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Is yet another rental startup necessary?

Yet another rental solution has hit the market, but with all of the noise in the sector, is it really necessary?

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rentobo rentals

Rental apps popping up like weeds

When we hear about a young startup in the rental sector, our ears always perk up, because it currently has the most room for improvement, and is light years behind the residential sector. We have highlighted dozens of them in recent years, watching them grow and make some of the same mistakes that residential search companies have made, namely the assumption that no one does what they do or can do.

TechCrunch recently wrote about Y Combinator-backed Rentobo.com, which at first glance was refreshingly beautiful. TechCrunch writes, “The team, which was part of the Y Combinator Summer 2011 class, started off originally with the idea of auctioning off apartment rentals. But it quickly realized that all the infrastructure it was building would be extremely useful in just getting most apartment listings online. So it began to focus instead on what it could do to automate the process and make things easier for both landlords and tenants.”

While an early pivot is never unhealthy, it made us immediately wonder why Y Combinator would back a company entering such a noisy space that is being pioneered by the big bucks? Although Rentobo is well designed and could possibly do the same tasks, RentJuice has already innovated the “common application” for renters and landlords, the crux of what appears to be Rentobo’s offering, and RentJuice also made headlines last year when they created the first ever directory of rental industry insiders.

Since then, RentJuice was acquired by Zillow for $40 million, so perhaps Rentobo sees flaws in the system and seeks to go head to head with Zillow, and why not? Zillow saw flaws in Realtor.com and came out doing something extremely similar, but in a way that they saw as superior.

Sexy design, but what’s next?

Although hailed for their beautiful design (by us and TechCrunch), it looks a bit like RentChimp, designed to compete with Nestio, a bookmarking site for real estate listings.

Rentobo also has to compete with LeaseRunner which has a loyal following for their making the leasing process paperless, automated, and easy enough for the non-tech savvy to understand, particularly landlords. Alternatively, RentMonitor simplifies property management and reduces paperwork, alongside their competitors.

Since the company already pivoted, it is conceivable that they could end up adding search, and not only go up against legacy brands like ForRent.com, but Inhabi, which matches renters and landlords, eHarmony style, or Lovely which is amazingly beautiful and going national.

Maybe the next iteration will include scoring for listings like Rentenna or throw in a mix of aggregated short term rentals with traditional rentals like Rentmix or stick to aggregating Craigslist and other listing sites like Padmapper is so famous for.

Perhaps lifestyle search could be thrown in to compete with RentSavvy or the focus could be on the investor portion of leasing, like RentScoper.

IS there room for Rentobo in this noisy sector?

So the question remains – is there room for Rentobo in the rental sector? Their design is beautiful, but not exactly unique, and their offering is being adopted already by Zillow through their new acquisition of RentJuice. They could pivot to go head to head with another company, but while the space is noisy, it is our assertion that there is tremendous room for improvement and innovation in the rental sector, particularly with multifamily and one-off landlords, as the actual leasing process remains a pain point for rental seekers every day.

So, while Rentobo’s offering is not overtly unique, they should take that Y Combinator seed money and keep forging ahead, and be aggressive about it, just like Zillow and Trulia did to Realtor.com – there’s room for improvement in the noisy space of everyone trying to innovate, but the rental sector is still coming up short. It will be fascinating to see Rentobo go after Zillow and their other competitors, as the cycle of young startups begin putting pressure on the companies that are no longer the new kids on the block. To Rentobo, we say go get ’em.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Frugyl

    July 7, 2012 at 9:30 am

    I’ll only read if it’s 75% or higher, so count me in! Ha ha! *squeal!*

  2. AgentGenius

    July 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    BOOM. You are the 25%.

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Tech News

Social media giants are trying to operate without human controls but are failing

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over in fascinating ways, but this big experiment of replacing human tasks is failing. Good news / bad news.

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Let me tell you a story. In fact, let me tell you several.

A village in Macedonia had a small economic boom during the 2016 election, plagiarizing and stitching together pro-Trump messages on social media, then publishing the results as “news” in order to profit from Google ad revenue.

Back during the “Keep Calm and…” T-shirt fad, a shirt company went through a thoroughly justified PR apocalypse for selling products labeled “Keep Calm and Hit Her” and “Keep Calm and Rape a Lot.”

The 17th most popular website on Earth occasionally likes to tell women over 30 to freeze their ova.

So! That’s a parade of fail. What’s it got in common, beyond making any reasonable reader consider moving to an Amish community and trying to forget even the word “Internet”?

People. More accurately, their absence.

Veles, Macedonia churned out profitable nonsense about Trump slapping a protester (that didn’t happen) or getting the blessing of the Pope (Pope says nope) because Google ads are programmatic. There’s no QA component, no human eyes reviewing content and asking “is this worth advertising on?” or for that matter “is this blatantly false?”

Likewise the Evil T-Shirt Crisis. The company generated slogans by dropping memes into an algorithm, then throwing the result on Amazon. That ended… poorly.

We, and every other tech and business network in the digital cosmos, have written in depth about all the dang robots taking our jobs. Usually our primary concern is the economic fallout. We’re a business news organization. It’s our job to warn you about that stuff.

But there’s another problem, and it’s a huge problem, especially as media consumption in general continues to rise, and more and more of that media is moderated by algorithms rather than people.

