Many universities and colleges in the United States use what is known as the Common Application when screening applicants. The Common Application a standardized set of questions and essays that students can hypothetically send into any school that opts to use it. It’s easy and efficient for students and institutions alike.
The founders of this week’s small business spotlight, RentValet, realized that this idea of a universal, commonly accepted application could also be used to help standardize the rental industry. Apartment rental currently looks something like this: find an apartment you like, make an appointment with a landlord and/or rental agency, tour the apartment, make another appointment to fill out the necessary application, and finally if the application is accepted, make yet another appointment to sign the lease.
RentValet’s model is far more streamlined. Potential renters fill out an application before they email a landlord requesting a tour of the property. This means that management companies and landlords can actually screen applicants before making an appointment, ensuring that nobody’s time is wasted. This system also simplifies the process for renters: instead of making an appointment to fill out an application if they like a certain property, they can almost immediately sign a lease.
Chris talks a little bit more about revolutionizing an industry:
How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?
We let America’s renters apply for their next apartment or home online. This saves them a trip across town to fill out paper forms, and saves them 50% in application fees.
What are some industry specific challenges you faced?
RentValet is the first and only consumer-facing Apply-Online service in the rental market, so the only challenge for us is to fit into an existing industry. Our ‘fit’ is our crowdSPRING shopping cart in rental listings. Our service is so foreign to this market that they failed to create barriers to block us. This is the beauty of startups – innovation lets you redefine a market’s reality.
What was your biggest learning curve/experience?
Everything takes longer than expected, and nobody cares about your idea as much as you do. Innovation is lonely, except when you post a project at crowdSPRING!
What made you use crowdSPRING?
RentValet places a shopping cart into rental listings. This has never been done before, so we turned to the crowdSPRING artists and asked them to do the innovation for us. What should this look like? What design will help both young and old understand our Apply-Online service?
What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?
We work in Cincinnati’s startup incubator – the Hamilton County Business Center (HCBC). Lots of energetic, like-minded entrepreneurs doing God’s work. A lady down the hall came in once and asked if we could do the parking for a major event. All she knew was our company name, and she formed some incorrect assumptions!
If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?
RentValet is struggling at the moment, yet we have zero regrets. If we could go back, we would have spent more time writing and rewriting the software requirements before committing funds to the effort.
How do you see your company growing in the future?
The RentValet software took over 18 months to design and write, yet our crowdSPRING image is the gem. We’ve had it printed on the back of our business cards, and it is the first thing people see when we present RentValet. The image has opened doors for us with prospective partners, and it will be the symbol for consumer savings in the rental market.
Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.
Multiply time/cost estimates by 3.
Book recommendation: Founders at Work, by Jessica Livingston.
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