RadPad and the Rental Market. A Chat with Jonathan Eppers.

We spoke with Jonathan Eppers about his Los Angeles based startup RadPad, a mobile and web application that offers a simple and efficient way to find and rent a property. RadPad is backed by the Venice based accelerator Amplify, as well as angel investors Tom McInerney and Chris Ovitz.

Jonathan is the founder / CEO of RadPad, an Amplify backed startup that is shaking up the rental market. He is a product guy with a strong intuition for building simple, easy to use mobile and web experiences. Jonathan has been part of teams that worked on very complex product features while working for MySpace, Edelman and eHarmony. Product’s he’s played an integral part of building have been used by more than 450 million users. RadPad is Jonathan’s second startup. Check it out at www.onradpad.com and on the App Store. Jonathan can be followed @jonathaneppers

 

 

 

 

Tell us about RadPad and how you came across the idea.

I’m a product guy, and have I’ve been building consumer web and mobile experiences for about five to six years. I had the privilege to work on some very complex product features at MySpace back in the good days when everyone had a MySpace account.While there though, I got the itch to start something so I left MySpace in 2008 to start a company for high school athletes. Unfortunately the idea was a little ahead of its time and we struggled to gain traction so I went back to the 9/5 world and took a job with Edelman Digital, where I worked on web and mobile apps. Then eHarmony called me one day asking if I was interested in helping them redesign their entire desktop product so I left Edelman because it was a challenge I just couldn’t turn down

So about a year ago I decided I wanted to change up my life a little and thought moving would help bring some needed change.. I started looking on Craigslist but it was such a scattered mess it made my head hurt. I looked on Westside Rentals but they charge $60 just to use their site. The other alternative was to hire someone to help me find a place. I was really frustrated at how much time and work it required just to find a decent looking place. I actually got mad.. I started thinking about what sort of experience I would want if I could build my perfect rental app. I had to be mobile focused because a lot of times when I’m out looking for apartments, I only have my phone with me. I also wanted photos – lot’s of photos. Why waste my time checking out a place that didn’t have a photo? So I got some of the smartest people I know together and in July 2012 we launched the started building our mobile app. In October, the three of us quietly launched our mobile app by announcing it to our friends on Facebook. By the beginning of January, we had hit 10,000 downloads.. We were getting a ton of feedback from people saying they had found their place through the app and were moving in. It was incredible having these success stories so early on.

This must have gotten the attention of partners and competitors.

It did. Almost immediately we got an acquisition offer from a competitor that we turned down because we felt like we would be selling out and what got us excited was hearing from people when they found their pad on RadPad. We quit our full time jobs, and raised some money in late 2012 from two really great investors, Tom McInerney and Chris Ovitz. Around the same time, we were getting interest from the guys over at Launchpad and Amplify. We took about a month to think about it but ultimately decided we’d join Amplify. We just really got a long great with Paul, Kris and Jeff.

What does RadPad offer landlords?

After meeting with a lot of local landlords we decided to focus on the small to medium sized guys. We identified three types of listers we think can really benefit from using RadPad. The first are listers who own rental properties, but also have fulltime jobs and manage the rentals they own themselves. The second are those who own multiple buildings and have a few hundred units but a small, in-house management team. The third are those people who are simply looking for a roommate. For all three, we found that the process of finding a great tenant was a real pain in the you know what.. Landlords get bombarded with emails from potential renters and the process is so inefficient. The landlord has no idea who the renter is, especially when it’s off Craigslist and the transparency between the landlord and renter doesn’t really become personal until they meet in person; and just to get to that point is a lot of work. Landlords will go through a mountain of emails and copy the same reply to almost everyone who sends them an email.

RadPad is focused on creating an incredible experience for listers from the moment they list a pad on the market to the day a great renter moves in. We make it very easy to create a listing using our mobile or desktop application, while also allowing listers to syndicate their place to other rental services. But what’s more exciting is what we do for listers once their pad hits the market. We help them identify and than qualify the best renters who have applied to their listing.

And how does RadPad make life easier for the renter?

One the biggest problems for a renter is that just finding an awesome place. They have to spend a lot of time looking through listings or getting in their car and driving around. This is work! This isn’t fun or easy. It’s an emotional experience. We looked at the biggest hassle for renters outside of finding a place and it came down to filling out rental and credit applications.

As anyone who has rented knows, the process of running the credit check, reviewing the application, and calling references normally takes a few days. We’re working on a very innovative way to improve this entire process and expedite the time it takes once you find a place to actually get it and move in. Did I mention we’ve filed a patent on this feature because we feel it could be a game changer.

