Deanna Bennett and Brett Yates, solving simple real-world problem leads to RentMonitor
Like many new ventures, RentMonitor was founded to solve a real problem. Deanna Bennett, who worked in property management, wanted to pay her rent online. And she wanted to communicate online to her landlord. She knew from her job that there were solutions out there, but these were priced too high for many landlords. When Deanna went out looking for a reasonably-priced solution, she found that there weren’t low-priced, web-based property management tools for small- and mid-sized property management companies. So she and her husband, Brett Yates, founded RentMonitor.
Fast forward to today. RentMonitor has over 4,000 units under management. The properties are all over the US, with a few in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They are getting interest from other English-speaking countries too, like the UK.
Their sweet spot is landlords or management companies that have less than 200 units. For these customers, RentMonitor provides a host of online services to achieve the following:
- Manage the rent collection process
- Send rent reminders, receipts and late invoices
- Market vacant rentals
- Obtain credit & background reports
- Keep track of maintenance tasks
- Maintain accurate financial records
While building RentMontior over the past year, Deanna and Brett have used customer feedback to inform product development and believe now that, “We have what customers want.”
Deanna and Brett went through TechStars in Boulder in the summer of 2010. They had come out with an early product in February of that year. Unlike many TechStars startups, Deanna and Brett didn’t use the experience to raise money but, rather, to hone their product and marketing efforts: “We chose to go the bootstrapping route. We felt that was the best choice for us. Rather than spend time raising money, we wanted to launch our product and grow organically. We have a really great product and we make people’s lives easier.”
RentMonitor’s value to customers is their ability to make enterprise property management software features accessible to smaller landlords at an affordable rate. Their goal is to make it easier to be a landlord and to provide best practices to an industry that has never had them. RentMonitor charges their customers a monthly fee based on the number of units managed.
Background. Deanna and Brett met in college in Texas (TCU). Brett got his degree in electronic business, while Deanna got hers in finance and accounting. Brett turned his skills to web development and learned programming on his own.
They both always wanted to work for themselves. Deanna tells me, “I didn’t want to waste myself in a corporation. I believe that I have a lot to give. I wanted to be in a position where if I worked hard it would pay off. If you work hard for someone else they get the payoff.”
Challenges. As a married couple starting a new venture, Deanna and Brett faced some stigma because of their relationship. Overall, however, they feel it’s positive. Because of the level of commitment that you have to have as an entrepreneur, they would rather do that together than apart. Brett tells me, “To have the freedom to do this together gives us the freedom that we need to really build this business.”
Bootstrapping has also presented its challenges. While it is hard to raise money, if you are successful then you have some cash to bolster your startup. Deanna tells me, “Trying to build this ourselves without outside financial support has been stressful and really hard.”
Understanding their target market also presented challenges. “We have gone back and forth a few times on who is our target market,” Brett tells me.
But Deanna exclaims that the biggest challenge is always “Being able to take that leap of faith and believing in something enough to make a go of it.” Brett continues, “Because there are days when things don’t go right, or you get a support request, or someone sends you a snarky email and you just have to believe in what you are doing. Other days, you get a great email or someone posts positive comments about your product on their blog. We live for those days,” he concludes laughing.
Conclusions. RentMonitor is not rocket science. The technology is not deep research. But the need was out there and Deanna and Brett knew that they could fill the need with a simple, attractive solution that provides value to customers. They have a business model, differentiators from competitors and the will to persevere.
And that’s the stuff of a successful venture… Go for it!