Humble Abodo: Frustration leads a trio of friends to launch a site for apartment seekers
From the pages of In Business magazine.
“The old guard has been unhelpful for a lot of renters,” said Alec Slocum, CEO and founder of Abodo.com in Madison, referring to traditional apartment-finding methods. “Finding apartments shouldn’t be any harder than finding shoes or streaming music online.”
As a student at UW-Madison, Slocum, 27, moved five or six times, and each apartment search seemed to be an exercise in futility rather than efficiency.
So Slocum, Adam Olien, and Chad Aldous, longtime friends from New Richmond, Wis., decided to change things.
“That’s what I love the most. Working with people we’ve chosen and admire and creating an environment that is healthy.” — Alec Slocum, CEO, Abodo.com
“We had no experience in running a company,” Slocum said, but they’d all experienced frustrations when searching for new digs in downtown Madison. “It just seemed like a solvable problem, and we figured we could solve it. It should have come online 10 years ago.”
In February 2012, the trio launched MoveInMadison.com, an apartment-finding website targeting the campus community, and within a few months, more than 30% of UW-Madison’s students had visited. That fall, they were accepted into the gener8tor program, which helped them define the business plan and introduced them to entrepreneurial role models.
Not long after, the company changed its name to Abodo.com and expanded to Milwaukee, targeting neighborhoods around UW-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Marquette University, and other areas frequented by the younger crowd. Columbus, Ohio, was next, where according to Slocum, 55% of Ohio State University’s 60,000 students now use the site.
Abodo.com modernizes apartment hunting with a map-based search feature that allows users to look at photos and examine floor plans. They can also narrow their searches by rent range and check to see whether pets are allowed or parking is available. iPhone and Android apps are available, and interested parties can connect directly with property managers, who keep the information current and pay Abodo for the renters they receive.
A year ago, Abodo.com served five cities. By the end of January, 20 cities were onboard. “Our plan is to be a national company within two years,” Slocum said. “Basically, our entire life cycle is to make sure we have enough capital to open new markets, and to go as fast as you can to do that. The standard venture capitalist wants to get a return in three to five years.”
The company now has 14 paid employees, and it’s growing. Recruiting, managing, and scaling the fast-growing business has been Slocum’s biggest challenge.
“Building the site and selling it is easy compared to that. As a first-time entrepreneur, you don’t know what you don’t know, but the stakes keep getting higher and higher. Nothing can prepare you. Every new level is a gut check.”
The most rewarding aspect of the business, he said, is providing good people with good jobs and flexibility. “We don’t have a vacation policy here as long as your work is getting done.
“That’s what I love the most. Working with people we’ve chosen and admire and creating an environment that is healthy.”
Some entrepreneurial companies are changing consumer behaviors, he notes, such as Airbnb, which allows travelers to stay in private dwellings rather than hotels.
“Then a company like Keurig tweaks home coffee-making and makes an awesome device that’s everywhere. That’s what’s interesting to me. What are people doing every day that’s frustrating but should be easy, and how can software solve those problems?”
551 W. Main St., Madison, WI 53703
(608) 630-8159 | www.abodo.com
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