Finding an apartment is hard enough. And it can be even harder for college students, who are looking for affordable, safe, and convenient off-campus housing. This is what prompted Temple University then-student Ofo Ezeugwu to launch WhoseYourLandlord .com in October 2012. He has since graduated. The site?s goal is to help students know what to expect when selecting both on and off-campus housing.?
?My junior year at Temple University I was running for vice president of the student body and that position dealt with a lot of issues occurring off and around campus. I’d heard horror stories from student renters about things they were facing and I thought, ?what if people could rate their landlords? That way, those coming in after them would know what to expect before signing a lease.? And, several months later, I launched WhoseYourLandlord ,? recalls Ezeugwu.
The site ranks landlords and dorms at Drexel University, George Mason University, Temple, University of Maryland and University of Pennsylvania. And it has proved to be a much-needed resource as it also gives users a chance to make their own reviews of landlords.
Ezeugwu manages the site along with a team comprised of mainly Temple students.
As with most startups, funding was an issue which Ezeugwu had to overcome. ?As a startup, you’re going to face issues of growing a team with limited resources and funding to entice folks to stick around. You also have to work hard in order to be taken seriously,? he shares. ?As a young team, people often think you’re not ready or in the right position to run a rapidly expanding, competent business. Disproving preconceived notions is one of the harder things to do. We’ve overcome these issues by staying true to ourselves. We recruit people who work hard and who want to change the status quo. Consistency is the name of the game and we do that pretty well.?
He adds, ?One of the largest issues we’ve faced is working through the lack of funding. It’s hard to prove product- market fit, consistently grow the user base, grow the amount of data, build a great product, expand a great team, and still not receive the same opportunity other people receive. The numbers don’t lie. Less than 1% of venture funded companies last year were African American led. That’s an issue that we face everyday. We’ve been able to do so much with so little and get very little credit for it. I think our ability to keep our heads down and work, while also being aware of what’s going on around us, keeps us engaged and in prime position to keep growing. This won’t be an issue for long. We just have to open peoples’ eyes and we’ll do what it takes to make that happen.?
According to the site, he opted for “Whose” rather than “Who?s” because he wanted to use the ?possessive form of the word ‘who’ because we are now returning the ownership back to the tenants. Whose Your Landlord gives the tenants a voice and places the power into the hands of the people it should be in,? he explains.
The site has been growing steadily, but Ezeugwu has faced challenges. ?Getting people to know we exist and to post reviews has been a challenge. All review-focused sites initially face a chicken and egg problem where you need people to insert data in order to have data for others to base their decisions off of,? he says. ?As we’ve continued to spread the word, we’ve gotten thousands more reviews and a lot more engagement with our user base as they’re realizing the importance of contributing to this community of information.?
Ezeugwu has some specific goals for this year. ?[We want to] grow our traction and gain a foothold in the Philadelphia, NY, DC, and Boston markets. We’re looking to expand our team and add more sales, marketing, and development assistance. We’re also looking to close our seed round to help make a lot of these goals move quicker and more efficiently,? he shares.
As for the future, Ezeugwu says, ?Our long term goals are to change the way the rental process works around the world. Today, all the information purported to us comes from an entity looking to sell us on a property, whether it be the landlord, property manager, broker, etc. In that same vein, home providers must merely rely on credit scores and background reports to convey a half complete story of a future renter. We want to insert the expectation of quality into the housing ecosystem. The same way there should be high-quality home providers and residencies, there must be high-quality renters who contribute to the well being of their communities.?
The process of building his fledgling company has taught Ezeugwu more than a few business lessons. He says, ?Nothing comes easy. The same amount of work you put towards your craft and your value add to consumers, is the same effort you must put towards getting to know people in your industry, investors, and business professionals in other fields,? he says. ?Your network and social capital make you more powerful than anything else. Social media helps to create this for people today. The better you can leverage your network and the more effort you put in expanding it, the better off you’ll be. The saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know,” is the most honest saying I’ve encountered. I see it everyday. That concept drives partnerships, investments, exits, everything.?
And Ezeugwu plans on using these business lessons to grow his company. ?I’m a strong believer that as long as I’m growing and learning from these lessons, I’ll forever have an abundance of information in which I can convey to others. My goal is to continue building out WYL and to truly add value and change the way the rental process is. Once I feel that I’ve done all I can in that space and once we achieve our goals, I’ll look to leveraging my abilities in other ways that can affect more people,? he says. ?I want to inspire people. I want to teach people and build. I want to invest in people and their businesses. I also enjoy entertainment and making people feel things. I have many goals and I plan to reach and surpass each and every one of them,? he notes.