By G+ Author: Dennis Tablott.
We all hate apartment hunting. From the seamlessly never-ending viewings, the countless landlords and the constant loop of questions. Well two years ago Caren Maio launched Nestio, an app to combine information for renters and landlords.
The app combines a web and mobile system to organize all your listing information on a map, with the ability to compare amenities, size, price, distance to a certain point maybe your office or your favorite coffee place. Apartment viewings can be saved onto the Nestio site which will then sync with your app – allowing for real-time updates about listings and the ability to share photos and notes with friends.
Three weeks ago Nestio launched a new feature for landlords and brokers that allows them to store floor plans, photos and addresses, sync to their respective sites and communicate with renters about openings or closings.
Mashable spoke to Maio about her frustration with the rental market and how Nestio was solving the problems of a notoriously difficult real estate market.
Q&A With Caren Maio, Co-Founder of Nestio
What would you say is the most irritating part of apartment-searching right now?
Good question. Really, the biggest thing is just knowing that so many landlords and brokers out there rely on this old-school way of doing things — of using spreadsheets and fax machines to manage everything, for example. When you’re searching, you want to make sure you’re making the best, most informed decision about choosing where to live; but it’s hard to feel that way when, say, you’re calling someone about a listing only to find out that it’s completely outdated by the time you get there. It’s so stressful.
The bottom line is that the folks at the very top — those in control of suppliers and everything — have really outdated systems. And that’s something that affects everybody.
So how did you come up with the idea for Nestio?
I’ve lived in New York City for 11 years, and I’ve moved within the city almost once each year. I kept thinking to myself that there has to be a better way to find an apartment in a big city.
I met my co-founder, Mike O’Toole, about five years ago. He had recently completed a move, so it was fresh in his mind, and we both started lamenting about all the pain points that come with moving. Finally, we both said, “You know what? Let’s play around with some ideas.”
We applied to TechStars and were lucky enough to get in — and that’s where it started. We quit our jobs and spent a lot of time talking to key players in the market — landlords, brokerage firms, renters — to figure out what the real pain point was, for everyone, and find a way to best address it through the use of technology.
So what did you conclude from speaking to everyone? Was there a universal answer?
Absolutely! In the sales market there’s a main database of information, called the Multiple Listings Service(MLS), which is great; but you just don’t have something like that on the rental market. You don’t have it in New York, and you don’t have it out of New York … it just doesn’t exist.
Almost every landlord and broker we talked to over the past year agreed that it was difficult to make sense of all the information about their listings. Most of them admitted to using spreadsheets, Post-It notes and fax machines, like I said before. So we concluded that the core issue at hand is this: If you’re looking at listings on third-party sites, they’re often inaccurate or stale — you’ll call up a broker, or whoever listed the apartment, and they’ll say, “Sorry, that apartment was rented earlier today.” Well … why is it still on the website?
We kept hearing this scenario over and over again during our research, so we talked to brokers and asked, “Hey, guys, what’s going on?” And the results were pretty remarkable. Landlords who owned or managed hundreds of millions — and in some cases, billions — of dollars in rental inventory were saying, “Hey, I’ve got multiple touch points, I’ve got a website, I’ve got brokers to update, I’ve got an internal team … it’s a lot of work.” And they’re right — it is. But without a database to compile all this information into one spot, it’s easy to lose track of things.
That’s where we saw an opportunity: When you think about the way that technology has really transformed other industries, it was amazing to us that in 2013 this method was the way landlords and brokers were managing their information. So we set out to change that lack of a universal, transparent platform.
As a renter, how does this work?
It’s a way to organize everything into one place. Before Nestio, there wasn’t a web and mobile tool to see listings, take notes and share them with people you care about — so this lets you do just that and, ultimately, make a more informed decision about where you want to live.
And for landlords?
Right. So this next step for brokers and landlords, which we just introduced a few weeks ago, is really putting all of those pieces together. Renters were the catalyst for us to look at the other side; to make this industry better through technology and help give suppliers updates in real-time, so the only apartments renters inquire about will be ones that are definitely available. This platform gives them a modern, centralized technology for keeping all of their information in one place.
How do you get the word out to brokers and landlords? Advertising? Word of mouth?
A lot of this has been through word of mouth. The rental business is very straight-forward, and we’re kind of in this point in the business where you now have landlords and brokers recommending it to each other — so that’s been nice.
We haven’t done any advertising yet, but I’m sure we will down the road when the time is right. We’re in a good spot right now where we’ve been able to leverage a lot of pre-existing relationships with teams who have worked in real estate and we’ve surrounded ourselves with some of the bigger landlords and the bigger brokers in the industry who believe in what we’re doing.
So far, to give you a few stats, we’ve been able to rack up about 15% of the New York City landlord market. And that’s sort of the crown jewel — we think [New York] is the best market to test this in because of its size and diversity. But we’re certainly eyeing other markets, too. It’s just a matter of finding which ones would make the most sense to tap into next in the immediate term.
How does Nestio profit?
Well, we want landlords on the product, so we’re not charging anything at the moment. All we want is you — we want you to use it and move away from the spreadsheets and get comfortable with this system. We’re still building out accounts for workers and agents to be able to view everything in one place, in real-time, instead of having to fax it, send it through a spreadsheet, whatever. So we’re still beta-testing it, but the goal is to start charging for accounts; once they’re ready, we think they’d be something brokers and landlords would pay for.
How did you come up with the name?
We spent a lot of time — probably longer than we should have — trying to come up with a name. And we really liked the root of the word “nest.” It felt safe, comfortable and kind of home-y; it just had a warm feeling to it, you know? So we started playing around, trying to get creative, punching in some extensions, and then “Nestio” just came up. I looked at my co-founder and said, “This sounds good, right?” And that was it.
Would you consider yourself to a competitor to sites like Apartments.com or Craigslist?
No, I wouldn’t. I think our goal is very different — it’s going to landlords, going to brokers, and re-thinking the way that they manage and communicate information, then trying to reintroduce tech into that. Ultimately, they could end up being partners of ours; there’s a lot of folks in the real estate division and everyone’s trying to come at it from a different way.
What about Nestio gets you the most excited?
The feeling that we have a big opportunity on our hands. I knew we had a big opportunity on our hands when, during our research, I was sitting in a landlord’s office — he had been in business for about 25 years — and saw that he had his iPad out and Macbook Air open. Out of curiosity, I asked what he had been using for work, and he pointed to a fax machine and a whiteboard in the corner.
I thought, “This guy has a newer iPad than I do … he just doesn’t have the right application for it.” So knowing that, and feeling that we’re really creating something of value for this market, really makes me feel great. We think Nestio can make a huge difference; it’s impossible not to feel good about that.