Introducing Rentree –

For my interview of an entrepreneur this quarter, I decided to interview a software engineer, David Lin, from Amazon AWS who, had years of experience in the tech industry and owned rental properties, is working to build his rental app from scratch. His team consists of two other engineers from Microsoft and ex-Trulia.  Today, it is so hard for working professionals to keep up with their work and also manage rental properties.  A lot of people simply hire agents to manage for them.  However, the total value of the quality of service and the amount of the fee charged, a lot of people are not happy with their agents.   David Lin has some really bad experiences; therefore, he determined to start Rentree and its mobile platform to address the pain point.  Although the prototype is under development, the value proposition that Rentree has gained strong interests among the Taiwanese community in Bellevue.

Introduction

Rentree simplifies the relationship between independent landlords and tenants, as well as providing tools for landlords and tenants to virtually manage the properties and payment transfers. It also has the ability to create rollup for multiple properties or units so that the landlords can view all the important financial information under one roof.   Rentree enables independent landlords to: 1. Setup viewing appointments 2. Manage viewers 3. Create standard lease contract and sign via Docusign 4. Setup payment system virtually and also Union Pay from Asia.  5. Track (rollup) rent income and expenses.  6. Housecleaners, landscaper, and handymen for hire at a lower group rate.  Finally, it would be a portal to document all the messages and correspondents in a single place per renter.  The mission is to be the one stop shop to help independent landlords on their rental properties.

Target Market & Position

Its target market is similar to David himself.  An independent landlord that has decision-making ability to obtain tools and services to optimize his/her rental properties.  They are disrupting an existing market that was dominated by real estate companies, agents, who charge a steep fix fee for rentals (first month rent), and a high expense ratio on ongoing property management (5-10%).  The goal of Rentree is to develop a scalable platform to effectively increase landlord’s overall investment return and save time for other important things without the need to hire a person to manage the properties.

David gave me two examples: By renting out one property to a family, the lease and on-going management should be relatively simple; therefore, the point is that there is no point of hiring someone to manage it for you.  Rentree becomes a place where you keep track of all the information.  As time goes on, this landlord may have more properties in the future and still have a day-time job.  This landlord may need some help to scale, and rentree would be the Saas solution for the person.  The second landlord may just have one properties, but it has multiple rooms in the house for rent.  The management of the properties would be complicated.  Rentree creates a system to help this type of the landlords as well to keep track of multiple contracts, financials, and payments.

Since it is a SaaS model, the value communication would start from the direct communication with the property owners for the first set of the clients.  The model would be through the word of mouth through independent landlords and the monthly meeting of both chamber of commerce and independent investor meeting that David has been involved over the past 15 years.  He had tried to email some groups without introduction and he stopped because it did not work well.  David is considering social media to promote his startup and especially to attract the growing population of investors from Mainland China.  He is actively partnering up with some investment groups in order to gain more momentum for the people that’s investing in the Puget Sound region.

Ahoy! Shore Excursions with Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions: A Chat with Founder & President, Jeff Fanning

After a long, azure stretch of open ocean, cruise ship passengers are often looking for the best means of stretching their restless sea legs. Founded in the spring of 2009 by Jeff Fanning, Liquid Alaska Tours saw the opportunity to create more value in that space where cruise tourists can find their adventurous bearing on land during their sojourn at port. After having worked in the industry for several years, Jeff was surprised that no vendors had taken advantage of the opportunity to centralize tour sales. Previously, vendors either sold tours to cruise ships – who in turn sold them to passengers at a substantial mark-up – or to passengers directly. A centralized system that provided all tours available at a given port that could be accessed in advance of arrival (usually online), as well as a kiosk on the dock for those who failed to book in advance, would provide better access, service, options, and prices for eager tourists.

The crux of their value proposition is how Liquid Alaska disrupts the pricing of tours in this market. Typically cruise lines offer the same tours that vendors sell on land but at a far higher price, whereas shore-bound vendors would rely on higher volumes but at lower margins. By creating an online marketplace where passengers could book in advance, it rewards them with lower prices and a reserved position on a tour, and it provides the seller the means to smooth sales revenue in advance of the inundation of tourists when a cruise ship arrives at port. Fortunately, Jeff’s entrepreneurial acumen proved insightful, and in five years, the Alaska native was able to grow his company substantially, ultimately acquiring the assets of a global tour provider and bringing them under the umbrella of his company. Now, Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions operates in over 200 ports around the world and favorable winds are blowing it toward even greater expansion.

