Wisconsin Startups Join War of Apartment-Hunting Websites
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get listings for more than 8,200 apartments in five cities in Wisconsin and Illinois since launching the site six months ago. More than 120,000 college students have used the site to search, Anzalone says.
RCP also includes an interactive message board that integrates with students’ Facebook profiles, allowing potential roommates to chat and see each other’s favorite properties on the site, Anzalone says.
RCP makes money by charging landlords to advertise their properties on the site. Anzalone declined to share specifics, but says RCP is profitable and generating revenue from each campus on its site. Next school year the startup could grow revenue by as much as 700 percent, he says.
Anzalone funded RCP’s startup costs himself using savings from summer marketing internships and money he made from stock investments during college, he says. He is bootstrapping the company, meaning he is growing the business through revenue from customers, rather than taking on outside investments or bank loans. RCP doesn’t expand to new campuses until it has sufficient funds. Anzalone says that strategy has allowed RCP to grow more quickly and be more profitable than going the venture capital route—but he would consider taking money from investors if the situation felt right.
The revenue stream so far has been enough for him to hire two full-time employees, two part-time employees, and to outsource the development of the website to a company that Anzalone declined to disclose. “I think having the customers or the revenue decide how we grow is the best way to do it,” Anzalone says. “By doing that, we’ve established a lot of lean mechanisms, a lot of lean practices. A lot of times when people take on money, maybe you don’t establish all of those facets as easily.”
The path ahead, however, won’t be easy. For one thing, RCP is up against other companies doing college housing websites, including ForRent University, an affiliate of ForRent.com that has listings for campuses nationwide.
RCP’s website also has stirred up tension between the startup and Abodo. Slocum claims RCP’s Web developers copied some exact text and images from Abodo’s website. He says he’s met with Anzalone to discuss the allegations and to threaten to send a cease and desist letter if RCP didn’t modify its website. RCP made some changes, but most of Slocum’s concerns were not addressed, he says. Slocum declined to provide Xconomy with copies of documents that he says back up his claims.
In response, Anzalone told Xconomy that Slocum’s allegations about the website are “false and defamatory.”
“Because of increasingly common Web standards and freely available templates, businesses pursuing similar markets often end up with similar-looking websites and functionalities. The website is not what creates our value,” Anzalone says. “We listened to Alec’s concerns and did an internal review to ensure that our website was not inadvertently [the result of plagiarism] in any way by any of our subcontractors.”
Abodo hasn’t sent the cease and desist letter, although the option is still on the table, Slocum says. Abodo so far has chosen not to pursue legal action because it doesn’t want to involve lawyers, because the move could harm Wisconsin’s startup ecosystem, and because Abodo’s leaders don’t think the alleged plagiarism has affected their company’s growth, Slocum says.
“It’s something that we don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about or worrying about,” Slocum says. “We’re happy [RCP is] here. We have no personal qualms with them.”
For his part, Anzalone called Abodo “a worthy competitor with a bright future.”
As for RCP’s future, the challenge will be enacting its game plan quickly, says RCP advisor Matt Cordio. Cordio is the co-founder and executive chairman of Startup Milwaukee, the group that runs the downtown Milwaukee co-working space, 96square, that houses RCP and Find My Spot, among other startups.
RCP has “a very large market that they can attack,” Cordio says of college campuses nationwide. “It’s just about execution, hiring the right sales team, and scaling.”
Find My Spot
Find My Spot founder and CEO Heather Johnston also was frustrated by limited apartment-hunting options. She is a mechanical engineer by training whose jobs required her to relocate 11 times in 13 years. The process proved to be difficult because she was often relying on Craigslist, a dubious proposition that left her at the mercy of sometimes flaky building managers and online photos that at times made the apartments seem nicer than the reality, she says.
“You spend your nights and weekends combing Craigslist and scheduling appointments with building managers who don’t show up or need to reschedule,” Johnston says. “There’s just an endless string of issues that can come up.”
So she quit her last employer, Harley-Davidson, and founded Find My Spot in October 2012.
“I realized that renters weren’t provided with the same level of service as homeowners, which is kind of ironic because 62 percent of all relocations in the U.S. are renters,” Johnston says.
Some companies manage these relocations internally, while others outsource to relocation firms, Johnston says. The issue is that relocation firms like Sirva and Cartus often refer moving employees to local real estate agents who have a strong incentive to encourage customers to buy a house or a condo because the broker receives a commission when a mortgage is signed. With rentals, on the other hand, most realtors receive minimal compensation when a customer signs a lease, Johnston says.
“The biggest problem is the mismatch between the renter’s wants and the financial incentives of a realtor to push you into buying,” Johnston says.
Find My Spot solves this problem by signing companies to annual contracts, promising to work directly with their human resources department and the individual employees who are moving to help place them in apartments within a four-day span.
The relocating employee meets one-on-one with … Next Page »