Robots aren’t just taking our jobs. They suck at our jobs. Algorithms may play go, but they aren’t ready to make value judgments yet. A quick Google will yield a dozen more examples of AI failures just as repulsive and/or hilarious as the ones on my list. And the real punchline for all of that?

It’s good news.

For once, the robot apocalypse is cutting us puny humans a break. It’s creating jobs almost as fast as it’s gobbling them up, because at this point, it is excruciatingly clear that robots aren’t ready to produce work people can actually see. They’re not even ready to put ads on work people see, not without causing a PR catastrophe every other month.

AI isn’t a better widget. It also isn’t an employee that doesn’t want benefits or take long lunches.

It’s a product in permanent beta, desperately trying to catch up to the constantly changing nuance of human interaction. It doesn’t work without homo sapiens holding its robot hand.

Let’s call it Salter’s Law: For every application of AI to customer-facing work, you will need to hire at least one human for damage control when the AI screws up.

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Tech News

New stats behind mobile addiction and how people are coping

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Addiction to our screens is now accepted, and while younger generations are glued more tightly to them, many people are finding ways to fight back.

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I’d probably get this article done faster if I wasn’t checking my phone every couple of sentences. Even if I’m not expecting a message and know that everyone I was talking to is currently busy, it’s likely I’ll still neurotically check my phone every few minutes just in case.

Turns out I’m not alone in my mobile addiction.

A study from Deloitte of 2,000 U.S. internet users aged 18 to 75 found most people check their smartphone roughly 47 times a day.

Younger users nearly double this stat, checking their devices around 86 times a day, up from 82 times reported in the 2016 study.

The study also assessed which activities drove users to check their smartphones. Patterns of use compared to the previous year remain relatively unchanged except for self-reports of checking the phone while driving, which has fortunately decreased.

More than nine out of every ten respondents confess they use their phone while shopping or “spending leisure time.” Over eight out of ten reported checking on phones while watching TV, eating in a restaurant, and even while talking to family and friends.

When watching a show that’s longer than eleven minutes, I put my phone on the opposite side of the room if I want any hope of paying attention. I know if I keep my phone next to me, I’ll miss crucial chunks of episodes. This is a partial attempt to manage the addiction.

Likewise, around 47 percent of respondents said they’re trying to limit their usage, and are actively taking steps to reduce time spent on their phones. Some people report success by simply keeping their phones out of sight, turning it off during meals, or while spending time with friends.

A third of those surveyed turn off audio notifications, while around a quarter even went as far as putting some apps the chopping block. Another quarter could only part with their phones at bed time, turning their devices off at night.

Having a smartphone is fun (an addiction), but you don’t want to end up being that sad woman in the “Selfie” episode of High Maintenance only interacting with your phone.

Sometimes it can be much healthier to just put your phone away for a while. This can be a few hours of no phone time, or if you cans swing it, a few days of “business only” phone time.

Let people know if you’re going radio silent for a significant amount of time though, because otherwise your mom will think you’re dead if you stop responding to texts. Now please excuse me while I fail to follow my own advice and continue the technology loop of checking my Snaps, texts, and Instagram feed.

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Tech News

Turn your FAQ page into a chatbot without knowing how to code

(TECH NEWS) An easy way to add a chatbot to your site and automate some of your work is through this new simple tool that doesn’t require any tech know-how.

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faqbot chatbot

Reduce your workload and personalize customer service engagement with Faqbot, the tool that turns your online FAQ into a customized chatbot.

Co-founded by Denny Wong and CEO Mathis André, Faqbot uses machine learning to streamline frequently asked questions into a handy chatbot pal.

Based on your existing FAQ content, Faqbot builds a database that learns from every conversation to improve responses. Faqbot can also be used to automate sales and lead generation.

You get to design the conversation flow, mapping out a custom path to guide users to a desired outcome. Set predefined choices or free text, customize the bot’s responses, and determine what leading questions the bot should ask.

For example, on the Faqbot site, I was given two pre-set choices to click after each response from the bot. Clicking “Thanks for helping” gets the polite response “You are welcome! ;-)” complete with an old-school emoji featuring a nose.

If you select “not my question,” Faqbot uses its general response to any unanswerable question: “Sorry, I’m a chatbot. I am constantly learning and have answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for leaving your email and we will get back to you shortly.”

Choose your own responses based on already defined FAQ or come up with new messaging to better engage and inform your customers as needed. The free text option is also available if customers wish to continue asking questions.

Of course, I had to try out some less than frequently asked questions. When I asked Faqbot “are we friends?” it kindly replied, “Absolutely. You don’t have to ask.” So I’m smitten.

However, when I tried to take it to the next level by asking “Do you love me?,” which seems to be the internet’s favorite way to harass a bot, I got the “Sorry, I’m a chatbot” response.

That’s okay. I’ll recover. Faqbot isn’t here to love, it’s here to answer questions.

You can easily install the chatbot by either copy/pasting the snippet of codes directly into your webpage, or connect Faqbot to your company’s Facebook page. No coding skills required.

Pricing is based on number of users per month, but all levels include the same service offerings of FAQ database management, messaging interface, a ticketing system, and DIY guided conversation flow. You can try out Faqbot free for 7 days by signing up on their site.

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