Communities across the country are experiencing gentrification — what some call the back-to-the-city movement.
Developers look at city cores across the U.S. as a way to incorporate the live-work-play model. However, for more than 100 million renters in the country, the lack of affordable and adequately maintained housing are problems that are getting worse.
Ofo Ezeugwu is the founder of Whose Your Landlord, a millennial-focused apartment listing and renters’ information site.
Ezeugwu was intrigued by what he saw while attending Temple University as an undergraduate student. Students were having issues with landlords, quality of life and lack of affordable rental properties as development occurred in Philadelphia.
We created software that has enabled landlords, property managers and developers to better engage with their residents, understand how renters feel and see what they’re sharing online. So now it’s very positive. But in the beginning, the feedback was bad.Ofo Ezeugwu, founder of Whose Your Landlord, an apartment listing and renters’ information site.
After more research, Ezeugwu saw that the problems weren’t just affecting students but all renters. There was no way to find out what other renters had to say about properties before signing a lease. No matter if a renter was looking to live downtown or on the outskirts, Ezeugwu felt there should be a way for renters to know what current residents thought about their landlords.
Whose Your Landlord launched in 2013. Ezeugwu and his team have amassed a following of more than 120,000 users per month in 244 U.S. cities. The platform not only shares renters’ positive and negative sentiment about landlords, but also offers podcasts on topics concerning its millennial target audience.
There was a lot of gentrification … landlords moving in looking at making a quick buck off student renters, but not servicing the spaces. We thought, why not be able to review your landlord? That way, you can know what to expect before signing the lease.Ofo Ezeugwu, founder of Whose Your Landlord, an apartment listing and renters’ information site.
Moguldom spoke with Ofo Ezeugwu about why he started the platform, the challenges of raising money as a founder of color and how he turned a lawsuit into a win for the rental industry.
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Moguldom: Why did you start Whose Your Landlord?
Ofo Ezeugwu: I started it out of a need. Back when I was a senior at Temple University, I was the vice president of the student body. One of the biggest issues that kept coming up was the issue students were having with landlords. There was a lot of gentrification happening in the north Philly area at the time and it’s still ongoing. We’ve had a number of landlords moving in looking at making a quick buck off of student renters, but not really servicing the spaces properly or providing quality service at all. We quickly learned that it wasn’t just a student problem but a community problem as well. We wanted to help serve residents from all over. We looked at the concept and thought, “Why not be able to review your landlord?” That way, you can know what to expect before signing the lease.
The addition of your team members has to be organic. I have seen founders that say, “We need these 20 positions” and then they try and hire all of them. I think organic growth has been key to our expansion.Ofo Ezeugwu, founder of Whose Your Landlord, an apartment listing and renters’ information site.
Moguldom: You were a student when launching the company. How did you start to build it while still at the university?
Ofo Ezeugwu: We had a beta version going back in 2013 when I was finishing up college. Post-graduation, about a year later, we won our first business plan competition that gave us the funds to actually start running it like a business. It was a process, but it gave us a way to test it out during our college years.
Moguldom: You have a remote team in Philadelphia, New York, and DC. How do you go about building your team? What do you look for in team members and what have you learned along the way?
Ofo Ezeugwu: In the beginning, the really kind of a scrappy startup who is building in a new business space (has to) have people with a lot of skills but also that have way more passion, and a deeper reason as to why they’re doing what they’re doing than just looking their skills. The addition of your team members has to be organic. I have seen the mindset of founders that say, “We need these 20 positions” and then they try and hire all of them. I think organic growth has been the key to our expansion. We hired team members as revenue grew and our needs as well.
Moguldom: Did you participate in accelerator programs after you launched Whose Your Landlord?
Ofo Ezeugwu: Yes, we went through Dreamit Ventures out of Philadelphia and Quake Capital out of New York City.
Back in the day, a boss might be able to just deliver information and what the boss says goes. Now, if you are an entrepreneur and want to grow, you have to listen. When you listen, you end up learning. Folks who have a hard time listening are not going to succeed.Ofo Ezeugwu, founder of Whose Your Landlord, an apartment listing and renters’ information site.
