RentJuice Seeks to Help Landlords and Brokers Get Serious About the Web, Like Consumers Already Are
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the technology isn’t about to put any humans out of a job. “Technology is not going to open a door for you, and we are not building robots that know how to explain how much natural light or noise an apartment might get,” he says. But brokers who use the system do have more time left over to focus on the things that really set them apart, such as their network of property owners. (Landlords like the system, by the way, because it lets them dump all their listings into a single database, then decide which RentJuice-enabled brokers should see them.)
When I visited RentJuice’s San Francisco office in late March, the company had about 20 employees, counting the former Kahoots employees in Boston. The startup isn’t yet national—instead it’s expanding city by city, focusing first on brokers and listings in Boston, Chicago, Miami, and New York. Next week, the company plans to introduce the “RentJuice Index,” giving both brokers and renters a snapshot of the rental markets based on data from its platform.The quarterly index will focus first on Boston and Chicago but will be rolled out in the other cities over time.
RentJuice has been both smart and lucky, to hear Vivero tell it. The company understood its market well, so it has avoided the strategic blunders that lead to the “pivots,” or strategy shifts, so common at young startups. The company did, however, have to scrap its original pricing system. Originally, Vivero says, RentJuice charged by the seat. “The amount of revenue you can book is directly related to the number of people on your staff, and likewise for our cost to serve your account,” he says. “So we had a per-seat model, with a bulk discount for larger numbers of seats. But we ran into huge headwinds with some customers, because they thought our business model inhibited their growth as opposed to supporting it.”
Brokers, in other words, didn’t like seeing their RentJuice fees go up every time they hired a new agent—and the startup lost some customers this way. But early this year, RentJuice switched to flat-fee pricing. For a single broker, a subscription costs $59 per month; for two to 100 brokers, it’s $129 per month. You might think that servicing a 90-employee customer for the same fee as a three-employee customer would strain RentJuice’s own finances—but the reality is that the average brokerage only has about 10 people on the system, Vivero says. Really large customers like Coldwell Banker New England, meanwhile, pay a specially negotiated enterprise rate. The new pricing “has brought a lot of customers back to the table, which has been worthwhile,” Vivero says. “Each time we’ve tweaked the business model, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of customers.”
In an unsubtle attempt to steal a bit of the spotlight from Salesforce.com, the San Francisco cloud services giant known primarily for its customer relationship management (CRM) software, RentJuice has recently begun describing itself as a pioneer in “rental relationship management,” or RRM. And if it can attain hit adoption rates anywhere close to those Salesforce.com has achieved in the world of sales automation, it ought to do well. After all, the number of renters in the U.S. is expected to increase from the current 40 million to 50 million over the next five years—and almost all of those new renters will start their apartment searches online.
“People have known for years that the back-office processes in the real estate world can use help, but they were selling a highly illiquid, slow-moving asset, so there was never really a big need for it,” Vivero says. “But over the last several years, online platforms have increased the demand on the consumer side, and that has caused the supply side to realize they need to rebuild their businesses on top of technology.”
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