Today we have selected Haley Anastassiou to take her interview. She is A 27-year old CEO of TrueRent.
First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?
COVID19 impacted our business in many unexpected ways, but we were not deeply affected as a company. Unfortunately, our experience was more individual, as many of our team members were impacted by COVID19. COVID19 touched all of our employees whether they physically got it or had a loved one who was infected, so we prioritized the health and well-being of our employees both physically and mentally during the pandemic.
Our business grew during COVID19 as we became a great resource to landlords and property owners looking for a digital solution to avoid physical contact. Our software allows a property owner to conduct every aspect online. There became no need for in-person contact with our online rent collection, tenant screening, and work orders. This was immensely helpful to existing users and new users looking for a safer solution for their business.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?
Before TrueRent, I studied Communications at Saint Mary’s College of California to pursue a career in marketing. After graduation, I worked at a large PR agency for years, specializing in the digital space, primarily in FinTech. Chris, my cousin, and co-founding partner, has a background in aviation and real estate. While in business school, Chris started investing in duplexes and triplexes in the Bay Area back in the early 2000s. His career as a property owner/manager inspired the creation of TrueRent. As he grew his real estate portfolio, he found it harder to keep track of rent payments, conduct work orders, and collect screening applications. When he looked into finding a system, nothing was available for small to mid-size portfolios, and even the systems targeted towards large-scale management groups weren’t all-inclusive. Chris then started TrueRent, partnering with a local agency to build the software. Chris brought me on to help build the social landscape and marketing strategy. With my marketing experience and Chris’ business and real estate background, we created TrueRent.
How does your company innovate?
We came into a space that had no representation for the smaller-scale property owner. The other software available at the time was targeted for real estate management companies, managing hundreds to thousands of units with high-end pricing. We wanted to create software that could manage 1000 units but was accessible and affordable for the property owner with 1 unit. With our sliding scale pricing and easy-to-use system, we were able to provide accessible software.
We have continued to grow and innovate our business over the years by providing essential features integrated into the software with no additional fees. We provide free online rent collection with next-day funding and integrated TransUnion screening services directly into our user’s accounts. Our innovation goals are to benefit the user and ultimately help them make their business more profitable.
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
The coronavirus, fortunately, did not negatively impact our business; in fact, our business grew due to the need for digital property management. It was no longer safe to physically collect rent checks or to go in person to conduct a tenant screening application, and our service offered a simple and safe solution. While the pandemic was very difficult for our team members and me, we prioritized our employees’ physical and mental health, allowing us to cope the best we could during such an unprecedented time. The support from all team members allowed us to prosper.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Every business owner has to make difficult choices, and navigating your business model, growth model, and customer satisfaction can facilitate constant change or essential choices. I would say our most difficult choices have arisen when changing large components of the software. We are constantly innovating and making changes when needed, and with these decisions come large financial investments. With these investments, financial hits are inevitable, and we ultimately have to weigh the cost and potential benefits.
From each of these experiences, we run a cost analysis and understand the risk when making these types of decisions. Through each decision, we drive the answer but focusing on what we value in our company and reflect on the driving force of our business. We want happy users. As simple as that. Our business model is based on the user experience and how we can keep progressing and innovating our software to make it the most streamlined and beneficial to the property owner.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
To maintain our business while supporting the growth due to the pandemic, we heavily relied on our CRM software partner Zendesk to ensure we were there for our users and utilizing our support system in the most efficient way possible. It is vitally important to increase your support response time and be available for demos with new users. Our system allows us to give timely responses to current, new, and prospective users.
In addition to our CRM tool, we had to work as a team to ensure all team members were supported during the tough times of COVID19. Whether it’s an engineer or a sales associate, one success is the company’s success. We had to be flexible in our everyday tasks to ensure we supported one another during that unprecedented time.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Our primary competitors are Appfolio, Avail, and RentecDirect. As an entrepreneur, while we are here to innovate, it’s not always reinventing the wheel. If multiple businesses share your business model, that means there is a need for this solution. You are achieving your goal in helping property owners simplify their business, but you need to keep in mind what’s different about your software? What differentiates us as a business is Chris’ hands-on experience as a property owner.
Chris validated our product with real tenants and ensured our customers had a superior user experience as real customers. He also was able to fill in the holes of our software, realizing how beneficial it would be to add or eliminate a feature that became unnecessary or imperative. This hands-on experience allowed us to create the most intuitive software with the features our customers need.
We also understand the importance of all-inclusive software. The majority of other software on the market have different tiered plans, where the features you need will cost you significantly more each month. We offer free online rent collection, with free next-day funding to all merchants. We wanted to eliminate the struggle of screening, so we built our integrated TransUnion software into TrueRent’s interface. We want to have all essential tools available to the user without nickel and diming them for everything they need. We also have extremely competitive pricing and stay in the position of one of the most affordable property management softwares on the market.
Your final thoughts
My age has given me the upper hand in starting a business, as the hunger and vision help drive the business. Speaking with any other entrepreneur, you will know that your workday never ends. Without drive and belief in your product, you will not succeed. On any long workday, or when powering through a QA software testing period, I ask myself how our business is going to impact someone else’s, and how can I ensure that what we are doing is allowing a property owner to expand their business, grow their portfolio, or breathe a little easier when managing their properties.
When starting a business, my advice would be to make thoughtful decisions when creating your vision for the company. Ask yourself why you are different, why you want to use the product, and prioritize the user and experience. Getting in the mindset of the consumer is essential to a successful business. Constantly check in with users, ask for feedback, provide surveys. Don’t be afraid to change or alter pieces of your software to enhance the user experience.
My other advice is to keep your product simple and know you don’t need to reinvent the wheel completely. I sometimes think in business, especially in softwares companies, try so hard to differentiate themselves that they end up veering from their initial concept. Sometimes adding five essential features can be more impactful than 20 features that clutter the system.
My final note is to know what you excel in and know what you should step away from. When starting a business, you likely have experience in the area, a business degree, a professional background in the industry, etc. No matter who you are, you will not be perfect in every avenue of your business. Know when you excel in your business sector and know when it would be more cost-effective to outsource. Everything can be taught, but guessing can sometimes take time and money away from your business. Focus on the areas in which you excel to ensure a productive and cost-effective model, and never have too much pride to reach out for expertise in other areas.