How do you generate revenue?

There are a couple of revenue streams. First, it currently costs about $25 – $40 for a landlord to run a credit check and often, the credit check is non-refundable. Instead of asking listers to run the credit, which is how it’s currently done, we’re arming renters with the ability to run their own credit and share it with a lister once they find a place they want.. Second, in competitive rental markets like Los Angeles, knowing about a pad the second it comes on the market is a huge advantage. We’re going give renters who want this advantage a feature that will notify them the second a pad that matches exactly what they want comes on the market. They’ll have a time advantage over other renters.

For listers, we have a product feature that allows them to qualify and manage active renters who show an interest in their pad. It’s going to reduce the time and effort involved in managing their active rentals by making it more transparent, streamlined and efficient.

Tell us a little about RadPad’s syndication feature.

This is one of the features we’re most excited about. We noticed that for a lot of landlords, a point of friction was just listing creation. Most of them typically list on 2-3 sites. So we said, if you’ll list on RadPad, we’ll autocreate and syndicate your listing for you to these other sites for you. List once and be done!

It sounds like RadPad will be collecting some very valuable data on the local and national rental market. Do you have plans on using that data?

I’m glad you brought that up. On the new site we’re launching, we have a feature called price analysis. Many of the small and medium sized landlords have no idea how to price their place. We found that most go on Craigslist and look at listings in their neighborhood and get a sense for what other apartments in their neighborhood are renting for. So we give listers current market rental rates for 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments in their neighborhoods when they’re listing their pad. This feature is also going to help renters who have no idea what apartments are going for in areas they are looking.

 How do you maintain the quality of the listings?

To get a listing on RadPad we require a few, what we consider must have details about the listing. This includes a minimum of three photos, the address, price, bed & bath info as well as the listers name and contact info. You’ll never see a listing on RadPad without three photos. We’ve also started verifying listers who list on RadPad so renters feel more confident they’re talking to a real person, not a scammer.

A big thing we’re doing is allowing renters to easily self-report listings they don’t like, are misrepresented or have already rented.  It’s very important to us that our listings are updated, accurate and are in fact, still available to rent. We have an algorithm that runs daily and determines how to handle these listings and removes them immediately. We also force listers to renew a listing or we pull it down. This is only going to get better and better over time. We’re learning every day.

So currently you’re focused on the Los Angeles market?

Yes, we’re focused on LA right now. It’s important we get it right in our own city first before we start opening up in other markets. We do have listings in San Francisco but we haven’t done anything yet to officially launch there. Did you know LA is the second biggest rental market in the country? Just over 63% of our renters!

The rental season starts in February and really heats up by mid-May continuing in to September. We want RadPad to be in shape by end of April so that in the heart of the rental season we will have a solid product that is market tested. Thereafter we can take it to other cities across the country. LA is a great place to start because it’s one of the biggest rental markets in the country with 64% of households being renters. We couldn’t be luckier to be starting in this city. Once we get it right here we can scale out.

Have you developed any unique user acquisition strategies?

In Los Angeles, a lot of renters will get in their car and drive down streets in neighborhoods that they want to live in. Lawn signs are really a great way for listers to advertise their pad.

However, today’s lawn signs are a little more than a cheap, static piece of plastic with a  name and number. You still have a to call. What if we could build a yard sign that was not only ‘sexy’ and made of quality, durable materials but also allowed a renter to get all the info they needed before wasting time investing time in to calling the lister?

What’s really cool about RadPad’s mobile app is that it’s location based and anytime you see one our lawn signs, the pad will appear at the top of your feed. Since it has three photos and the required details to make a call on the listing, you can quickly decide whether or not it’s right for you. Listers also aren’t getting calls anymore from renters looking for a one bedroom when they’re offering a two bedroom.

We’re doing other things too but they’re super secret for now.

How have you enjoyed your experience at Amplify?

It took some time to convince me that the accelerator model was right for us. Mainly because I didn’t know if giving up stock to join was the right decision for us. I guess I had a preconceived view of what accelerators do for startups. I got a all from one of our investors and someone I have immense respect for Tom McInerney and he encouraged me to go over and meet with both Amplify and LaunchPad. I spent a good amount of time getting to know the teams that run both accelerators and I really connected well with the Amplify guys. I felt they had the strengths that I was looking for, which included the backgrounds of their partners and companies they had created We’ve only been part of Amplify for three weeks, but in that time I’ve never met so many investors, mentors and people wanting to help us. Everyday someone comes through here that we can meet, which is an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if we were still working out of my living room. So far I would say it’s definitely been worth it.

 

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