back to benleejamin

Post-mortem: Ours

Startup #1: Rideshares, Errands, Subletting

Goal and Audience

What follows is a quick reflection on my first time cofounding. It was a startup called Ours.

This piece might be relevant if:

  1. you’re looking for more information about Ours.

I’ve also written a less structured narrative on my first two attempts at founding a startup. If you’re looking for something like that, you should read Prior Art.

The team

All four of us met at Nueva! Except for Madeline and Adrienne. They’re sisters.

  • Madeline Park, Columbia (c/o 2024)
  • Avery Chen, Wharton (c/o 2026)
  • Adrienne Park, Columbia (c/o 2027)
  • me, Brown (c/o 2024.5)

Of our team, Madeline and I were considered the technical co-founders. Madeline and Adrienne were the original two on the team, then they grabbed Avery, and then sometime later I came on board.

The needs

The startup-called-Ours went through a few different ideas. We’d been raised under Design Thinking and thus went needs-first (as opposed to product-first or vision-first).

The motivating factor was always social: how can we address practical needs via social solutions?

  1. Student airport rideshares: it’s around $150 to get between Columbia and JFK/EWR/LGA via Uber.
  2. General student rideshares: the ride to run an errand (groceries, train station, etc) also costs money.
  3. Subletting: it’s hard to find subletters/sublets that you can trust. Facebook Marketplace is so out.

Classic college startup ideas, I know.

What we built

Our aims were simple: to test that people actually had the problem we identified, and that our solution might actually be worth something. We saw these as tests.

  1. Student airport rideshares: a google form to match Columbia students with similar arrival times, sent out before/after breaks (when people travel). Matches sent out via text/email, I think. This was before I arrived.
  2. General student rideshares: a web app (react + node + firebase) where people could post errands and express interest in joining others.
  3. Subletting: a google sheet for people listing and looking for sublets, with name, contact info, location, school, price, etc.

How it went

  1. Student airport rideshares: from what I understand, this went pretty well! Again, this was before my time. Engagement was strong enough to get matches going, and users enjoyed meeting other students along the way. Of course, this problem was seasonal and pretty limited to breaks. We did not attempt to run this test outside of peak travel times, instead folding it into our next attempt:
  2. General student rideshares: this was rough. The app was pretty ugly and not entirely feature-complete; while that’s okay, it was missing notifications. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. The real issue: people don’t really need/want to ride with someone else for most errands. It takes too much time and energy for a very marginal reward. Everything else — ugly app, cold start, lack of viral mechanisms — is secondary to that. (Big mistake: committing to a full web app instead of doing even faster tests via lower-fidelity means.)
  3. Subletting: this went well! We got 500+ entries across 80+ schools, and people found sublets/subletters through our google sheet. Our competition (Ohana Student Housing Co being the big one) was trailing us. If we were more interested and more ready to commit, I think we could’ve continued fighting.

Cause of death

Ultimately, we weren’t ready to make Ours our first priority. The four of us decided together to move on to other things.


Learn about me / my values / my experiences. Comments are always welcome; feedback is a gift. I'm always looking for more reviewers, so let me know if you'd like to read my unreleased drafts.

back to benleejamin