By Nancy Dahlberg
Startups are usually not built this way: Come up with the concept with a big opportunity first, then go find the CEO and the team to execute.
But that’s the model of venture builder LAB Ventures, and its first startup out of the gate is MyRentHero. MyRentHero, a marketplace for off-campus student housing, is now available in six metro areas: Miami, Tampa, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando and Atlanta. The platform showcases 400-plus properties (mainly multi-family complexes) on its platform.
The back story: Greg Rothman at first had no interest in leaving his role at Miami’s Open English when advisors and stakeholders at LAB Ventures knocked on the door. But after LAB Ventures CEO Tigre Wenrich and the LAB Ventures team told him more about the concept, Rothman became intrigued. “Then I finally said I really like the opportunity, the space that it is in, and that it’s a fragmented market, so let’s jump in.”
Rothman, who became CEO, and his new team launched first in the University of Miami and the University of South Florida (Tampa) communities last spring. The initial universities were chosen because they differed greatly in size, geographies and culture.
“We launched with an idea that we will build this marketplace to simplify the lives of students, parents and landlords,” said Rothman, who worked in New York including at a startup, was a portfolio manager at Endeavor Miami and VP of Strategic Initiatives at Open English before taking this on.
“In any startup you start learning things along the way. We iterated. We learned a ton about timing, what students want, what landlords want, and then we built out version 1.5 of our product and released it in four more cities. We are now in six municipalities supporting 12 universities.”
The marketplace is free and easy for both landlords and students to use. Says Rothman: “Our thought is the only way to get into the market is to build traction, and the only way to get traction is to remove friction and we make it free. We want to create a truly inclusive marketplace. So by giving away our base product, we are getting an easy route to getting 60-70 percent of the addressable student housing on our platform.”
And the marketplace may be just the beginning.
Throughout the growth, MyRentHero has been collecting valuable data that has led the team to build new products for the platform, such as a popular sub-lease feature. Through their students, they’ve identified a handful of hyper-focused, student-centric features that will roll out over the coming months. These new products can be revenue generators.
Because MyRentHero understands what its Gen Z student is seeking in a dream pad, it identified an interesting and symbiotic opportunity to take over single-family homes and fully amenitize them at an all-inclusive price point for students and add them to the platform. We’re talking fully furnished spaces with keyless entries and other smart home features throughout; all utilities included. “They just show up with their clothes,” said Rothman. “It’s the last mile of student housing.”
MyRentHero is testing the concept, dubbed Blue Door by MyRentHero, with a couple of single family homes in the UM area and is hoping to take the model to other markets. For some properties, it could offer co-living, where students could rent separately by the room. “We are building a fully inclusive marketplace that really is a solution for students to solve their headaches for off-campus housing,” Rothman said.
Here comes the investments: Initial funding from LAB Ventures got the team hired and the beta launched but last summer MyRentHero raised seed funding from MC Capital run by Martin Claure, a startup investor and real estate property owner who understood first-hand the pain points of dealing with leases with students (and often their parents). Rothman said he plans to raise another round later this year.
This quarter MyRentHero is laser focused on its 12 campuses, as it is a very heavy season with campus events nearly weekly. Its 50 or so brand ambassadors are the boots on the ground, helping with marketing and branding as well as identifying properties – such as those hidden gems that are never advertised – and even acting as a salesforce, Rothman said.
The goal is to grow the footprint regionally, and MyRentHero hopes to launch in 15 to 20 additional markets in the fall, Rothman said.
On venture building: MyRentHero was LAB Ventures’ first project so there has been some trial and error. Rothman meets with Wenrich weekly to update him and discuss strategy. “It’s been unique but really exciting to have some really smart guys behind you.”
This may not be the traditional way to build a startup, but there has been a lot of progress logged in a short amount of time. LAB Ventures is an outgrowth of the entrepreneurial co-working company The LAB Miami, and it has at least two other startups in development.
“That we have been able to start with this kernel of an idea and continue to grow it, build a team, build a product, be on board with campuses – these are exciting times for us,” Rothman said. “Hopefully this will be a huge success story.”
Wenrich added: “MyRentHero is tackling a major opportunity to make the leasing process painless for students, their parents and landlords. The market is ripe for disruption and we are excited about MyRentHero’s growth trajectory.”
Headquarters: WeWork Security Building, downtown Miami
Tagline: Make Yourself Comfy
Year launched: 2017
Management team: Greg Rothman, CEO; Sara Vigil, Marketing; Armon Battle, Campus Development; Rahul Chittipeddi, Campus Development; Carlos Caceres, Product.
Number of employees: 5 plus a tech team of 3 in Argentina and about 50 part-time ambassadors.
Business model: Create a free marketplace, create zero friction, provide value to students and landlords, and then bolt on product offerings on top of that.
Growth: MyRentHero serves 12 campuses in six cities. More than 400 multi-family complexes are available on its marketplace.
Recent milestone: Testing Blue Door by MyRentHero, a portfolio of homes fully furnished and accessorized for the Gen Z student market by MyRentHero.
Financing: Pre-seeded by LAB Ventures with a six-figure investment plus sweat equity. Last summer, MyRentHero received seed funding (amount undisclosed) from MC Capital, run by Martin Claure.
Most requested features on MyRentHero: Close-in location, private bathrooms and subleasing.
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