Moguldom: Older entrepreneurs think that younger founders are not receptive to taking advice. What do you say to that?
Ofo Ezeugwu: I think maybe it’s more of a millennial thing. I think we’re in a generation where because you have access to information very quickly, many of us can be extremely witty, smart and sharp. A lot of us are college educated. But at the same time, I don’t think we’ve grown a thick layer of skin to be able to take criticism the right way. I find, working amongst millennials, that tends to be the toughest thing for some. Back in the day, a boss might be able to just deliver information and what the boss says goes. Now you have to be very mindful of the delivery and how people internalize what you’re saying to them. That’s a very important thing to remember. I don’t think holistically you can say young entrepreneurs are all hard-headed. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to be a bit hard-headed. But I will say that it’s important that if you are an entrepreneur and want to grow to have a productive business well into the future, you are going to have to listen. When you listen, you end up learning, and that’s the key thing. So, folks who have a hard time listening are not going to succeed in the long term.
Moguldom: Do you find it challenging to be a younger founder when you’re going to present your business for sales or fundraising?
Ofo Ezeugwu: Certainly, but I think deeper than that, in the tech world, youth is not necessarily a deterrent. If you’re in certain markets like Philly, for example, being frank, it is not the most robust investment market. A lot of investments tend to be in industries that have been around for a long time, a lot of old money. Investors in Philly have a very different outlook than a Silicon Valley investor. But in those spaces, I’d say more of a factor than your age is if I was the exact same age, and a white guy that talked the same, had the same metrics, I would have raised millions of dollars by now. You’ll hear the argument, oftentimes, from founders of color, speaking on the topic. They will say the fight and journey make you stronger by going through all the rigmarole and working through the framework already in place. But the reality is, we lose out on time. This is all about how fast can you get to market, how efficient can you be in serving your customer once you’re in the market. When you have to spend so much time just building out the product and finally getting to a point of generating revenue, competitors have outpaced you. That becomes the toughest thing to really fight against as a founder of color.
Moguldom: How many users does your platform have and where are they?
Ofo Ezeugwu: We have over 120,000 users each month on the platform. And we have reviews in over 240 cities nationwide.
Moguldom: How much have you raised in capital thus far?
Ofo Ezeugwu: Close to $700,000 with Quake Capital Partners, CorLyst and private investors.
The reality is, we lose out on time. This is all about how fast can you get to market, how efficient can you be in serving your customer once you’re in the market. When you have to spend so much time building out the product … competitors outpace you. That becomes the toughest thing to fight against as a founder of color.Ofo Ezeugwu, founder of Whose Your Landlord, an apartment listing and renters’ information site.
Moguldom: What do landlords think of your platform?
Ofo Ezeugwu: At first, it was negative. For them at the time, that level of transparency had not existed in this industry. It’s a very old industry. One of the oldest industries is the selling of space, the selling of land. So, in the beginning, I think it was a tough thing. We were dealing with complaints from them. At one time we were sued and the circuit court judge in Philadelphia threw the case out. As we’ve grown, what has now transpired is them looking at us as a collaborator. They’re looking at it as “OK if renters are coming to your platform, and you have this treasure trove of information on what millennial renters want, how can we work together?” And so now, we created software that, in real time, has enabled landlords, property managers, and developers to better engage with their residents and to understand how renters feel and see what they’re sharing online. They can better connect and engage with them. So now it’s very positive. But in the beginning, the feedback certainly was bad.
Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for you and your company?
Ofo Ezeugwu: The next five years is expanding internationally. We are already getting requests to do so each week. We’ve been getting a lot of requests from renters in different countries over the last two years, namely Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, England, and Spain. These issues are not just occurring in the U.S. We’ve actually had investor interest directly from Toronto, Canada. We’ll see what ends up happening in terms of how we best expand internationally. At least for now, we’ll talk with Mexico and Canada next before expanding beyond.