Annoying Craigslist postings helped create better software and get this startup in with Google

March 6, 2015

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When Melissa Moline started inRentive, a marketing content management platform for the real estate rental industry, she knew she had to go big. It’s part of what’s made this startup successful so far and secured her a spot in April’s Google for Entrepreneurs Competition in Mountain View, California. She’ll be competing against startups from around the country and pitching to potential investors.

The beginnings

inRentive started when Moline, who has an extensive background in the Chicago real estate market, saw that apartment buildings were buying leads (potential renters) from brokers at high rates — up to one and a half months’ rent — but those leads mostly came from Craigslist, a place known as well for apartment listings as it is for scams. Those brokers only get paid if they bring clients in directly; that’s why listings are often vague, withholding the name and location of apartments.

Sifting through Craigslist isn’t fun. Moline said on any given day in Chicago, there’s somewhere around 25,000 apartment listings that are posted on the site.

The system was broken, so Moline set off to create a better way for apartment buildings to find potential renters, and an easier way for renters to sort out the bad listings and from good ones.

To fix the problem, inRentive partnered with Apartments.com.

“They wanted a technology solution that helped to generate leads outside of Apartments.com. They wanted a way to tap into Craigslist,” said Moline.

While helping Apartments.com, Moline realized that internet listing services lacked list management software — meaning that important information like availability and price wasn’t shown to potential renters. (It’s why readers see a range of dates and prices for apartments, instead of an exact move-in date, rental price and apartment number).

inRentive set out to create an apartment listing photo app, and partnered with Riverstone Residential to conduct a case study on a new building in Chicago using it. The goal was to use fewer brokers, but get the same leasing results. That’s tough in Chicago, Moline said, because up to 80-90 percent of leases are signed with the help of apartment brokers, making it the top marketing expense for buildings.

However, they were able to show results.

“We were able to increase the closing ratio from 30 to 60 percent and the industry standard is anywhere from 28-33 percent from a lead to lease,” said Moline.

They also learned a lot about what renters are really looking for, such as social interaction when they visit a building, the most effective number of pictures to be taken on site(eight appears to be the magic number), and the type of pictures that are most effective(apparently not the overproduced, wide-angle variety).

Joining TechStars

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inRentive's CTO Josh Childs and CEO Melissa Moline 

inRentive got a boost when it joined TechStars in 2014. Moline said it transformed her company by giving the team access to mentors and advisors that gave valuable and frequent feedback. inRentive was a bootstrapped company until then. “The money we took in [from TechStars] was really more about relationships and doors that could be opened,” said Moline.

To get the customers they needed, Moline had to convince property managers to open the doors for her with software management companies, and then convince those companies her software would solve a problem. “The only way we were able to do that was by building a product they would pay for and use, that they found value in, that we told them would be exponentially better if they had integration with their property management software. That took us a long time to get to the biggest players,” said Moline.

The long, difficult process took a year to accomplish. “We essentially had to work from the top down in the marketplace. Where normally a startup would find a small to medium sized business and work their way up to the big fish, we had no choice but to do it the other way around,” said Malone.

And this is big business, according to Malone. 100 million Americans rent their homes, 30 million move each year and 70 percent of those are in the multi-family rental space (the same space inRentive targets).

The team of seven is currently based out of 1871’s TechStars space. The company is looking to hire more employees after completing a new round of funding.

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