ApartmentList’s big bet on mobile

By Michael Carney , written on December 10, 2013

From The News Desk

ApartmentList has had a big year. The two-year-old bootstrapped profitable housing rentals search platform emerged as the first real challenger to Craigslist in a decade, completed its first acquisition, and recently brought in its first outside investment in the form of a $15 million round led by Matrix Partners amid 75 percent year-over-year revenue growth. Along the way, the company has declared an all-out assault on mobile.

At the beginning of 2013, ApartmentList didn’t even have a native mobile app. And yet 30 percent of all traffic came through its mobile website at that time. By September, when the company launched its iOS app, this ratio had flipped to 60/40 in favor of mobile and founder and CEO John Kobs predicts it will reach 80/20 by the end of Q1 2014.

More stunning than this rapid growth in mobile usage, is the fact that Android represents roughly two-thirds of ApartmentList’s mobile traffic. Also, much to Kobs’ surprise, and in contrast with much of the mobile industry, Android has historically monetized better than iOS. The CEO claims to have a few tricks up his sleeve that explain this disparity, but isn’t about to share them.

Given the above, ApartmentList’s decision to launch on iOS first may seem suspect. But Kobs cites his team’s heavy personal bias toward iOS usage and the theory that early adopters tend to skew toward being iOS users as explanations. Nonetheless, the company rectified this imbalance late last week with the launch of its Google Play app.

ApartmentList for Android is dedicated entirely to discovery at this stage, and does not yet offer the option to capture photos, video, and notes while viewing potential appartments, all of which are available on the more mature iOS app. Kobs predicts that the apps will reach feature parity in early 2014. But despite the difference Android is already outperforming iOS.

In early usage, including both beta testing and the week since launch, Android users have averaged 20 page views per session, as compared to 16 for iOS users. On both platforms, mobile users outpace Web users, who average six page views per session, by a factor of nearly three to one.

Alongside the ApartmentList iOS and Android apps, the company also offers its Roommates app on both platforms and supports roommate matchmaking in five US cities, initially on mobile and then via live, in-person mixer events. The app serves as a funnel for new ApartmentList users, and like most things at the company today, it all begins with mobile.

There are a number of reasons ApartmentList has emerged from this crowded category, not the least of which is its laser focus on apartment rentals, while its largest competitors “list appliances for sale and try to help you buy a home,” in Kobs’ words. But the biggest driver of growth in the last year has been mobile, which is why Kobs is adamant that ApartmentList out-execute its competition in mobile more so than in any other way.

The reason for mobile’s dominance in the housing rentals category is that it is an inherently on-the-go and location-based process. The typical user is walking or driving through a neighborhood looking at listings first hand and seeking more information, Kobs says. And when they’re at home, the iPad offers a superior consumption experience to traditional PCs.

Kobs believes that ApartmentList is better positioned than anyone to own mobile when it comes to the housing rental market. While others find themselves distracted with catering to those looking to list appliances for sale, search for jobs, and buy homes, ApartmentList is laser focused on rentals. The company is also small and nimble enough to retain the startup disruptor mentality, but large enough – it has 55 employees currently – and sufficiently funded to put forth a compelling product.

The housing rentals market is one that has been in desperate need of disruption. Never before have consumers had more computer horsepower in their pockets than they do today. At the same time, consumers have never been more willing to handle sensitive tasks like applying for housing online.

If ever a company were going to pry the category away from Craigslist and real estate giants like Zillow and Trulia now’s the time. ApartmentList is betting big that mobile is just the wedge/crowbar it needs

[Image via Wellnest]