William D’Arrigo and his three business partners noticed over the course of their college careers that finding a sublease was a chore for college students even before COVID-19. After struggling to find an apartment for himself, D’Arrigo decided to create an innovative solution to the subleasing stress.
When scrolling through social media looking for postings, D’Arrigo decided that the way subleases are posted and located needed to change. As a way to facilitate the way students sublease their apartments, the app Zublease came to light.
“We’re just trying to make subleasing easy, convenient and friendly, because right now it’s pretty inconvenient and annoying,” D’Arrigo said.
The app, created by recent USF graduates — chemical engineering major D’Arrigo, marketing major Cremi Patel, information technology major Senthuren Sivarupan and information studies major Jaime Torres — provides a place for students to post sublease information and look for sublets instead of having to scroll through Facebook groups searching for listings.
Students can scroll through the app and see posts from other people, or post their own sublease information, according to Patel, chief marketing officer for Zublease.
“Zublease has filters as opposed to Facebook where you have to scroll through,” she said. “On Zublease you could say, ‘This is my budget, only show me the posts in this budget,’ and that makes our app easier.”
After developing Zublease in 2019, the app was released in August. While it only had a few posts at launch, it has grown to 15 posts in the USF area, and many posts have been added from other college towns in Florida, including the Orlando and Tallahassee areas.
Zublease is free for users, which was important to the four partners in their efforts to serve the college student population.
“Students are already struggling to pay living expenses and tuition and all this stuff and on top of that they have to worry about [things like subleasing] so [we wanted] to make this free for students,” D’Arrigo said.
D’Arrigo came up with the idea for Zublease in summer 2019 right before his senior year of college. He was attempting to find an apartment to sublease and had a difficult time finding listings.
“I didn’t even end up getting an apartment that way, I actually found a friend that just happened to sublease his apartment,” D’Arrigo said. “I was like, ‘Wow that would have sucked if I really needed to find one and I couldn’t.’”
D’Arrigo is a first-generation college graduate but a third-generation entrepreneur, following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps.
“My grandfather in Argentina had his own barber shop and my dad has his own web development business,” he said. “I think my family has always had this entrepreneurial spirit.”
As a first-generation student, D’Arrigo’s time in college gave him a place to take risks and learn who he was, both as a person and businessman.
“Throughout college I was really trying to find myself and figure out who I wanted to be in life,” he said. “Technology was always intriguing to me and something I wanted to do.”
Starting a company was exactly the sort of risk that D’Arrigo’s entrepreneurial background encouraged, so he knew he had to develop this idea.
“I’m just a person that has so many ideas and [Zublease] is a great way for me to express that,” he said. “I love living on the edge, I love learning new things and I love a challenge.”
Excited by the idea of starting his own company, D’Arrigo approached Torres at a party for graduating engineering students and asked him to help bring the idea to life.
“We were bouncing ideas off of each other and [D’Arrigo] gave this one particular idea and I was like, ‘This sounds very good, it’s very niche and I feel like this could be a potential company that could work,’” Torres said.
Torres is now the chief financial officer of Zublease, and the two brought on Sivarupan as chief technical officer quickly into the creation process. The three got along well, and Zublease was promptly developed. The majority of planning and brainstorming occurred inside the USF Library at the Tampa campus.
“We used to be there for a few hours every week or every couple of weeks just bouncing off ideas,” Sivarupan said. “Then when COVID-19 hit we had to transition to … virtual meetings.”
The three decided they didn’t have enough marketing experience, so they hired Patel who knew all about struggling to sublease an apartment.
“I decided to post once about my sublease on Facebook groups, and nobody would reach out to me,” she said. “I got so desperate that I paid for a month’s rent, I paid for all the signings to use everything I was like, ‘Please just take it.’
As Zublease grows, all four of the team members continue stepping outside of their comfort zones and taking on tasks that they had never completed before. Each one has taken on jobs outside of the majors they studied in order to get their company off of the ground.
“Every one of my teammates is very special to me because they’re not scared to try anything,” D’Arrigo said.
The web version is set to be launched next year, and D’Arrigo said they hope to see the company continue to grow more than it has this year.
D’Arrigo said he hopes to see the risk they took in devoting time to a startup company pay off, and they encourage other students to take on new challenges as well.
“I think schools sometimes promote this notion that failure is terrible, you fail a class, and it’s all over and the end of the world, but that’s not true,” D’Arrigo said. “People fail all the time and companies fail all the time, and it’s normal, you just have to be OK with taking that risk.”