A couple of disastrous co-op housing experiences were the inspiration behind a Capstone Design project that has developed into a startup company with the goal of ensuring students on work terms find decent and affordable accommodation.
PadPiper is an online site designed to help co-op students and interns find verified furnished housing.
“It’s a trusted safe place to find monthly rentals,” says Jack Forbes, a co-founder of PadPiper.
It was Forbes’ 2016 management engineering Capstone Design team who came up with the idea for PadPiper after finding it difficult to find suitable housing for themselves on co-op terms, especially ones in Vancouver and Silicon Valley.
“It’s an absolute struggle to find a good place to live,” says Forbes. “We sifted through a bunch of lists, including Craigslist and Kijiji, which weren’t very helpful.”
For their Capstone Design project, the management engineering students developed PadPiper’s proof of concept and came up with a solution they felt was a win-win for both students and landlords. Students are provided features for reviewing properties, names of previous student tenants, and more information such as transit options, while landlords are provided with a list of verified potential occupants.
“During our Capstone symposium, students told us that we had come up with what they needed,” Forbes says. “And the landlords who stopped by said they often have difficulty finding tenants and that PadPiper looked like a good solution.”
After graduating from Waterloo in spring 2016, Forbes tried to balance a full-time position while working on PadPiper.
Earlier this year, he left his job at Salesforce, a San Francisco-based cloud computing company, to concentrate on building his startup. PadPiper’s other two full-time employees are Zach Waterfield, a 2018 Waterloo computer engineering graduate, and Courtney Sabo, a graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Forbes and Sabo work out of San Francisco while Waterfield is located in Waterloo. Raman Molla, another original member of the management engineering Capstone Design team, works part-time for the company.
Inspired by personal experience
PadPiper is the type of site Forbes wishes was in place when he was a student looking for co-op housing.
After spending his first co-op term in Waterloo, Forbes spent his second working at a job in Silicon Valley. Unable to find appropriate housing for the term, he ended up living with family friends.
While he had a comfortable place to stay, Forbes found he missed out on “the true co-op experience,” including interacting with roommates.
Before the start of a co-op term Forbes spent in Vancouver he asked his sister, then a student at the University of British Columbia, to check out an apartment in advance of signing a short-term lease.
Although the apartment was adequate and the landlord seemed nice, Forbes and his roommate had a nasty surprise at the end of their four-month term.
The landlord kept the $3,000 damage deposit to repair a scratch in the floor that Forbes estimates would have cost a few hundred dollars to fix. He and his roommate took the landlord to small claims court and won their case against him.
On another co-op term, a landlord insisted that Forbes and his roommate clean the windowsills in their apartment with toothbrushes.
“We’re talking about an old basement that’s already not in great shape,” says Forbes. “There were other crazy cleaning criteria that we weren’t told about before moving in. We were definitely desperate for a place to live.”
To ensure other co-ops and interns don’t go through similar lousy housing experiences, Forbes and the other PadPiper employees personally check out rental spaces and rely heavily on word of mouth referrals from students.
Currently, PadPiper has 2,000 students from across Canada and the U.S. — many of those Waterloo Engineering undergraduates — signed up on its site. The majority of the over 200 rental postings are in the San Francisco Bay area and Toronto, both cities where students find it extremely difficult to find housing for four months. PadPiper recently added a new feature that allows students to pay their monthly rent through its site without incurring a service charge.
Helping build young professional communities
The company recently introduced its business to business (B2B) program PadPiper for Employers. Through the program, businesses pay PadPiper to match their co-op students or interns with suitable housing and roommates for their temporary relocation. This enables PadPiper to remain free for students.
“Our goal is to create communities of young professionals all over the world to make them feel at home, no matter where they are,” says Forbes.
Forbes, whose father Ian is a 1974 Waterloo systems design engineering alumnus, said he grew up knowing he wanted to enrol in engineering at Waterloo. During his five years as a management engineering student Forbes says “his eyes were opened to the many benefits of co-op education” and he now wants to promote work-integrated learning as much as possible.
“We thought housing is one of the first big steps since it is the one thing that often prevents students to consider co-op jobs that aren’t local,” he says. “It’s hard for employers too. A lot of co-op students decline an offer because they’re concerned about whether how they’ll find a place to live. Through PadPiper we want to make finding decent housing easier for everyone involved.”