My name is George Cen and I am a co-founder of Properly, where we are on a mission to make renting simple and secure. Along with my two co-founders, Jerry Bai and Michael Lee, we take each traditional renting process (i.e. applications, tenant screening, and rent payments) and find a better and safer way to do it.
Our vision for this company is to be the one-stop shop for independent landlords and renters by providing the entire suite of rental services on our platform.
Where did the idea for Properly come from?
By late 2014, I had lived in New York City for six years and moved three different times. I was frustrated by the manual, slow, and paper-based tasks that I was forced to deal with when apartment hunting. Even when working with brokers and property management companies who charge expensive fees, the process was not any different.
I went on a personal mission to talk to landlords to see if they felt the same way as me. I quickly discovered that landlords managed such tasks as applications, credit reports, background checks, and rent payments on paper because there were no inexpensive and easy-to-use software options available. That was when I knew something had to be done to address this problem.
Why did you decide to start this business?
I spent my first six years out of college working for a large bank as a product risk manager covering real estate and private equity funds. I knew I wanted to move on from this corporate finance world. When I discovered the backwards nature of the current rental process, I became increasingly motivated as I learned more and more. In early 2015, after many lengthy discussions with my two co-founders who shared the same frustrations with renting and also had differing skillsets from me, we knew we had the team suited to solve this problem. Thus, Properly was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
If you asked me this question a month ago, I would have a completely different answer. I guess that’s what makes starting a business so exciting and challenging. Currently, we have a live product so we are focused on user acquisition and engagement. I spend the majority of my day talking to our users to acquire feedback, trying to connect with reporters and bloggers to get the word out, and implementing many marketing strategies.
How does your business differ from your competitors?
Nearly all of the rental management software in the marketplace has been developed for property management firms and large apartment complexes. For the average landlord who own between 1-10 units, the expense of setting up such software and the associated fees are often thousands of dollars a year. Due to the cost, landlords are often forced to manage these tasks themselves manually, inefficiently, and un-securely (think lots and lots of paper). The current software solutions are costly and are not designed with the do-it-yourself landlord in mind.
What kind of new trends excites you?
The real estate tech space has really been blowing up. This is a space that has been around for forever but yet, has operated more or less the same way all this time. It’s exciting to follow all of these tech companies creating truly innovative products to transform the real estate world.
I personally contact every user of Properly
What part of your job do you personally find most interesting?
Talking to users. I am so glad that our users have been open in providing feedback and sharing their day-to-day frustrations with us. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everyday, I learn something new – whether it’s about how we can improve a current feature, a suggestion for a new tool, or just hearing the thought process for how a landlord or renter makes a decision.
Please describe one of your habit that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’ve never been a morning person but I quickly found out there is just not enough hours in the day to skip the morning. For those like me, I heard this advice from a podcast and it really works. End your morning shower by turning the handle all the way to ‘cold’. This shocks your body and wakes you up.
If it isn’t a secret, could you please describe one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I personally contact every user of Properly. Like with every company, we also send automated emails but people don’t respond to those. By personally reaching out, I get many more responses which helps me gather more feedback and increase the engagement rate.
From your perspective, what are the challenges that you have to face as an entrepreneurs and how did you overcome them?
People often talk about how most startups fail which is true. However, along the way (and this also applies to companies that end up being successful), you fail thousands of times. Many ideas won’t work, your tech will be buggy, you will have unsatisfied customers, and so on. It’s easy to get discouraged. This is something I am still trying to overcome but what I’ve found to be helpful is just having the mindset that failures are unpreventable. Accept them and move on.
Your customers will tell you how your product is being used and what needs to change.
Do you have any advice/business idea for our readers before they decide to launch their business?
Before you start and while you’re building your business, you will make a lot of assumptions about how your customers will use your product. When you launch, forget all of these assumptions. Your customers will tell you how your product is being used and what needs to change. Reach out to each person personally and don’t forget to follow up. They will tell you if your business is working and what needs to improve.
What Tools/Apps do you use to growth your business on a daily basis?
We use Basecamp everyday to organize our plans and write comments/questions to each other. We love this tool because it helps us communicate effectively when we’re not in the same place.
What is your opinion, which book is a must to read before starting a business and why?
These might be popular suggestions. I really enjoyed Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug and The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. I’m trying to create a product for the typical person (not a building or a management company) and these books helped me a lot in thinking about design and user experience.
Tell us about one of your features and why people should use it?
Landlords who do not offer an online application option attract 50% less applicants than landlords that do. The reason is because dealing with paper applications is slow. On average, it takes an extra 3 days for the applicant to fill out and then hand deliver, fax, or mail it to the landlord. Many applicants are interested in multiple listings at the same time and since good tenants are also in high demand, landlords who have a slow application process miss out on them. The ease of an online application removes that barrier because renters can apply right away and landlords can review an application immediately after submission. It’s also an easy way for the landlord to screen applicants before even having to show the apartment.