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.

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Academia.edu- Customer Acquisition and Strategy

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Academia.edu is a San Francisco-based start-up company that in the past three years has been gaining big momentum in the scientific research/academic societies. Richard Price, a Ph.D. Oxford University alumnus, founded this company with the aim of accelerating scientific research and reducing the inefficiency in academic publishing sector (e.g., publication time, distribution, collaboration, citation, etc).

Academia.edu is a social web platform for scholars/academics/researchers/scientists to promptly share their research papers. Academia currently have over 1.8 M register users and ~5 M visitors a month; giving a staggering number of over 4K new users register everyday. Academia’s cutting edge comes with the analytical dashboard, which provides scientists with various statistical-tools of their scientific impact (e.g., research paper downloads, profiles views, citations, etc.) as well as the option to follow particular scientists or research trends.Image

So far, Academia.edu had $7M dollars in funding from CVs (Spark Capital, True Ventures, and Gerson Lehrman Group) with the goal of provide trending research data to R&D institutions that can improve the quality of their decisions by 10-20%.Richard says: “There is an opportunity to make a large economic impact. Around $1 trillion a year is spent on R&D globally” which is the economic sector that this company is proposing to impact.

Academia.edu is currently using a variety of methodologies to manage user’s attention and maintain their customers acquisition. Some of the most important technique that this company is using is implementing inner customers relationships (ecosystem) via a social network as well as promoting press coverage –creating a large resonance in the research/R&D world. Also, what academia does is allow scientists to simply share their papers and then use academica’s web track-tools to analyze how this research is impacting their community, which is something that is truly lacking in the traditional research journals format.   

Content Is King: Nuubuu’s New Content Distribution Platform

Within the explosion of the Internet and digital distribution over the past 20 years, content production and distribution has been growing exponentially.  In a number of creative areas, from music, books, film, and art, the traditional, physical model of distribution has been disrupted, making the overall access and supply to creative content much larger and easier to obtain.  Former startups from Ebay to Etsy are now among the powerhouses in the online retail marketplace, and Amazon has become one of the premier resellers of all types of content, both physical and digital.

There are countless content distributors on the internet, although most tend to focus on a particular vertical.  For example, in stock photos, Getty Images is the industry leader.  In music, there are a number of services that offer different avenues of distribution options, from Spotify’s subscription service model, to Pandora’s custom radio option, to the now “traditional” digital download model from Apple’s iTunes or AmazonMP3, although there are outlets such as CdBaby.com and Tunecore for self distribution platforms.  The eBook market has been traditionally dominated by Amazon, although there are a number of startup sites such as Lulu.com that focus on self publishing.  Traditionally, these content providing startups have been focused on one particular vertical, trying to gain traction in one creative vertical, before debating expansion to another marketplace vertical.

This is why a new Seattle based upstart called Nuubuu is so intriguing.  They have a barebones, simple layout for distributing almost any creative work digitally. Additionally, they provide a creator setting pricing mechanism to allow the creator to set the work anywhere between $1 and $1000.   This means that an individual song can be offered for $1, a digital textbook can be offered for $300, while high resolution digital artwork can be offered for $1000 (or vice versa).  There is an additional social aspect to the product offering, which allows for the creator to post the store’s outlet via Facebook, Twitter or to blogs.  This way in theory, you would be able to generate traction from the distribution of content, thus increasing the possibility of more sales and marketing of your product.

One interesting aspect to the startup is that for a content distribution company, NuuBuu appears to be outwardly absent of content.  On almost all other content distribution sites I’ve encountered, the products distributed are also displayed on either a home page or larger store page.  While NuuBuu is merely 4 months old, and has only recently launched publicly, at the moment, there is no function to see who else is selling something on or through their site, and it takes multiple clicks to upload your own content.  Therefore, while NuuBuu is acting a facilitator towards content sales, it appears that they do little to promote content sales besides providing a social element to share potential customer growth.  While the concept of a multi-vertical distributor is promising, I will be interested to see the ongoing evolution of NuuBuu and it’s customer traction and engagement in the future.

How Mint.com got 20,000 Signups before Launch

Mint.com has long been a company I’ve admired for their displacement of traditional financial management software products like Microsoft Money and Intuit Quicken. Launched in 2007, mint.com had over 20,000 requests to use the product prior to launch and quickly became a recognized startup. In less than two years after launch, Microsoft discontinued its Microsoft Money product in June, 2009 and four months later, Intuit acquired mint.com for $170M.  Taking a closer look at how mint.com was able to quickly drive early awareness reveals the primary components of their initial marketing strategy, which serves as a playbook for nearly any internet startup.

Mint took a three pronged strategy as developed by Noah Kagan, then Mint’s Director of Marketing.

  1. Targeting. Noah and chief designer Jason Putorti used the tried and true approach of testing to determine the most effective means to driving      traffic.  Using good old searching, they found and targeted personal finance blogs, financial gurus and other influencers or hubs on personal finances as well as communities of target users they determined would be attracted to the tool. Next they developed several different test landing pages for their site and measured the conversion results from the various targets to determine which sites and keywords were most effective. This approach refined their SEO strategy. You can view the various landing pages here: http://bit.ly/xAtksk
  2. Word of Mouth. Mint was exceptionally successful at this, using a combination of their own blog site and third party bloggers. Because the product was amazing to start with, users were enthusiastic to share about it with friends and family. Mint provided an easy to use referral tool as well as post badges entitled “I Want Mint” for bloggers in exchange for early access to the tool.  Second, they identified lesser known bloggers who had strong followings and proactively sponsored their blogs, creating loyalty from the audience that matters most. Lastly, their own blog site was crafted with useful information and quickly became the number one personal finance blog.
  3. Press. Mint.com set goals for the various publications and key influentials in the personal finance space they wanted to engage. Through a PR firm, they conducted positioning research to focused on these targets and drove tremendous awareness of their product by achieving targeted placements.

Combining these approaches, Mint.com was able to capitalize on nearly every popular finance search query and align content for it through their blog, various landing pages and third party blog sites. They used scorecards and metrics to closely track results and make refinements as they went along knowing that what gets measured is what gets done.  As a result, they gathered over 20,000 email addresses prior to launch. Once mint.com was ready to launch, they called ever person to let them know.  Ultimately, they had over 1.5M users within three years of launch.