By Jennifer Larino NOLA Media Group, New Orleans
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "RentCheck" is an app that allows renters and landlords to complete a standardized rental inspection with their smartphone. Users can track the condition of a property using time-stamped photos and get access to inspection records at any time. Eventually, RentCheck wants to hold and manage security deposits for landlords, too.
For renters and landlords alike, the process of inspecting apartments and handling security deposits on moving day can get complicated and messy. RentCheck, a rental inspection app with roots in New Orleans, wants to simplify the process.
That simple, but relatable pitch from co-founders Lydia Winkler and Marco Nelson won a $50,000 investment and a nod from a panel of expert judges Friday night (March 29) during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week's IDEAPitch, which each year showcases the city's most promising startups to close out the week-long event.
RentCheck and two other high-growth startups, TrayAway and SampleChain, competed for the top prize, which was awarded with the help of an audience vote.
Winkler and Nelson each know something about rental disputes. They met while in business school at Tulane University. At the time, Winkler, a recent law grad, had recently sued a former landlord who refused to return her $1,600 security deposit. Nelson, who owns property outside Louisiana, was familiar with how murky the inspection process can get, especially when working with tenants hundreds of miles away.
The result is RentCheck, an app that allows renters and landlords to complete a standardized rental inspection with their smartphone. Users can track the condition of a property using time-stamped photos and get access to inspection records at any time. Eventually, RentCheck wants to hold and manage security deposits for landlords, too, Winkler said.
"This is right way, the way it should be done," Nelson said, adding that any landlords "who don't want to follow suit will have to do so down the road."
Winkler and Nelson said the app is already being used by renters and landlords in 40 U.S. states and seven countries. The app was initially designed with renters in mind, but has actually gained a lot of traction with landlords and property managers, who now makeup roughly 60 percent of downloads, they said.
RentCheck charges renters $20 per lease to use its services. Landlords pay $5 a month to manage properties using the app. Nelson noted most independent landlords rely on informal systems to keep track of move-ins and move-outs, which presents both a big opportunity and a big challenge.
"Unfortunately our biggest competitor is still pen and paper," Nelson said.
This week, innovators, investors and startup executives will come together for the NOEW Summit.
Winkler and Nelson said the $50,000 investment gets them closer to hiring an additional employee. It will also help them continue to build out the app, which launched last March. Nelson wrote the code for the app on his own.
At the end of the day, the goal is to "bring transparency to the rental process," and avoid the kind of dispute they've both experienced, Winkler said. And they plan to do so from a New Orleans headquarters.
"We love it here," Winkler said.
RentCheck competed against two other finalists in the pitch competition, which took place Friday night at the Ace Hotel downtown. The startups took questions from panel of business experts including Patrick Comer, CEO of Lucid; Jim Coulter, founding partner of TPG Capital; Ben Cappiello, chief business officer of AxoSim; Shelly Porges, founder and managing partner of The Billion Dollar Fund; and Tara Hernandez, president of JCH+ Properties. The other IDEAPitch finalists included:
--SampleChain, a technology that tackles fraud in the market research space. Vignesh Krishnan is a former employee of Lucid, a tech firm in the market research industry and the most successful startup to come out of New Orleans in recent years. Krishnan left Lucid and founded SampleChain in 2018.
--TrayAway, which provides hardware and software to help hotels manage and clean up used room service trays. Hotels rent their small, in-room service buttons, and pay for the accompanying software, which helps housekeeping track trays and prevents them from being left out in the hall. Josh Johnston, who work in management for Four Seasons and Hilton for a decade, is president and co-founder. Will Lovett is chief technology officer and co-founder.
AxoSim's "nerve on a chip" technology, which helps researchers develop better drugs to treat ALS and cancer faster, won the 2018 IDEAPitch.