The company has fundamentally positioned itself as a comprehensive tour broker that offers shore excursions at wholesale rates. It is difficult to segment the target consumer in this space, given the nature of the cruise ship industry, but broadly speaking it is the cruise ship passenger looking for an onshore excursion. Jeff pointed out that his ‘target’ demographic is between 30 and 70 years of age and, generally speaking, the younger half is more inclined to access his services online and the greying half can be found in port, at the kiosks. Very early on, the first customers were acquired the old fashioned way: in person, on the dock. However, that quickly gave way with growth and today Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions reaches out largely through digital channels, from online publication advertisements to Google AdWords to the standard players in social media.

It is an exciting industry but is not without its quirks – such as a near non-existed customer retention rate (as expensive cruises tend to be once-in-a-lifetime expenditures) – but the growth and promise of new ports ahead make sailing these entrepreneurial waters rewarding, exciting, and full of new horizons. Land, ho!

Blog #4 – Hotel Promotion & Wine

Usually I get my golf supplies from the online golf store called ‘Golfsmith’ mainly because of its reasonable price. Recently, I bought a new driver called: ‘Ping G30’. Advantage of using this online shop is that the customer could make the right decision during the purchasing process by being offered demo clubs to try and fast-handling management of the return/shipping policy. In general, my purchasing process is to visit Amazon.com in order to compare the price and look for customers’ review.

I frequently visit news site: ESPN or CNN and SNS: Facebook, the ads often pop up with what I’m interested in such as hotels promotion or wines. I believe these types of ads are effective in order to draw attention and may lead targeting customers.

Blog #3: Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi 2 is the second version of the popular credit card form factor computer, hugely popular for teaching computer science in school.  The new version sells for the same price, $35 and features:

  • A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU (~6x performance)
  • 1GB LPDDR2 SDRAM (2x memory)
  • Complete compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1

The second version has upgraded to an ARM7 core which can now run of ARM GNU/Linux distributions, including Snappy Ubuntu Core, as well as Microsoft Windows 10. If I were Eben Upton, the CEO of Raspberry Pi, I will contact the following people:

Leo Kelion (@LeoKelion): Technology desk editor of BBC news

Klint Finley (@klintron): Wired Reporter

Luke Westaway (@lukewestaway): CNET Senior Editor

Blog #3 – PickCrew (How Much to Make an App)

You are a non-tech MBA student and have this great startup idea that needs a mobile app.  Howmuchtomakeanapp.com (by PickCrew) can create an app for you and your business.  This website is a platform to bring the web and app designers with the business.  The simplified pricing estimator helps the potential customers select their requirements.  Then, the quote will be based on the complexity with the price range of $60 – $80 an hour.  The website is especially friendly to business community due to its simplicity.

As the company’s CEO, I would follow Alexis Ohanian, @alexisohanian, founder of reddit and partner at Y-combinator. Eric Ries (@ericries), Blair Hanley Frank (@belril).  Both Alexis and Eric are so well known in the startup world and their twitter accounts have massive quality followers.  Blair is the geekwire correspondent and it would be beneficial to get to know him for any PR activities.

ClassWallet: Value Proposition and Positioning

ClassWallet: https://www.classwallet.com/

Venture Description:

In summary ClassWallet is an e-tool specifically focused on school teacher for them to collect, manage, buy and track resources to help their class projects.

Value Proposition:

ClassWallet website explains that school teachers have a wide variety of tasks and among those tasks are collecting, administrate, spend and track those funds making their job very difficult, without forgetting that the collecting task can be even more difficult due the fact that there are checks, cash and wire transfers, all this causing major distraction for the teachers from their main purpose which is teach.

So ClassWallet can be defined as an e.assistant for teachers, allowing them to focus in teaching and making their finance really easy.

