Rocket Lease provides rental application software for landlords and property managers.
Rocket Lease provides landlords with easy-to-use online rental applications.
Users create a listing for their property, track the progress of applications, and can choose which kinds of background checks to run: credit, criminal, or eviction.
More than 87% of lease applications are still done on paper.
Most of the rental industry is still dependent on fax machines.
We think this is incredibly outdated and are out to change it.
2. When has “Rocket Lease” been founded? And what stage is “Rocket Lease” currently at?
Rocket Lease started in 2011.
Right now we’re in the revenue generating stage.
We have a fully functional product that is currently used by landlords across the country.
Our goal right now is outreach.
We want to let as many landlords as possible know about our product and how easy to use it is.
3. What is “Rocket Lease”’s business model?
Rocket Lease generates revenue from tenant screenings.
When a landlord runs any kind of background check on a potential tenant, the tenant pays a fee, which we take a cut of.
This model lets us to offer our services to landlords completely free.
It’s a great system because it keeps it simple for the landlord.
4. How did your team meet, and who does what?
I met Eric Liu, our founder and head programmer, from a post on the “gigs” section of craigslist.
I handle business development.
We also have 4 interns, as well as few people who help out with blogging and programming when we need assistance.
We sometimes hire people on a per-project basis whenever something comes up and it makes sense to do so.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We’re devoted solely to applications, and to making the best one possible.
Many of the other players in our space also offer additional services (i.e. discovery, rent payments, lease signings) which means competing in multiple established verticals.
This, in turn, forces them to charge additional fees.
Our narrow focus allows us to prioritize user experience and tends to appeal to independent landlords who don’t have a strong need for extra services.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “Rocket Lease” achieved so far?
Our product launched in late 2011.
Since then, we’ve seen steady, consistent growth, gaining new users every day.
We’ve gone through several UI redesigns during this time, each one providing improvements to the user experience.
With most applications still being completed via paper and fax, we anticipate healthy growth through 2012 and 2013.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “Rocket Lease”‘s competitive advantage over them?
Rent Juice and Appfolio are two of our competitors.
Both of them offer additional services not offered by Rocket Lease, which add to the cost for landlords.
Our model lets us offer landlords applications for free while still generating revenue (from their applicants), giving us a competitive advantage with smaller landlords who may not need the additional features of our competitors.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Many landlords are older and not very tech-savvy, so we often face adoption issues with them.
Some occasionally need help when using the site for the first time.
The feedback we get from these users helps us to continuously improve our UI.
Being a web-based application, we also experience our share of programming hurdles.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
More features are not necessarily a good thing.
Each additional one has to be weighed as a value proposition.
Ask yourself, “Is the time, money, and effort needed to add this going to create enough value to justify its implementation?” Then test your assumptions.
There are many Lean techniques available to help determine what your core features should be.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Rocket Lease is going to succeed because we know our marketplace (and those related to it) extremely well, and we have a pricing structure that appeals to an underserved demographic (independent landlords).
All of this is in addition to the fact that so many applications are still done using paper and fax, suggesting that the majority of the market is still there for the taking.
11. If “Rocket Lease” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Right now, we want to focus all of our efforts on optimizing applications.
That being said, we occasionally have conversations about other industries that could benefit from a system like Rocket Lease.
Who else is running credit checks? What other group of people could benefit from an online application?
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “Rocket Lease” based on?
Our founder, Eric Liu, decided to rent out some property he owned.
As a first-time landlord, he directly experienced the hassles and stress of finding and screening tenants via paper applications.
He wondered why online applications were so grossly underrepresented in the marketplace.
After some additional research, Eric decided there was a business opportunity in online applications when done in conjunction with tenant screening, and Rocket Lease was born.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
The importance of defining your MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
It’s not something that you should just assume.
Pick a couple key features and A/B test them against one another to see what sticks.
Find the ones that your customers feel are most important and then focus entirely on those.
Often the features that your customers find most important are different from what you expect.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Accommodating for growth.
Things like server space, customer service, database issues will all need to be addressed as we gain more users.
Right now our customer service inquiries are being handled efficiently, but at some point we’ll have to expand our customer service department in order to handle the increased workload.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
The benefit would be Rocket Lease continuing to perform in an optimal manner.
As we grow, we will need to ensure that there is no drop in the quality of service we provide.
Since many of our customers are not tech-savvy, it’s important that we maintain top-notch customer service.
We need to be available to walk people through our product.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Many of our customers find us through organic Google searches.
We’ve worked hard to maintain a strong SEO presence for our top keywords.
Aside from that, we always look for outreach opportunities, such as this interview, as well as local startup competitions and events.
In addition to this we spend a fair amount of time cold calling potential users.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current customers are independent landlords as well as small property management companies.
This is the low hanging fruit if you will.
While the larger property management companies run more credit checks the barrier of entry is usually much higher.
The independent landlord who has 5 or more properties would be our target customer.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
New customers generally come from organic Google searches, word-of-mouth from other users, or cold calls.
Outreach is the biggest thing we’re working on right now, so we spend a fair amount of time calling landlords and property management companies.
Many times a 5 minute phone conversation is all it takes to acquire a new user.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
The most common thing users say about Rocket Lease is that it’s very simple to use.
We’ve worked hard on our back-end dashboard and our front-end UI to ensure ease of use, and we’re still improving on it.
One thing I really like about our system is that we have only a few core features, but we do them extremely well.
Since all we do is offer applications and screening, our UI and dashboard are built entirely around these function.
20. How are you going to scale?
Unlike a brick and mortar store, our scaling does not involve leasing more office space or increasing our material inventory.
For us, scaling involves two main things: technology and customer service.
Technology includes hosting, which will need to keep pace with our increasing traffic.
Luckily, we have our founder, an all-star programmer, to keep us on course.
As for customer service, right now we do a good job of taking care of customer issues, but in order to maintain this level of quality we’ll eventually need to increase our workforce.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Custom forms: allowing the user to fully customize their rental application form.
Currently our forms allow for some customization, but having a fully customizable form is something that’s been on our roadmap for a long time.
Right now we’re beta testing this feature with a select group of users, and we hope to roll it out fully by the end of the year.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Since credit checks in America require a social security number, we currently don’t have plans to expand internationally.
That being said, we always keep our options open; if we were to find a way to screen candidates using something other than a social security number and it seems to be a good fit, we’re definitely open to the idea.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
Rocket Lease has the potential to be huge.
When you consider both the size of the apartment rental market and the fact that so many applications are still done via paper and fax.
I honestly don’t see anyone still faxing applications 10 years from now, and thankfully with Rocket Lease they won’t have to.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We always keep a lookout for talented individuals, particularly Python developers.
Interested candidates should send a resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Depending on what is on the Rocket Lease docket the workload may vary.
We also hire a good amount of interns. Internships typically last 3 months.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
Rocket Lease is not looking for funding at this time.
However, we always love meeting with other startups in our space to see if there is a mutually beneficial way to help each other.
We like to hear what other people are up to and how Rocket Lease can contribute.
We try to pay it forward whenever possible.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Endlessly pontificating on ideas is mental masturbation for intelligent people.
There’s definitely a place for it, but at some point it becomes a serious distraction.
My advice: just do it.
Stop talking about all these things you’re going to do or want to do, and just do one (but only one).
Then you can lather, rinse, repeat.