Dustin digs deeper with Roompact’s very own Jong Youn this week to explore more of his role on the team leading our business development efforts. He talks about his background, how he discovered Roompact and how he works with institutions to improve their residential education programs with digital tools.
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- Jong Youn (he/him/his), Director of Business Development, Roompact
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So for members of the Roompact community or just avid listeners of the podcast, I’m sure, our guest today is a known element, but we’re going to be spending a little bit more time getting to know Jong and his professional background and his perspective on the Roompact story and a place in the greater higher ed and residence life world. Jong, if you want to introduce yourself and your professional background, and then we’ll get into the rest of our conversation.
Yeah. Thanks, Dustin. My name is Jong Youn. I’m currently the director of business development here at Roompact. I’ve been in sales, some role in sales since I was 19. Before Roompact, I worked at a company where we did corporate learning and development. So we did custom E-learning modules for compliance training for banks and pharmaceutical companies. Really it was a service company that I worked at.
I guess in the anniversary episode you were featured amongst the rest of the Roompact team reflecting and everything. I guess just to capture it here, I guess it sounds like we’re in a educational sales type of position. What, I guess, resonated with you about that, that brought you to Roompact or attracted you to Roompact in particular? Just anything that connects those dots.
Yeah, so my only residence life experience, I was an RA for a semester, so I was just ever so slightly familiar with residence life and housing. At the time, I think Matt was looking for a second salesperson at Roompact. I was also thinking about changing from selling services, I was interested in selling software. I’ve been familiar with Roompact since Christian, who was our former CTO at the time. I’ve known him since college. So I’ve been aware of Roompact for a long time. So I’ve had a couple of conversations with Matt. I felt like that was a good fit. I joined in October of 2018.
Really looking back at it now, you can kind of see Roompact in three different versions. The first version would be Before Forms, the feature. So if you’re familiar with Roompact, the software Before Forms was kind of iteration one. So when I was joining in 2018, that’s post forms. It’s been around for a year. So it’s a little bit more of a mature software that we had a pretty good foundation of clients. Now we’re in version three with Roompact Insights that was released last year. So looking back at it now, again, 2018 was at the beginning of that version two and felt like it was a good timing to join and invest in the company as well.
Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome. I definitely encourage folks to go listen to that 10th anniversary episode, which is an incredible milestone. Just if anybody works with or just knows of Roompact, it’s always cool to hear those reflections and the lore of any organization, everything. You shared some other reflections of the journey and everything so far, and I think it is interesting to know, I guess even just if that’s how you think of yourself internally and these pivotal moments and of how you all have evolved and continuously improved. I think that’s just such an admirable treat of you all is that it’s not just been the same thing that maybe has a fresh coat of paint every once in a while. There’s these core, deep, awesome functionalities that have come on the scene for you all and really resonated or made a pretty seismic shift and everything.
So we have a bit of your reflections to that 10th anniversary episode. So folks are going to check out that and we’ll have that linked in this episode’s blog post. You’re getting at, I guess my next question too of there’s these pivotal functions and things that have been built into the platform and really seem to have made a big difference. If it’s all those bits and pieces or anything, just generally philosophically of why do you think institutions pick Roompact? I think I always have seen it as a pretty unique organization amongst just ed tech in general and residents life, technology and everything. So yeah. Why do you think institutions pick Roompact?
I think whenever I go to conferences, people know Roompact from the resources that are out there. So Paul has put out a lot of information and resources on residential curriculum, whether it’s through our workbooks or through the blue books that now I think we’re on our fourth edition now. So a lot of folks know Roompact through the resources that we share, and it’s all free, and people appreciate that. Sometimes they’re just not in the market for software yet. What we want is to just share knowledge instead of, well, we share socks now, and that’s kind of our main swag. We like sharing books, and as Paul says, knowledge as our swag.
Looking at the software itself, it is unique. I think something that I say in demos all the time is before all the housing management system softwares that are out there, what were they using before? There’s probably spreadsheets and some public form or one thing or another, and here is this software that’s specifically for residents life. Think about the day-to-day work with your student staff members. Even in 2018, that was a foreign concept to a lot of folks. I’m trying to explain, “Hey, there’s a software for your RAs to use on a…” They’re like, “No, we have that. It’s spreadsheets.” So it’s really the simplicity of the software.
