Two UK-based Singaporean entrepreneurs got onto the stage at the just concluded TechCrunch Disrupt to launch their new startup — Rentlord. They were one of 30 finalists at the event, which had over 700 applications.
Disrupt is a conference organized in the US by influential tech blog TechCrunch that gives new and unknown startups a visible platform to launch their products. Besides having the stage, they would receive plenty of press coverage and a chance to win a US$50,000 prize money.
So what is Rentlord? It’s an online platform packed with features to make long-term rentals easy for landlords and tenants. Something like Airbnb, but targeting a very different market. Its typical users would include accidental and professional landlords as well as tenants — like an exchange student looking for a property to stay in for months.
Rentlord innovates by giving landlords the ability to create customized contracts easily on the platform, based on the space they’re willing to lend out and the kind of tenants they’re looking for.
Even better, the platform has a tool for users to collect rentals, submit meter readings, and even split the utility bills. If you’re a tenant, you can report problems such as a water leakage. If you’re a landlord, you can send out reminders for bill payment or invoices.
But beyond being an end-to-end system for long-term rental seeking and management, Rentlord strives to allow tenants and landlords to connect with one another through various networks.
For instance, a landlord can put up an ad of his property on the website, include a photo, description, and geotag the information. He can then blast the notice out on Facebook, Twitter, other social networks, as well as leading property portals in the country.
The website is free to use and only available in the UK, but they plan to launch in the US soon.
Rentlord is the brainchild of Colin Tan, an English Literature graduate from the National University of Singapore. After working at a human rights NGO in Geneva as a community builder connecting grassroots members in Asia with the United Nations office, he entered Cambridge University where he did his Masters.
He was then offered the Cambridge Commonwealth Scholarship to do his PhD, and he took it up because he wanted to be an educator like his dad.
The idea for Rentlord came while he was doing his PhD. In 2008, while he and his wife were living in London, Colin was “amazed” at how inefficient the process of finding a property or tenant was. That was also the time where Facebook was starting to get popular in the UK.
“So the two things clicked: what if we used the power of social media to enable everyone to rent and manage their property? What if we created one platform and one network that everyone could use to rent the property person-to-person?” said Colin.
Working with him is wife Sarah, a lawyer of 13 years, and Kok Hong, a computer science lecturer with a background in electrical engineering.
“We’re Singaporeans through and through,” he told SGE via email.
So far, they’ve managed to raise US$80,000 in funding. Sources include Seedcamp, an early-stage micro seed investment fund and mentoring programme in Europe, and 500 Startups, an an early-stage seed fund and incubator program located in Mountain View, California.
They’ve also attended the Mini Seedcamp in New York City in June 2011, and got selected through that to enter the main Seedcamp Week, where they received mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Rentlord was then picked to join Seedcamp, consisting of one year of intense support and coaching.
At this point, they’re still figuring out what kind of revenue model they wish to adopt. They could charge for market listing fees or payment transactions fees, or affiliate fees from utility providers. They’re also thinking of making the platform userful for estate agents to execute their transactions more quickly and efficiently.
Right now, the only other competitor for Rentlord I can think of would be Airbnb itself. While they are mainly focused on vacationers as their target market, they also have an Airbnb Sublets section which cater to rentals that lasts for months.
It’ll be interesting to see how Rentlord, which has managed to raise the stakes for long-term rentals, would compete against Airbnb, a pioneer and market leader of the online rental marketplace concept.
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