington. They’re hunting for jobs, but they’re also hoping to turn an ingenious idea into a possible money-maker.
With the help of fellow UW student Andy Fu, Microsoft engineer Karson Miller, and professional financier Charlie Ranahan, they’re trying to turn their dreams into reality using Kickstarter, a popular online fundraising platform.
They’re trying to raise $20,000 by June 25 – an amount they were well short of last week – but plan to move forward with their mobile phone app, Harmoney, regardless of the results.
The idea for Harmoney was largely melded between app co-founders Doerrfeld and Fu – the former wanted a way to coordinate rent and household expenses with his roommates; the latter was looking to streamline chores with his.
Doerrfeld found the typical bulletin board in a house with five to 10 roommates wasn’t getting the job done because no one paid attention to it.
“So we had this idea in the back of our minds: It’s like, people are at their phones constantly,” he said. “They’re being notified for all these different apps or social networks, so that kind of spawned this idea.”
Doerrfeld, who earned a degree in English, was enrolled in a software entrepreneurship class last fall when he met Fu. They shared their thoughts, and began looking for ways to grow them into reality.
Rastogi – who majored in business administration and entrepreneurship – joined up during the winter as the group’s marketing strategist. That’s where Kickstarter came in, since the students couldn’t afford many promotional materials on their own.
The Kickstarter campaign began May 16, shortly before the Harmoney group landed Miller as its developer. Miller has worked for multiple Fortune 500 companies, and specializes in security and networking through the Apple iOS system.
When the others met with Miller for the first time, they were caught off guard – in a good way. The software developer already had a working model of the app to show them.
“We were an hour-and-a-half into the discussion,” Doerrfeld said, “and we thought we had done everything … And then, out of the blue, he’s like, ‘You want to see it?’”
Harmoney is designed to deal with several common problems among roommates, namely communication, cleanliness and finances.
The app allows users to assign chores on a calendar. When someone completes a chore, they can share a photo of it, and others can reward them with “hearts.”
“A lot of the time when you’re in a house and people are actually doing chores, the chores go unnoticed,” Fu said, explaining the app can give “a sense of acknowledgement” between roommates.
Harmoney is synchronized with Venmo, a mobile banking service, to provide a central payment system. The app connects to individual debit cards and bank accounts to easily split utility or rent payments.
The calendar function can also alert roommates to a landlord visit, something the Harmoney team believes is useful because property owners commonly communicate with only one person per house.
Before going to Kickstarter, the group had already done several local promotional events, pitching it around the UW campus with an official student organization devoted to technology start-up companies, as well as four “Hell Night” events with one of their professors.
“All these start-ups come together and they have to pitch their idea really quickly to all these investors walking around with fake money,” Doerrfeld explained.
Although they may not reach the $20,000 mark by their deadline – meaning they won’t get to keep any of the money pledged – the group isn’t getting discouraged.
They’ve found about 100 beta testers who’ve tried Harmoney and intend to use it. They’ve garnered 500 “likes” on their Facebook page, and they hope to use that to get the attention of people with deep pockets – venture capitalists, angel investors and business incubators.
“We kind of look at Kickstarter as way to approve a concept with the number of backers and how much support that we get,” Fu said.
“But at the same time,” Rastogi added, “it would be nice to have some funding to branch out, because there is so much more we could be doing if we had the funding for it.”