I think the flexibility of it as well. We also don’t modularize anything. So as a salesperson, I don’t have anything else to sell you if you get Roompact, which is good and kind of bad for me sometimes. It’s good because it’s simple, and it’s unique too. You look at any other softwares that’s in residence life and housing, it’s like, “Here’s the core thing and we’re going to try to upsell you this module, that module.” I think people get a little bit turned off by that.
Yeah, I think just a through line for all that, that you shared to me is just that goodwill ambassadorship, like you said, it’s just being of service. It’s sharing all these resources, being accessible, just being sort of, I feel like the energy that I always got was just very approachable, just very genuine and just it’s a lean team doing really incredible things. I think that’s also just some of the distinguishing parts of it where it’s just like you’re not lost in this massive global organization or anything. So I think all of that, plus. It’s just like you just have a good platform. Being around ed tech, I think just exposed for as long as we had. It’s like some of them, again, it is just the idea, they’ve not really iterated on the platform much, and maybe it’s just the user interface just gets a new fresh coat of paint and everything.
So it is a differentiator to be really invested in building that goodwill, building a iterative approach to the platform itself and everything. I think just that simplicity too, because I think anybody obviously in higher ed knows it, and anybody that works with higher ed knows that the purchasing cycles are just usually very long and complex and all that stuff. It’s like if we could just remove some of the complexity of just like, here’s the price, or at least it’s not so many different separate line items and add-ons and this and that or the other. I’m sure there is still some negotiating everything, but it is really just like you’re getting it all. You’re getting the whole package here. We’re not going to be nickel and diming and those things. I think that, again, is pretty somewhat unique and everything. So that’s pretty awesome.
Dustin, that really speaks volume to why schools keep Roompact for a long time. We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I think our first few clients, like 15, 16, so in a couple of years there’s schools that are using Roompact for 10 years, which is crazy to think about. I think what’s really unique about us is the partnership that we have, the work and the training that Paul puts in to making sure that we’re getting the right… We’re setting it up the right way to make sure that we’re getting the full potential out of whether we’re pulling the data out from Roompact.
Then we have, whenever I go to conferences with Pat and Blake who are our engineers are so receptive to feedback, they’re like, “Hey, what do you like, what do you dislike about it?” They’re always thinking about how can we improve it? How can we tweak it to be a little bit more user-friendly, more intuitive? So we just like to listen as much as we can and having engineers that are so open to change and trying to continue to work with our partners. That’s honestly one of the key factors in why folks continue to use Roompact.
Well, and something too that maybe this has informed, just obviously how you built the platform or just how you interact with the market and everything. Obviously this has been a wild couple of years in terms of just a lot of disruptions coming through higher ed and certainly residence life in particular. Are there any maybe specific changes to the market over time since you started working Roompact that you feel like maybe has really influenced some of those unique characteristics and differentiators? Just anything that comes to mind, I guess particular market changes.
I think even when I joined in 2018, you can see higher ed in general is a little bit, it’s a few years behind private sector. So you can look at Fortune 500, Fortune 1000 companies and they’ll be using technology that higher ed will get four or five years down the road. Part of that is just simply, especially for public universities and colleges, we’re talking about government intervention of how we purchase things. So the procurement process is longer, so private companies can spend more money, it’s easier to spend money, and so they’ll get whatever they want immediately.
So what we’ve seen is this universality of software is more common, so software is more common. Again, like I mentioned, if I try to explain Roompact in 2018, it’s just a little bit confusing because something like that doesn’t exist. Now if I talk about residence life management, about all the different interactions that your RAs have, they’re like, oh yeah, to replace Google Forms or spreadsheets or whatever it is. So the concept of software is a lot more familiar.
With that, it also brings us, I think expectation for software. Something that you’ve mentioned is there’s a lot of companies out here that’s outdated. They’ll just do a pretty update on more of the visuals of it, but the functionality doesn’t change. It’s still slow. It’s still clunky, so it’s again, outdated. So the expectation for software has increased over time, not just in residence life and housing, but just overall in higher ed.
So for us, it’s making sure that we are extremely mobile friendly. We’re able to use Roompact on your phone, on your tablets, making sure that everything about our software is intuitive. You don’t need an instruction manual to figure out how to use it. You don’t need to pay us to be trained to learn how to do it. So yeah, we just want to make intuitive software.
