“Who’s getting toilet paper this month?”
It’s an intra-apartment quibble that never abates — and one that Lawerence Shorter is all too familiar with.
“When I moved to New York years ago, I found a roommate online, split the bills,” Shorter said of going the “traditional” route. “And there were the normal headaches: I remember being like, ‘I’ve bought toilet tissue for the past two months. I'm not doing it this month.’ I literally had a roll under my bed purposely to teach a lesson.”
Common, the co-living startup where Shorter serves as a senior leasing specialist, aims to alleviate some of those stress-inducing banalities. Founded in 2015, the startup counts nearly 2,000 members across seven markets — including New York, Los Angeles and, most recently, Philadelphia — who are beckoned by the prospect of comparatively cheaper living in well-appointed spaces where utilities, furnishings and other details (think: vetting roommates through background checks and finding a replacement when they leave) are handled.
Common’s growth goes hand-in-hand with industry expansion. According to a report by commercial real estate firm JLL, the number of co-living bedrooms in 2016 was 923; by 2021, the number is projected to swell to 10,512. The outlook recalls what Common product manager Will Kahn — who first cut his teeth on the leasing side — describes as reduced “skepticism” of the idea itself.
“Over the three years that I’ve been here, the skepticism around co-living has gone way down,” Kahn said. “And the name recognition for co-living as a concept in general — and, specifically, for Common — has gone way up, which has been really exciting and validating to see.”
“The name recognition for co-living as a concept has gone way up.”
The team recognizes, too, that they haven’t introduced an entirely new concept, but rather are iterating a system that’s long been in place.
“We’re not fundamentally changing the way people are living together — we’re improving the way people are living together,” Kahn said. “It’s taking the roommate experience, which we’re all very familiar with, and we’re just removing the pain points.”
CJ Cintron, a senior manager on the property services team, offered a similar comparison.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel — we’re just making it better,” she said. “Not only for us, who are actually doing the work but for our members.”
For Kahn, Shorter and Cintron, helping pen the next chapter of a still-nascent industry means moving at a fast clip, soaking up new knowledge and tackling the types of challenges that open doors to continued career growth.
Who or what has facilitated any growth that you’ve experienced at Common?
Kahn: What helped me understand my next career steps was the mentorship I received from my then-boss and the head of digital product. Talking to them, I recognized that I enjoyed this aspect of the work that I was doing. I actually took an introduction to product management course at General Assembly, which Common paid for. It was a good intro to this new world.
Shorter: When you join Common, they actually set you up for in-person tours of our homes here in New York City. From that tour, I kind of knew that I could do this. Almost about a year later, I brought it up to my manager and she helped make it happen. The team made sure I got the training that I needed. I had no experience, but they really believed in me.
Cintron: It’s important to take that first step, say what you want to do and work with your managers. Every team is open to bringing in someone new, or transitioning or transferring within the different teams.
For people who have changed roles, the common theme is busting your butt and working really hard.”
What speaks to the disruptive nature of Common?
Cintron: Having centralized teams within Common is what makes us efficient and successful. When an onsite management team is doing everything from A to Z, a lot of things can fall through the cracks. When you have one person who’s responsible for answering leads, touring renewals and answering work orders, that’s a lot to put on someone. We’re able to focus on what we specialize in.
Kahn: Centralizing and increasing operational efficiencies through technology is something that really sets us apart. Because we have people who have been part of this industry, know what to look for and what to guard against, it’s great to have that really fast feedback loop. It brings that exciting startup energy to an industry that, if you ask most people, is sort of back in the Stone Age.
Shorter: We encourage community, but don’t force it. It’s one of the things that people love. Also, there’s a lot of other co-living companies that don’t do furnished living and there’s some that do. Common really does a great job with that — our spaces are thought out.
What type of person thrives at Common and in the co-living industry?
Cintron: Someone who’s not afraid to say, “I think we need to do things a little bit differently, and these are the reasons why.” I don’t think anyone in the company has ever said that and someone’s like, “No, we’re not doing that.” It’s “let’s see how that works.”
Kahn: For people who have changed roles, the common theme is busting your butt and working really hard. In property management, there’s so much minutia. It can be tempting to say “Why am I doing this? This isn’t my job.” Nobody at Common says that. There’s no task too small because everybody’s pulling in the same direction.
Shorter: You need to be a person who’s open to joining the team and putting what you have on the table as well. We all bring different experiences and it’s great to see it all come together. In order to join this team, be willing to add to the conversation.
How do you see yourself growing at Common?
Cintron: I love the day to day of property management, but my goal is to transition into an asset manager role, which is more owner-facing, talking about financials and the budget. It’s an opportunity to improve what I already know.
Kahn: I’m looking at how we can grow and scale the team while still staying close to the product and understanding the day-to-day needs of our employees. Also, we want to make sure that we’re hiring aggressively while still keeping that nice, homey culture that makes Common so special.
Shorter: I’m working on leveling up to where I can have people under me and give them the same opportunity that I had to step up. Then I could move on to manage leasing or those sort of things. If I’m like, ‘This is something I'd love to do,’ I think that Common would help me get there.