After-Action Report: RVM #55 with Marco Nelson

Many thanks to Marco Nelson (USNA ’06) for telling us the story last night of his home-inspection startup RentCheck! RentCheck is the property management solution that helps property managers save time on inspections with easy self- guided inspections that anyone can do from their smartphone.

One of the basic principles of economics is this: the easier and cheaper something is, the more of it you get.

The cloud computing era is ALL ABOUT that. With cloud computing services like AWS and Microsoft Azure, applications that would have required a roomful of servers and a platoon of support staff can now be managed by one person at a desk in his basement or a breakfast table on Bali.

So what does that mean in practice? Take a process, like maintaining a rental unit. Now just take ONE PIECE of that process, like tracking the state of the paint job and the appliances. Every person who ever managed an apartment has to do that stuff, so in principle there should be a highly scalable business there. But in practice, for most of history: mostly not. Only the advent of cheap cloud computing and ubiquitous smartphones  has made that potential real.

This was the story Marco told us last night: about identifying the key scalable element in a very messy problem, and then applying smart technology and a thoroughly modern approach to business in order to get the thing off the ground and into the stratosphere, where just ten years ago we’d still have been trying to crank out version one.

Marco’s tale is really more than a success story: it’s what in software we would call a DESIGN PATTERN. There are opportunities in every industry to leverage the power of the devices in our pockets to focus in on just the hard parts of the procedures we use to organize our lives. Each of these may represent a very different problem, but in broad strokes the solutions look very much the same.

Here is a short list of the elements of RentCheck’s success:

  • A build-it-first approach. Marco and his business partner didn’t show up in Silicon Valley with a dream on the back of a napkin, but with a working application and a thousand active subscribers. This changes the nature of the conversation.
  • A capital strategy. They could have bootstrapped, but instead they showed up in Silicon Valley. RentCheck’s first shot of capital enabled them to move far enough and fast enough to be in position when COVID descended and in-person home inspections were no longer an option.
  • Great timing. You can’t anticipate the unknown, but you can certainly position yourself to capitalize on what comes. RentCheck was able to scale 100x during the COVID pandemic precisely because they had done the work to create the capability to scale 100x.
  • A listening strategy. Marco and his team recognized right up front that the user experience was critical to adoption, so they built user feedback right into the app. So users love the RentCheck app as a matter of experimentation and design, rather than by some lucky accident.

If you were there last night, you know there’s a lot more to this story, ALL of it actionable. If not, activate your RINGKNOCKER Subscription and see for yourself!

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