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a good point is just over time how the expectations of a platform have changed. One, just the expectation that, that is how an effective team gets their work done is using these digital tools in residence life. Then it’s like, “Okay, we know that this is an important thing to do and use, and our expectations are going to be like, well, I want it to do all these things.” Or you start to envision a better reality and you have to meet that versus it being like, “I don’t know. Yeah, I’m just using the simple form or spreadsheet, whatever. Get me there. I don’t need much else than that,” but I think it’s just the demands and expectations are different, so you have to keep up with that. Then just trying to, I think that’s just a through line of this conversation is just not resting your laurels. Keep improving, keep adding on all of that.
Then I like anything that gets at this main point. I know that you are very open and often going out and training and helping to onboard folks, but it’s simple enough to just use, so easy to use. Maybe if you’re going to really master it, then it’s like, “Okay, I’ve really gotten the one-on-one version down.” Then it’s like, “Okay, next year we’re definitely going to have Paul come and give us even more where it’s like, okay, let’s elevate this even further because now you can do all these other fancy things.” It doesn’t require that. It doesn’t require so much onboarding or investment in the sense of that just using it out of the box, it’s already upgrading and boosting up your efforts. Then it’s just over time, which gets to that retention piece, it’s just doing everything you need to, then you’re getting even more functionality out of it, more value and all those sort of things.
So I always love that thing where there’s not a huge steep barrier to entry. You’re just getting on easy. Then it’s always just up and up and up in terms of just being able to use it more and better and bringing more people on. Because I know just sometimes I might be like, “Oh, we’re not going to let the RAs use it right away. We’re just going to start to do it.” Then it’s like, “Okay, let’s bring the RAs in, let’s bring the desk staff in.” You start bringing more and more people in because you’re like, “Cool, we’ve got this down locked. We know exactly what we’re doing with this.” So now it’s like share the love a little bit more. So that’s definitely a difference.
I also think there’s just a little bit more demand in software. I think when in 2020 with COVID and everybody leaving the halls, the schools with technology did better than schools without technology. That’s just simply true. So coming out of it, now we’re back to almost full capacity for most schools is like, why didn’t we have technology? We’re only talking about three years ago too. So once there’s a little bit more, some schools, there’s still budgets are a little tight, but year after year is getting a little bit better and they’re like, “We should get something. We need technology in place because we were bad at communicating. We were bad at record keeping. So what is out there that’s helping us? That can help us?”
Frankly, Roompact is unique in the sense that we are the only company that builds our software a student-centric way. So everything’s tied back to the rooms and the students. So if you pull them up, anything and everything’s there. So the departments themselves are demanding that they have a dedicated software, which is refreshing for us because that’s the drum that we’ve been beating for years. It’s like you deserve software, a dedicated software. Finally, we’re at a point where I think the VPs, the deans, they’re listening to that.
I think I’m really just excited to see the philosophy that’s coming out of the pandemic, like you said, sort of what gets accomplished with that because there’s so much we saw what was possible in terms of just rethinking the way we do work and the tools and just digital communities. Or at least just digitally augmenting the work that happens in person and just all this kind of stuff. So it’s just more and more people getting on board with that and implementing solutions, and we’re just going to see more and more really unique iterations on the way that this one institution does it versus another.
Just, I know that you all have a very vibrant user community and all that, that idea of everybody being able to show their work and show and tell and all that. Everybody just ends up being able to do better work when more people are playing in the same sandbox and learning from each other. Versus you’re just going to have those early adopters, which are awesome, like you said, an institution who can just deploy the resources. They know exactly what they’re doing and all that. They’re driving ahead, and then they can help model a way for others as they come along. You just have to, like you said, work with people getting to where they need to be, whether it’s resources or just a particular perspective on this work and how it should be managed and everything. It’ll be definitely a bold new day, I think coming as more folks jump on board.
If I can also just add one last piece to where I think the market’s going and it’s been trending. We hear the term data-driven a lot, and this was a big phrase, early 2010s, 2015, again in a lot of private sectors because of something like Salesforce, Tableau. So they had a lot of these data visualization companies that came up and we’re finally seeing that trickle into higher ed. Not to the extreme degree to the residence life and housing just yet.
I get to speak with hundreds of schools, maybe thousands of residents life professionals every year. What every school wants to do is have a central data. We’re talking about retention, academic advising, residence life or curriculum, everything into this one big data hub. We build our software to be part of that ecosystem where you can pull data from Roompact and then store it somewhere. So we’re the tool that your RAs use and everything is tracked there, and then it can be pulled into the large central.
