Circle for Roommates: An App That Lets You Say Goodbye to Living with Total Strangers

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Distillery, working closely with our client, Circle for Roommates LLC, has helped design an iOS app that does exactly that. Circle for Roommates is the first social network for finding a roommate.

Imagine you live in a city where good apartments – and good roommates – are hard to find. Maybe you’ve just had to move out of a place that was pretty great… because your new roommate turned out to be pretty terrible. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if, next time around, you could make sure that your new roommate was someone you’d get along with? And wouldn’t it be even better if you had friends in common, so that you’re not even really “strangers”? Distillery, working closely with our client, Circle for Roommates LLC, has helped design an iOS app that does exactly that. Circle for Roommates is the first social network for finding a roommate.

The Circle team first approached Distillery in September 2015. They wanted to create a minimum viable product (MVP) that would showcase the app’s base structure and features to prospective investors. Working with Circle’s Eric Saleh and Dan Spalter under an aggressive timeline of only three months, Distillery developers Nabi Makhmudov, Maria Kulkova and Evgeniy Pavlyuk leveraged the open-source Parse service to help them quickly develop the MVP within the allotted time. (While Parse has since been shut down, we can use our own lightweight backend or other backend-as-a-service systems in a similar manner.)

Circle approached Distillery once again in April 2016 for a contract to begin development of the production version of the app. Working again under Eric and Dan’s direction, the expanded team – which over the span of the project included 10 Distillery team members (project manager Sophie Khansivarova; technical advisor Nabi Makhmudov; backend developers Artem Kolosovich, Denis Ilyukhin, and Ilya Medvedev; iOS developers Maria Kulkova, Eduard Mitasov, and Denis Shalagin; and QA engineers Andrey Dmitriev and Nina Zyuzina) and two additional members of the Circle team (designer Nicole Schmidt and backend technical advisor Darren Culbreath) – used an Agile/Scrum approach with two-week sprints to proceed with production. Working with an Agile mindset enabled us to flex our team and our processes to adapt continually to the client’s ideas and requirements. After experiencing some initial communication issues based on a mismatch of expectations, the team worked together to clarify the project goals and get things back on track. Every two weeks, the team provided updates and demoed the latest version so that Eric and Dan could provide feedback and redirect efforts where needed.

For the production version of the app, the team needed to make the transition from the Parse backend to a new backend written on Node.JS. The more powerful and customizable backend, used in tandem with Amazon servers, provided several crucial advantages, including faster response times, the ability to implement nonstandard functions, and the capacity to support a much larger user pool.

Over the course of development, Distillery provided several time- and money-saving recommendations, including leveraging existing technologies where possible (e.g., using PubNub, for which Distillery is a Certified Development Partner, for real-time messaging) and obtaining strong user feedback prior to release via Instabug. In addition, we pointed Circle toward a testing provider, Prefinery, that would enable them to limit their first user group, complete beta testing, and switch over to full release once testing was complete.

Circle for Roommates was released in the App Store in September 2016. The easy-to-use app uses your Facebook network to help you finding housing and roommates among your “friends” or “friends of friends.” You can list your own apartment and find someone to share it, find someone living in an apartment they’d like to share, or connect with a new roommate so that you can search for apartments together. You can also seek shorter-term stays or sublets.

Users create profiles with basic info, including likes and dislikes, lifestyle habits, and whether they have pets. The app works a bit like Tinder: if you “X” someone out, they’ll no longer appear as a potential option for you, but if both parties click the “C” button (C for Circle), you are announced to each other as a “match.” Then, the app’s private chat function allows you to get to know each other better, set up meetings, share photos, and discuss details. There’s also a newsfeed that lets you see your friends’ activity and updates.

At this time, the app is functional in both New York City and Los Angeles – notoriously difficult markets in which to find good housing and suitable roommates – but Circle is planning future expansion to other cities. The app is earning highly positive buzz, so as their user network continues to grow, their geographic footprint will follow suit.

With ongoing maintenance needs and continued development on the horizon, the Circle team has engaged Distillery for yet another contract. On a monthly basis, they provide us with a list of desired changes (e.g., new features for the app or the admin panel) or issues to remedy, and we help them make sure the app’s UX stays bug-free and their ~13,000 users stay happy.

We’re thrilled to continue to be a part of Circle’s success story. And next time we know someone trying to find a good an apartment or roommate here in Distillery’s home base of Los Angeles, we’ll know exactly which app to tell them about.