Finding a roommate and a place to rent can be uncomfortable, difficult and frustrating, especially for single women living in large cities. In response to this reality, two BIPOC women are aiming to make these tasks simpler and more reliable, while also creating a community.
For people who don’t know, tell us who you are and what you do.
Both: We are Sheryl Song and KD Dao, the Co-Founders of Ryna. Ryna is a co-living and apartment rental platform that we started in January 2020. We are located in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and our goal is to make the renting process easier and safer for women.
S: I grew up in China and immigrated to Canada to attend the University of British Columbia, then relocated to Toronto in 2014 for work. Looking for housing as a single woman is always a huge challenge, especially since this is an industry that has been dominated by men, meaning women’s experiences are overlooked. When young working professionals or students are looking to rent, most of them can’t afford to live alone because of high rental prices. As a result, most people start looking for places on Facebook marketplace, which is always a messy process. When it comes to finding roommates, some rely on Kijiji, which means you’re only interacting with strangers which can be very uncomfortable. These are all struggles that I had personally experienced before.
K: I joined Ryna full time in March of this year. I previously worked in a real estate investment job and I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. Even though I am from the GTA, I wasn’t ready to live alone. When I was looking for a roommate, I didn’t have anyone to live with and I wasn’t comfortable with going on Facebook marketplace or Kijiji. This made me realize that even though I’m from Toronto and have friends here, I still faced challenges with the renting process. This drew my attention to how hard it must be for people who aren’t from here and don’t know anyone. I recognized that renting for single women is not just a Toronto problem, it’s a global problem, which convinced me to leave the corporate world and do something that I am more passionate about.
How does Ryna work? Can you break it down for us?
S: We partner with real estate developers such as mentor apartments. We don’t partner with individual landlords. If you are looking for a place to live, you can go to our website and fill out a questionnaire that includes questions like what city do you live in and what is your budget. From here, you can create a profile and fill out a roommate matching questionnaire that contains prompts like, do you smoke, what kind of music do you listen to, what is your personality like and so on. We will then match you with an ideal roommate and property. You can organize either a virtual or in-person viewing, and if you like the space, then you can submit an online application with income and credit score details. Then all that is left to do is sign your lease and move in!
K: Another great addition is that we have furniture-included packages you can choose from. In other words, the common areas are furnished meaning you can avoid having to split the cost of a new couch with your roommate.
S: During the pandemic, we did a lot of online webinars to teach tenants how to manage their money, plan their careers, invest and write their resumes. Our goal was to empower women to manage their own paths and live their best lives. Before Covid, we used to host weekly in-person events so that our clients were not only able to find a place to live, but also a community.
What, if any adversities did you have to conquer, and what do you attribute your success to?
S: We have definitely experienced some ups and downs with Covid-19. When we started Ryna, it was a landlord’s market and everything was very expensive. Then the pandemic hit and it became a tenant’s market. With borders closed, a lot of students went back home. This was a blessing in disguise because over those couple of months we learned a lot. A lot of landlords also started thinking more innovatively, so they were more willing to work with startup companies. More breakups also happened during the pandemic meaning there were more single women looking for places to live.
On a more personal note, I am from Shanghai and I was raised by a single Mother. I had to adapt and learn alot when I moved here, I didn’t even know how to open a bank account.
When it comes to my partnership with KD, we are very different in certain ways, which attributes to our success. We have a strong relationship and diverse skills. I am the entrepreneurial type and someone who is not afraid to take risks and aim higher to set big goals. On the other hand, KD is very practical, process-orientated and a good executor. We have been friends for 6 years so we have a deep level of trust and no internal disputes.
K: My family is also not originally from here since they came to Canada as refugees during the Vietnam War. As the oldest child, I had to mature quickly and my family taught me to have a strong work ethic. I went to Queens University then moved to Portugal, then to Calgary, and finally Toronto, so I definitely did the whole moving and roommate thing which is always difficult. Sheryl and I bonded over the mutual challenges we had faced as single women renting and living in the city, which inspired us to make the rental process easier for other women. I just recently moved to Ottawa due to our expansion, and I am now in the same situation where I don’t know anyone here, so we want to create the same Ryna community here in Ottawa.
S: 2020 was an experimental year for us to see what works and what doesn’t. This year was a growth year in Toronto, then Montreal, and now Ottawa. In 2022 we want to expand into other Canadian cities and eventually the United States. As of now, we have a team of 10 and all of them are young women in their 20s. We attribute a lot of our success to our young, fun and supportive team and how they are not afraid to try new things. As a result, we have managed to grow our revenue by 10 times this year. It has been a very exciting journey.
K: Not only do we have a young team, but also a lot of our friends are now in the stage where they have spouses or they are getting their own houses, so their generation is no longer our target audience. Our business is more directed towards Gen Z’s.
Is there anything exciting coming up that we should know about?
We are now located in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa! Our various partners have different properties across the three cities and they recognize the struggle women go through when renting.
How can we get connected and learn more about you?