[dropcap]”R[/dropcap]enting sucks. We’re fixing that.”
That was Jonathan Eppers’ experience, and his reaction, when he went looking for a new apartment in West Hollywood in early 2012. It was an experience that, at one time or another, has been shared by many in West Hollywood, where 80 percent of residents are renters.
The apartment hunting options are few. There’s Craigslist, where a search for an apartment in West Hollywood turns up units in Toluca Lake, Encino and Koreatown and listings that are too good to be real (and they aren’t). There’s Westside Rentals, where a free search in the Hollywood/West Hollywood category shows listings in Echo Park, Mid-Wilshire and Silver Lake (with very few photos) — and that’s not to mention the $60 “membership fee” you have to pay if you actually want to look at an apartment. Then there’s the usual practice, which is to slowly cruise WeHo’s streets to look for buildings with rental signs. You then have to write down the phone number and address and make a call to find out if the unit meets any of your criteria and you can afford it.After his search, Eppers said, “I called two of my buddies and said I want to build an Instagram for the real estate market.” The result is RadPad, a mobile phone app whose name suggests both its approach to apartment listings (it is intended to be a radical game changer in the real estate market) and the audience it is aimed at. (For those not in the know, “rad” means “exciting, cool, hip, awesome” among the sort of cool, hip and awesome people who use it.) There’s also a web version.
RadPad launched a year ago in January as a free app downloadable from Apple’s App Store. Eppers, 31, and his partners — Tyler Galpin and Tim Watson — promoted it to friends on their Facebook pages, and within 30 days it had 10,000 downloads. “That gave us the courage to quit our jobs and do it fulltime,” Eppers said.
With RadPad, an apartment hunter can filter his search by number of bedrooms and bathrooms, whether the landlord will accept a dog or a cat, by unit type (apartment, condo, house) and monthly rent. The app does a search within a five-mile radius of the location the user chooses. Then it offers up results, in order of distance, each with the monthly rent and a minimum of three photos so the apartment hunter can get a sense of what the unit looks like. Clicking on a listing also offers other details provided by the building owner.
RadPad clearly has a following. Since August, Eppers said, active users of the app (those who not only download it but establish a free account) have grown by 600 percent to a total of 10,000. In March, Eppers and his partners moved into a digital “incubator” space in Venice Beach, home to lots of digital startups. Now the staff totals five people.
An important sign of success is RadPad’s success at attracting investment. Eppers said that early on he had approached five different investors. ‘They all say, ‘come back, come back’,” he said, “which is their way of saying ‘go away’.” Then Eppers met Tom McInerney, a former engineer and scientist at Apple’s World Wide Research and Development Group in Cupertino who now is president of NALA Investments, an early stage media and tech fund based in Santa Monica.
Eppers recalled his breakfast with McInerney at a hotel in Santa Monica as “one of those changing moments because he was the first one (to invest), and so many people respect him.” Last spring McInerney put an initial $50,000 and then another $50,000 into RadPad. Other investors quickly followed, including LA-based Post Investment Group, Viddy co-founder Chris Ovitz and Amplify, the Los Angeles “accelerator,” which invests in and provides other services to startups, including a Venice Beach-based co-working space that RadPad shares with other digital entrepreneurs.
Another measure of RadPad’s success was a multi-million dollar offer to buy the company (now valued a more than $2.5 million) about three months after its launch and before Eppers had raised any money. “I could have been a millionaire,” Eppers said, smiling. But he and his partners talked it over and rejected the offer. “We put our heads down and got back to work.”
RadPad also has attracted a lot of press. LA’s KTTV, for example, now hosts a discussion once a month with Eppers about the Los Angeles real estate market.
A less pleasant indictor of RadPad’s success is a lawsuit filed against it by Westside Rentals, which began in 1996 and long has dominated the real estate listings business on Los Angeles’ Westside. In essence, the Westside Rentals suit alleges that RadPad improperly used Westside’s brand name by advertising that an apartment listing posted on RadPad would automatically be posted on the Westside Rentals website. Eppers said a “bot” constructed for RadPad did make such an automatic posting, which his lawyers have advised him was legal. It now has been removed, and Eppers said RadPad is discussing a settlement of the suit to avoid being distracted from growing its business.
The next steps? An Android app, implementing a plan for generating revenue and expanding to other markets (RadPad already is available in markets such as Austin, Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco but currently is focused on LA). Eppers said RadPad will always allow property owners to post free listings and allow apartment seekers to use the app free of charge. But it will charge for options currently under discussion or development that would, for example, allow an apartment hunter to enter an apartment to inspect it without waiting for a landlord to show up, with the landlord getting a notification that the prospective tenant is looking. Another option would let a tenant seal a rental deal immediately, on his mobile phone, by transmitting credit information, signing a lease and making a deposit.
“My goal is that in two years you’ll be able to use your mobile phone to complete the entire real estate transaction,” Eppers said.
This is the third in a series of ongoing reports by WEHOville.com about digital entrepreneurs in West Hollywood. Earlier stories were about Blaine Vess and his StudyMode.com and Olenka and Adam Polak and their MyLingo app.