I have yet to see a school do it well. There’s inklings of the first couple steps, but when we think about let’s be more data-driven, the ultimate question is what data do you want to track first? A lot of folks don’t even know that. It’s like we can start off with retention. We want retention and we want to see the data of retention, but it’s like, okay, what are the indicators for retention within the scope of your department or your institution? Then we ask ourselves, how do you track that in the first place? Is it through spreadsheets, Google Forms, or do you have a dedicated software?
Then even if you track it, what are the actual access to data, insights that you pull from it? It’s like, does it actually help with assessment? Most of the time, that’s not really. So what I’ve seen over the last three years, three, four years specifically, is this real big push to be more data driven in everything that you do, but the actions don’t follow the words. They say, “We want to be a more data-driven department or an institution,” but you’re not giving the right tools to do the job. So as far as just the market trend, it’s again that word data, big data. Right now with chat GPT, whatever, but you need to invest in the right tools for the tests that you assign to the professionals.
Yeah, yeah. I mean there’s always some sort of zeitgeisty buzzword or whatever and whether it actually feels like it makes an impact, which is interesting because for higher ed I think there are pockets where it was easy to connect those dots between data points and how it creates a more data informed culture, I think is now where things have settled. It gets to be… I’ve seen some people starting to put some academic research into this, but if you’re really trying to capture every aspect of the student experience and bring it into one hub, like you’re getting at, that’s a very laborious conversation, discussion and infrastructure building.
You do need to have at least as a baseline the right things that are going to plug in and play nice with each other to feed you the information to get you to a place where you can have it reflected and be able to make choices upon it. Or at least just have a building health metric or something that pulls together, okay, all the students that live in Residence Hall A, their grades are looking like this and they’re having this many roommate conflicts or something. That’s the idea too, where it’s like there’s a freedom in a sense of deciding what you all want to surface to inform your building health metric or something as an example. Yeah, it’s good. Just be like, what tools are we going to implement that are building up that infrastructure?
Certainly maybe AI plays into that, but it’s even just like people are just like, “Oh my gosh, now I got to think about this.” It’s like, not necessarily because it’s still just even that idea of the long tail of higher ed tech implementation. It’s like at this point you’re going to have a suite of options to get to that, I guess data visualization and data warehouse and hub place that you might want to get to. That could help you to be like, okay, now we have that, and then maybe AI helps us to interface with it or something or whatever.
Yeah. I’ll have demos with folks where what they’re reading about data is not within the scope of higher ed. They’re talking about big data or AI in the scope of, oh, this is what Microsoft is doing, this is what Facebook’s doing, these mega tech companies, Google is doing. Then they try to apply that concept to residence life and housing and just what is available within higher ed. Then I asked them, it’s like, “First, let’s take it a step at a time. Can you track how many roommate conflict notes do you have currently?” They’re like, “Not really.”
It’s like if we ask, “Does roommate conflict lead to poor performance academically?” Let’s just say we ask that question, “Do you have the things, a platform to track roommate conflicts and then a platform to track academic performance?” If you don’t have both, then you can’t even answer that question. So we can talk about all the fun stuff like AI, but the core question is what do you have right now and what is available to you right now to take the initial steps to get that data so you can send it somewhere for advanced analytics?
Yeah, I mean, you got to start with those foundational pieces and start [inaudible 00:23:35] what you’re looking for. For sure. So as we wind down though, if folks want to keep this conversation going with you, perhaps, where might they be able to find you at maybe conferences or events or just be able to connect with you online to follow up?
Yeah, for sure. If you’d like to reach me either to learn more about Roompact or just to have further conversations about this, you can reach out to J-O-N-G at Roompact.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be at, I think most of the conferences in the fall. I’m definitely going to be at GLACUHO, UMR, and then the Institute on Curricular Approach in Long Beach this year. So if you are attending any of those conferences, please stop by the booth and say hello.
Awesome. Well, yeah, we’ll have the resources and things we’ve talked about in this episode in the show notes, so definitely go check those out. Just appreciate you so much for hanging out and sharing all that you did and for all the great work that you do.
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Dustin.
Roompact’s ResEdChat podcast is a platform to showcase people doing great work and talk about hot topics in residence life and college student housing. If you have a topic idea for an episode, let us know!