Some people are born with the entrepreneurial gene. Ezl Liu is one such person.
After trading commodity and equity index options for an algorithmic trading firm, Liu went on to co-found Spaciety, an online booking engine for spas and salons.
In his spare time, Liu played landlord after investing in multi-unit housing near his home in Chicago. Liu had suspected the process of managing tenants to be a good amount of work, but what stood out most how antiquated the process was.
“We found that there weren’t good tools for doing a lot of things online. In order to receive a credit check at the time, I had to get my prospective tenants to fill out a paper form that was literally a blurry xerox (copied many times over…) of a FAX that someone had sent him a few years ago.”
Liu continues, “It was almost embarrassing to hand that thing to applicants. Then we would FAX that completed document to our credit processor in Elmhurst, IL. It was insane. We took a $35.00 application fee – which tenants would bring a paper check for – and of course I would forget to deposit the check most of the time.”
Thus led to Liu’s founding Rocket Lease, an online rental application platform for landlords. Because big property management solutions have staff to manage the time-consuming paper pushing, Rocket Lease hopes to improve the process for the little guy. “Small to medium sized landlords and property managers deal with this every day. I want to fix it,” adds Liu.
Liu’s inspiration for Rocket Lease not only comes from being a landlord, but also the frustrations he faces as a renter:
“It’s 2012. It still blows my mind that people ask me to fill out paper forms whose PRIMARY purpose will be for some data-entry drone to type it in to a computer. I prefer to avoid that, and I suspect other renters do too.”
Rocket Lease monetizes its service by taking a small cut from the screening reports (credit and background checks, eviction history, etc.). Landlords can opt to use the free rental application service if they would rather handle the screening process themselves or bypass it altogether (see: bad idea).
In the eight months since its launch, Rocket Lease already has more than 3,000 active users – with a few significant upgrades in the next couple of weeks. The Chicago-based startup is entirely bootstrapped. Liu adds that he’s “eating canned spam for dinner to make it happen,” and is not actively seeking funding.