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Google employees quit to launch a start-up that makes moving, and renting, cheaper

Soho, Manhattan
Alexander Spatari | Getty Images
Soho, Manhattan

When Julia Ramsey, 31, moved to New York City in 2007, she ran into a problem many New Yorkers have faced: Finding an affordable apartment.

"I had moved a bunch of times and it was just agonizing," Ramsey tells CNBC Make It. She had to spend hours trying to find a good deal on real estate sites and then also had to pay an astronomical broker fee.

"I have no problem with an amazing service that costs a lot of money, but the thing that gets to me is low service and a ton of money," she says. "The process where you've already done all the research, you know exactly what apartment you want and you still pay the broker $5,000 or so — that's a broken system."

Julia Ramsey, CEO and co-founder of Joinery
Courtesy of Joinery
Julia Ramsey, CEO and co-founder of Joinery

A couple of years ago, Ramsey found an apartment through a friend and the process was seamless: "I didn't have to pay any sort of owner or broker's fee. She put me directly in touch with her landlord and I took the apartment on the spot because I felt lucky to have a process that was so much less painful than the status quo.

"Then I started thinking: How can I actually scale this out?"

That's where Joinery comes in. Ramsey and friend Vianney Brandicourt, 33, co-founded it in 2015. At the time, Ramsey had been working at Google for seven years. Brandicourt had left Google by then and was the senior product analyst at Foursquare.

"We both had amazing jobs," says Ramsey, who originally met Brandicourt at Google. "But the start-up world is so competitive and it's pretty impossible to do it part-time. In order to give things [at Joinery] a chance, we really felt like we had to take the plunge and just go for it."

Vianney Brandicourt, COO and co-founder of Joinery
Courtesy of Joinery
Vianney Brandicourt, COO and co-founder of Joinery

Joinery, which is currently available only in New York City, connects apartment hunters with tenants who are moving out.

If you're moving in, you can browse the site for listings, schedule viewings with departing tenants and move in without paying a steep broker fee. The most you'll pay to the outgoing tenant is half a month's rent. That's not bad, considering the typical broker's fee is 15 percent of a year's rent.

Since the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City is $3,680 a month, a 15 percent broker fee on a typical one-bed would cost you $6,624. That's especially significant given that 61 percent of older millennials, those aged 25 to 34, have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 41 percent have nothing at all.

"Your median New Yorker is already spending 65 percent of their income on rent, which is staggering," says Ramsey. "Not to say that this company is going to magically get rid of that burden, but we can mitigate that somewhat by not having people spend thousands every time they have to move. When you add that broker fee on top of all of your housing costs, it's a lot. It really is a tax on moving. It's a tax on your freedom to live in places that you want to."

"When you add that broker fee on top of all of your housing costs, it's a lot. It really is a tax on moving." -Julia Ramsey, co-founder and CEO of Joinery

There's incentive to list your apartment on Joinery too: If you fill the space, you get paid.

"There's a price ceiling," Ramsey explains of Joinery's service fee. "We didn't accidentally want to replicate the astronomical cost of brokerage. The model is flexible: If you're moving out of your apartment, you can charge up to half a month's rent. A lot of folks charge a couple hundred bucks."

Joinery earns money by taking a 20 percent commission on top of whatever the tenant chooses to charge, says Ramsey: "It's proportional to the cost you're paying."

Since leaving Google a year and a half ago, "my day-to-day is completely different," says Ramsey, "and challenging in a very different way than my job at Google was."

There are certain things you don't necessarily think of when starting a company, the CEO says, like health insurance: "Going from the cadillac of health insurance at Google to having to navigate our healthcare system was shocking and really eye-opening."

Plus, legal costs were "also shockingly high," she says. "You have to think about the costs of incorporating, negotiating term sheets, filing trademarks and the like."

Her top advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Save big before starting.

"I would recommend calculating and saving for two years or so of expenses," Ramsey tells CNBC Make It. "The amount you can save will greatly affect your odds of success."

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