Founder Spotlight: Selin Sonmez
Favorite leisure activity/hobby that has nothing to do with work?
Kite surfing. It’s a sport that has a really high level of community, I think because it takes a certain personality to be able to kitesurf. You have to love challenge, be flexible in adapting, and enjoy the water and nature. Only a few people have that, and when they do, they find each other. My favorite spot around New York is Napeague.
In your talks on design thinking, you have said the most important thing is finding the right problem and then looking at the root cause. How would you characterize the problem and root cause that prompted you to create oneroof?
The noticeable problem is that neighbors don’t interact in meaningful ways. We have a loneliness epidemic. According to research, 50% of boomers define themselves as lonely. That number is 71% for millennials, and 79% for Gen Z. While we call ourselves a social network, the mission of our platform is to build real life relationships to unify and empower people under OneRoof.
What did neighborliness mean to you growing up?
I come from Turkey, where people are very warm and known for their hospitality. If you need a bottle of milk right away and the stores are closed, you just go to your neighbor. If you have a kid and you need someone to watch them, you ask your neighbor. It’s so natural to ask your neighbor. But in more western or urban cities, I found that it’s not common to ask your neighbor for a favor. You don’t want to intrude on their space because you’ve never met them, or you find it very weird to be the one who breaks the ice. We want to challenge that, and give neighbors a tool to interact, discover, solve problems, help each other out, and have fun, too.
Can you share a favorite personal oneroof interaction or experience?
This summer, we went on a two week trip and needed someone to watch our dog. For boarding, it’s minimum $60 dollars a night. It costs a fortune to leave your dog for two weeks, plus, she doesn’t know them. So, I asked my neighbors, on OneRoof actually, “Would anyone be willing to watch our dog?”
Through our app, a neighbor replied, “Yeah, I would love to.” Then she’s like, “Oh, wait, if you’re leaving, what’s happening to your car?” I said, “Nothing. It’s just going to be on the street.” Then she asked, “Oh well, we were going to go to Fire Island. Can we borrow your car?” My response was “of course.” These are the relationships that really add value to our life. She saved us a ton. We probably saved her a ton. It’s a win-win, and an extra win for our pup too.
When did you have your first moment of success with OneRoof?
In our first prototype (MVP), someone in our building suggested that we all meet. It was during the summer of 2020, cases were low, we decided to do drinks on the rooftop. Before we met, I got social anxiety about meeting my neighbors. I was thinking, “We’ve been living in this building for two years. We have never met, but we all know each other’s faces. Imagine how awkward it’s going to be to finally meet properly after two years.”
I went in with a lot of skepticism. But when we started talking, we realized we had so many things in common. At first, it was building related topics and jokes. Then we realized we all go to the same sake brewery around the corner and dine at the same restaurants. It was such a fun night. We ended up staying for four or five hours till midnight. That was the click.
You’ve co-founded three teams with niko now – what makes you both such a strong and successful team?
We see things from completely different perspectives, yet we’re very complimentary in work ethics and values, which is what I think makes us a strong team. We have trust. After three companies, we figured out how to communicate with each other the best way too. I form these big dreams and say “Let’s go in that direction.” He’s like, “How are you going to design the steps to get there?”
What has it been like being part of the urban-x cohort? Was it hard being all-virtual?
It was great. It went way beyond what I expected. They were so hands-on. Partners, the core team and the Experts in Residence…They worked excellently as a team. They were really caring, too. It is important to enjoy the process, to enjoy the people you work with, to enjoy the minds that you collaborate with and to be productive in that environment – URBAN-X is excellent in that sense – it was so supportive.
What stage is OneRoof at now?
Since our launch in February 2021, OneRoof is now live in 395 buildings across New York City. We have over 12,000 active users, growing over 50% MoM. There are dozens of events formed and led by neighbors through our platform, to get to know each other better and have a good time. We closed our pre-seed round, have a 6 people core team and growing.
You also finished a funding round recently. What excited your investors the most about OneRoof?
What excited our investors the most is that there is no platform that exists like this – a social network for residential buildings – and how organically it sticks with people. We have strong traction, and have good signs of early product-market fit. People actively use OneRoof, they’re willing to keep using it after six or seven months, and we witness lots of community resilience. That’s what excites our investors and us as well.