Profitable at 11-Months-Old, ApartmentList Adds VP of Product from Gilt, Aims to Be the Anti-Craigslist
In the apartment wars, he who has the most listings is king. The meta-search site Apartment List, which calls itself the world’s largest and fastest-growing apartment search engine, aims to claim this crown by aggregating residential rental listings from across the Web much like Kayak does for travel.
In less than a year, the company has signed partnerships with hundreds of online rental marketplaces — including market leaders such as Rent.com, ForRent.com, and others — to offer millions of listings within a single portal. The business is already profitable, while on track to generate “low double digit millions” in revenue in 2012.
Today the SOMA San Francisco-based listing aggregator announced the addition of a new VP of product, scoring former Microsoft, Paypal, and Youtube product manager Virginia Wang away from her latest role as head of product for marketing and business development at Gilt Groupe.
The 11-month-old startup has quickly grown to 30 employees and currently receives more than 500,000 unique visitors per month, falling mostly within the 18-35 year old demo and skewing 65 percent female. This is an audience Wang is well acquainted with via her roles at luxury shopping site Gilt and in launching the video annotation and in-video advertising products for YouTube.
“Virginia brings depth of experience from some of the most loved consumer products on the web,” says Apartment List co-founder and CEO John Kobs. “She worked for tech giants like PayPal and YouTube at critical hyper-growth stages of their existence.”
Apartment List is heavily focused on disrupting the inventory side of the marketplace, with an emphasis on the landlord driven 25-unit or less category. Currently, Craigslist remains the volume leader in this space, in spite of its numerous product design and community relations shortcomings. Web 2.0 competitors vying for this market include Zillow, Trulia, and Lovely, however each of these competitors is attempting to reinvent the wheel by creating an entirely new marketplace. PadMapper, on the other hand, offers the inventory of CraigsList in graphical mapping interface. Apartment List has taken a different approach than all of them.
Co-founders John Kobs and Chris Herndon both come from financial backgrounds and founded the company with the goal of early profitability. They decided against the typical shortcuts taken by other market entrants, including scraping competing marketplaces or combing Google cache for data. Similarly, the founders chose not to solicit individual listings from property owners directly. Rather, they focused on inking partnerships with the leading online marketplaces to aggregate their inventory and to be compensated for appointments booked and leases signed.
The near term goal for new addition Wang and the rest of her Apartment List team is to increase the speed of inventory acquisition. Currently, the company is reliant on its partners to share data when new listings are added. As a result, the time can be anywhere from several minutes to several hours before an elsewhere-listed property is visible on the site. The goal is to further develop its technology such that by the end of the year it’s able to post every new listing in under five minutes.
Also on the radar is the mid-term goal of enhancing the already strong Web product with richer 3D imaging and also rolling out a native mobile experience. In other words, the company is pretty much aiming at being the anti-Craigslist with it’s spartan, hasn’t-changed-since-the-90s look and feel.
ApartmentList.com is part of a parent holding company Vertical Brands which aims to eventually operate meta search assets in additional categories including automotive, travel, and eventually home improvement. Vertical Brands raised “less than $1 million” in angel financing from a group of strategic angel investors including, former Rent.com founder Scott Ingraham and StumbleUpon chairman Ariel Poler. The company is operating profitably and doesn’t need to raise additional outside financing going forward, according to its founders.
Apartment hunting is generally a time consuming and inefficient process. The tools that are available are only as good as the inventory that they can deliver to browsing tenants. Given the scope of Apartment List’s rental portfolio and its financial position, it’s in a better position than most to win this competitive but ripe-for-disruption market.