Photo: Margaret Cichosz, CEO and co-founder, Apartmint
From searching for a place to paying rent and everything in between, Waterloo-based startup Apartmint is out to change the way people find their rentals, and landlords find their tenants.
Travelling the common path of successful startups, founders Margaret Cichosz, Ignacio Mongrell and Davy Chiu are out to solve a problem they have faced countless times.
Until Apartmint, renters searching for their next home were limited to resources like Kijiji and Craigslist, which contain minimal features and inherent limitations such as unresponsive and irrelevant posts.
Apartmint is built to be the exact opposite, acting as a one-stop location to find your next home.
House hunters can use Apartmint’s map-based search, schedule viewings through the calendar and messaging system, send in application forms through a personalized profile, and even pay rent online through a debit and credit system.
The site also provides virtual tours for those searching internationally, saving time and money.
From a landlord’s standpoint, the rental process is streamlined as it screens tenant profiles, schedules appointments with interested renters, and processes online rent payments.
“I’m just surprised there wasn’t something like this already,” Cichosz said, recalling how she came up with the idea. “I thought I was missing something.”
Cichosz began her career in the industry managing the apartment building her parents owned when she was just 15. Using money saved from co-op terms, she built on that experience, flipping houses during time off from her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Her experience and fascination with housing drove Cichosz to come up with something better.
“I’ve seen a lot of horror stories with tenants and there can be some shady landlords,” she said. “We want to improve the whole housing system, so that there are better tenants and better landlords.”
The platform, which officially launched in Canada last week, has been met with rave reviews and strong investment support. Fully bootstrapped until this past summer, Apartmint recently raised $100,000 in seed financing and was awarded $30,000 from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) SmartStart fund.
“We were so excited the first week we saw people uploading listings. It’s a great feeling when you spend so much time building something and then things take off,” Cichosz said.
The platform is currently focused in Waterloo Region but Cichosz plans to have listings in Windsor, London and Toronto by January.
“It’s been easy to start with the student market here in town with so many of them moving and because it’s so familiar, but it’s really targeted at anyone who rents,” Cichosz said.
She recognizes that there is competition with companies like Trulia and Zillow but said they focus on the U.S. market. With no plans from their perceived competitors to enter the much smaller Canadian market, Cichosz emphasized their focus on gaining a foothold in the large Canadian cities.
“In Canada we’re small, but the dominant platform is Kijiji so there’s so much room to grow. [Being] first to market is huge for us.
Aside from Canada, Apartmint has skipped the competitive U.S. market for Latin America. In July, the company was accepted into the yearlong INGENIO incubator in Uruguay, co-founder Ignacio Mongrell’s home country. They’ve been successful there because of the same lack of initial market competition.
For now, members of the team are split between the two countries, with the majority working a 9-to-5 job in addition to the startup. But their passion for real estate and seeing the benefits of their product in use keep them motivated.
“I work 100-hour weeks,” said Cichosz, “but I wouldn’t change it.”