Sorting through hundreds of applications and answering the many calls for a rental unit is a tedious job for landlords. Filling out paperwork and running to various properties to deliver applications is an equally time-consuming chore for students.
Pioneered by psychology senior Cameron Wiese and his four-person team — CTO Alex Kavanaugh (software engineering alumnus), Front-end Developer and business administration junior Reese Woodard, Operations Manager and business administration senior John Corotis, and Cal Poly alumnus and software engineer Quan Tran — created PolyRents aims to alleviate the stress of receiving and sending rental applications by streamlining the process for both landlords and tenants.
A landlord product
PolyRents’ core function is to digitize rental applications. The online platform consolidates all applications, ultimately simplifying the way landlords and property managers view the countless applications they receive.
“Our whole business revolves around being able to quickly review tenants,” Wiese said.
A common misconception of PolyRents is that it is geared toward the tenant; though PolyRents does provide added benefits to applicants with features like a single application for tenants planning to live together and the elimination of multiple forms, Wiese said, “PolyRents is a landlord product.”
“For us, the most important thing is building relationships with property managers and landlords because if they’re not on the system, if they’re not willing to use [PolyRents], it doesn’t work for anyone,” Wiese said. “We can’t solve the problem for tenants if the landlords aren’t on board.”
The current application process for most rental units in San Luis Obispo involves a prolonged series of steps before lease agreements are officially signed.
According to President and General Counsel Derek Banducci of California-West, Inc., the San Luis Obispo-based property management company for several apartments close to campus, applicants must first view the property with a representative from their company, then turn in completed applications and co-signer agreements. The applications are then processed, candidates are selected and approved applicants must come to the office with the deposit on-hand to sign the lease agreement.
“Being able to better communicate with applicants would be of great benefit to us and also to applicants,” Banducci said. “I do anticipate that new technologies will improve our ability to communicate in the near future.”
PolyRents currently has 10 betacustomers testing the program before it launches in spring.
“We’re taking these landlords like a plate of hot chocolate chip cookies and they’re like, ‘Wow, I don’t have to deal with all the paperwork or unorganized applications, or people calling me to ask what their status is because it just takes care of it on the website,” Wiese said.
The students’ dilemma
Running back-and-forth between several property management companies and coordinating the completion of all applications is an ordeal for students who are already burdened with other responsibilities. Those without efficient transportation to get off-campus, tour properties, hand in paperwork and return to sign the lease have an even harder time.
Recreation, parks and tourism administration freshman Katie Essayan began the search for off-campus housing with her two future roommates last November.
“The most difficult part was contacting people,” Essayan said. “Emailing doesn’t work, no one really replies. When you call, sometimes [landlords] don’t answer. You really have to take time out of your day to go and see them in person.”
Four months and $65 in application fees later, Essayan has yet to sign the lease for an off-campus apartment.
The story behind the startup
The journey toward making PolyRents a reality has been filled with the inevitable challenges that most entrepreneurs must overcome in the startup world.
The idea for PolyRents can be traced back to Wiese’s freshman year at Cal Poly, when he helped approximately 100 students find housing and recognized what he called the flawed rental application system in San Luis Obispo. Landlords can change their minds on a whim and competition is stiff, especially for units close to campus.
“Unless you have a lease on hand, you keep looking because things change all the time,” Wiese said.
PolyRents was initially not accepted into the CIE’s HotHouse Accelerator when it was pitched in spring of 2015. However, fully invested in his idea and convinced of the success that it could achieve, Wiese successfully pushed for acceptance into the program. There was a caveat: his team could use the office space and Accelerator resources, but they would not
Following a failed launch of PolyRents last winter, Wiese joined another project to regain confidence: Wiese helped bring TedX to Cal Poly for the first time. After TedX’s successful run, Wiese recruited a new team and began to rebuild PolyRents.
“Things take a lot longer than you expect,” Wiese said. “Take whatever time you think it’s going to take and multiply it by 10 and you’re in the ballpark. It’s the nature of startups.”