Positioning:

After considering various options and reading their website several times I think this could be a good approach to their positioning:

For Teachears of all USA, ClassWallet is the e-finance tool that delivers an easy to use e-platform to collect, administrate, spend and track their class funds because only ClassWallet enables teachers to do all in one site and be focused to teach

Although the barriers to entry are low and there may be other apps that without being so specific (only for teachers) could do the same. ClassWallet has a comprehensive language for their segment and this may allow them to acquire a good market, plus they really know and detail the situation and problems they are trying to solve.

LocalBlox

LocalBlox

If I was an angel investor, VC or even if there was a chance to invest via a CrowdFunding platform, I’d love to invest in LocalBlox considering its compliance to current trend, broader market and social impact. “LocalBlox is a technology company that builds high-scalable neighborhood platforms, aggregating more than 27 millions business profiles with rich meta data, millions of active events, crime incidents, neighbor profiles and news from thousands of sources.”

LocalBlox is a social network that allows all visitors to explore the neighborhood near them, empowers its members to share and describe their neighborhoods to others. Whether you are a new comer, or a local resident, LocalBlox will help you to discover the diversity of neighborhoods. On the other hand, small business owners can reach out to their potential customers and grow their businesses by LocalBlox.

  • LocalBlox has chosen a popular existing market: social network. Nowadays, people are more willing to share their daily life, information and opinion, LocalBlox just fulfill people’s need to share.
  • Compared to its competitors, other social networks, LocalBlox is a more comprehensive, more convenience on-stop service. It looks like a combination of Tripadvisor, Evenbrite, Groupon. Just one click on Local Blox, you can get all information about events, promotion, restaurants near by.
  • The information provided on LocalBlox is more authoritative since its resources are leading real estate companies.
  • LocalBlox also niches a new market in the social network: a platform for small businesses to establish and maintain customer relationship. According to a business owner from Seattle WA, LocalBlox helps him increase twice of the sales, it is an affordable, quick, efficient and easy way to market their small businesses.
  • The company has a comprehensive team, including people focus on business analysis and technique. Such team allows them to develop high efficient and customer-satisfied product.
  • LocalBlox also has positive social impact. Based on the labor market investigation from US Census, 70% jobs are created by small businesses. LocalBlox will not only help to develop local small businesses, but also help to generate more jobs.

Thus, LocalBlox not only comply the recent trend of social network, it also niche the market targeting the small businesses owners’ need to market, to reach out to their potential customers.

 

 

 

 

Amazon buys TeachStreet

TeachStreet.com is a Seattle based web site that provided information to students on local and online classes. It also provided teachers the online tools with help in placing ads to attract students and handle payments. TeachStreet launched in Seattle in April 2008 and was running in 8 US Metros as of this writing. The company had received $2.25MM in funding from noted investors such as Madrona Venture Group and Bezos Expeditions.

On February 2nd of this year, there was news that TeachStreet was acquired by Amazon. The details of the deal were not public but there is speculation that this was a “talent acquisition” where the TeachStreet team would work on Amazon Local. As a result of this acquisition, TeachStreet will officially shutdown as of tomorrow (2/15/2012). There was an article on GeekWire where the founder, Dave Schappell, said that due to changes in Google’s search algorithm, their traffic dropped quite drastically and they were looking for partners. In the end, TeachStreet might have felt that being acquired was the best deal for them. The TeachStreet team has always been appreciated in the local Seattle startup community and the news was well received as is evident by the comments in the GeekWire post.

While the details of this deal are not public, we can only speculate. In my opinion, the online student marketplace is an area where companies are investing in, for example betterfly.com,  takelessons.com,  thumbtack.comcraigslist.com,  skillshare.com,  wyzant.com. Amazon has always expressed an interest in the local market (Amazon Fresh) (but who hasn’t Google offers, Groupon, MSN offers, etc.). I think that the knowledge that the TeachStreet team brings will be useful for Amazon in its Amazon Local offering. Also, it would be interesting to see whether Amazon tries to differentiate itself from the other deal services by providing an entry into local teaching services.  While tutoring services are big in the American market, they are nowhere close to the size that they are in the developing markets such as India. The TeachStreet deal may help Amazon if it plans to take Amazon Local international.

Overall, I think this is a great deal for both parties (investors notwithstanding) and we can look forward to the next big thing from the v-TeachStreet team. Congratulations to all involved!

References

–          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TeachStreet

–          http://www.geekwire.com/2012/exclusive-amazoncom-buys-TeachStreet