The digitalization of our society is so fully upon us, there are college graduates today with no experience of any other way of life. And yet, some industries have remained stubbornly resistant to the 21st century.
Real estate leasing is certainly one. Owners and renters are mired in paperwork, pay stubs, and Faxes. Any of those college students looking to rent their first apartment may wonder if they’ve traveled back in time.
But Caren Maio, the president and cofounder of Funnel, is hoping to pull the leasing experience back into the present. On this edition of UpTech Report, Caren talks about her product, which gives property owners sophisticated tools for marketing and operations with the goal of taking the headaches out of the dotted line.
More information: https://funnelleasing.com/
Caren Maio is the President and Co-Founder of Funnel Leasing (formerly Nestio), the industry’s leading leasing and marketing software for multifamily professionals. Prior to starting the company, Caren lent her business expertise to corporate sales positions at powerhouse brands Nike and The Wall Street Journal.
Caren graduated from New York University. She has been named one of the 3 Female Entrepreneurs to Look Out For by Metro, one of the 15 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc.com and won the Leading Entrepreneur award with Women in PropTech in 2019.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Caren Maio 0:00
When we were in the early days of customer discovery, we’re like, Man, this process sucks. Why does it suck? We started talking to owners. And the biggest lesson from all of our conversations with them was it sucks for them to
Alexander Ferguson 0:19
Caren, I’m excited to chat with you today and hear more about Funnel leasing to begin Can you share in five seconds very brief. What is it? What do you guys do?
Caren Maio 0:28
We’re software that helps modernize the apartment leasing experience.
Alexander Ferguson 0:33
Simple to the point I love it. Now, I this you practice this is been in the works for some time, it was originally a different name. You mentioned it was yes to arrange Sto. So effectively, like 10 For how many years? Has it been then? Culminating
Caren Maio 0:52
feel like it’s like dog years in a start up anyway. But um, so my co founder and I initially started thinking about solutions to tackle this problem nine years ago, I’m doing something very, very different. I’d say we pivoted to a b2b solution almost seven years ago, but this morning, yes,
Alexander Ferguson 1:11
yes. So talk to me about then the moment where you are focused now the problem that you see that you’re looking to solve?
Caren Maio 1:17
Yeah, so I think you know, apartment owners and managers have been starved of proper technology for far too long, certainly modern technology. So we we really play a part in delivering modern software for these owners so that they can deliver the Uber or Amazon like experience for apartment renters really the experience we all want to have, and we all expect to have in this day and age,
Alexander Ferguson 1:43
then how has your technology come to that help solve that problem? The solution that you bring? Give me a use case? A good example?
Caren Maio 1:50
Yeah. So I mean, I think, you know, our True North has always remained the same. You know, when Mike and I came together, we said, Man, renting an apartment sucks, we want to leave this experience, or we want to leave this industry exponentially better than how we found it. I think the way we decided to kind of get there has obviously morphed and changed and, and we’ve pivoted to, to cater to what we’re hearing in the market. But I think really, what we do is we give these owners a front end marketing and leasing platform, so that from first touch from a consumer standpoint, to signing that lease and closing, it’s a modern, seamless experience for both the owners and their teams, their leasing teams, as well as the ultimate prospective renter, right. So to give you a sense as to what that will look like, right? I’ll touch on our newest product that we’re about to launch online leasing. So today, the way it works, is as a renter, I will have to go and upload pay stubs, and w twos and all that annoying stuff. It’s also really annoying for the owner as well, right, it’s painful, it’s arduous, what we do is we bring in latest and greatest FinTech technology, make it speak multifamily real estate, so that now I can just link my bank account, verify my income, my assets, my employment, and I can now take a process using funnel that would typically take hours if not days, and truncate that to 20 minutes or less. So that’s sort of a real world example of how we’re looking to bridge that gap with technology.
Alexander Ferguson 3:23
It’s, in some cases like this, you assume like why doesn’t this already exist? Because it’s exists in other industries and other places, but not yet here? And it could probably frustrating, like, why doesn’t this exist already? Which is sounds like that was what you felt as well. So for
Caren Maio 3:39
me, it’s very exciting. I mean, I’m sure it’s frustrating for for other folks, but for for my co founder and I and obviously, for everyone at this company. We’re super excited by that. Right. And to your point, Alex, we, when we were in early days of customer discovery, we’re like, Man, this process sucks. Why does it suck? We started talking to owners. And the biggest lesson from all of our conversations with them was, it sucks for them to and they don’t like they want to deliver a great experience for themselves to their teams for us as their prospective clients. They simply didn’t have the technology to do that. Right. So to your point, looking at other industries, we said, Man, this feels like this problem has been solved for right and hospitality and insurance and automotive. It’s only a matter of time before it makes its way to multifamily real estate, specifically the apartment leasing experience. So we really saw an opportunity to help bridge that gap, deliver the experience we want as consumers and deliver the experience apartment owners want to provide right and using best in class marketing and leasing technology to do that.
Alexander Ferguson 4:45
In some ways, there’s a reflection of this as far as the owner side in HubSpot or Infusionsoft, would you say that now you kind of like taking that but to the nth degree to one specific industry.
Caren Maio 4:58
For sure, yeah, you know, when we were initially even just pitching the concept talking about the value proposition. We heard a lot of this for that, oh, it’s like this for multifamily real estate. And it’s it’s very much the space that we want to occupy, right being that front of the house system that helps these owners from, you know, throughout the entire prospect experience, helping them do that in a more efficient, profitable way. Is is very much the space we want to occupy. So being compared to large companies that are that are down the road and very successful, it’s, it’s always been, you know, I’ve always taken that as a compliment.
Alexander Ferguson 5:36
The way that the world is changing, as well, was COVID, and all this fun stuff. People are wanting to do more online. Do you see how that is that shifting? Then even just the leasing experience? And how do you see going forward? What will it be like?
Caren Maio 5:51
For sure? That’s a great question. I think as far as the leasing experience is concerned, and how it plays out, sort of in our little corner of the universe. For customers, specifically, owners were modernizing and streamlining this experience where it was important before, it’s even more important right now more than ever, right? We’ve had a lot of customers who were in flight mid implementation, and they’re like, We need to go even faster, because we need you now more than ever, for folks where, you know, and I’ll caveat this by saying, I think delivering a great experience we’ve seen, especially lately over the past, I’d say a year or two even pre COVID. It was it was important, right? It was becoming increasingly more important. I think COVID has provided, it’s been somewhat of an accelerant of an accelerator, right? where folks are saying, well, now it’s really becoming table stakes, right? I need to automate policing, certain leasing functions, I need to handle that work from anywhere. Because now it’s a requirement, forget about it being a nice to have, it’s now a must have, it’s a necessity. So in many ways, right? Where our product sits is automating an experience, but also enabling it to be done from anywhere, which enables it to be done safely. Nowadays.
Alexander Ferguson 7:05
The two components that you play a role in and marketing and operations from both sides, is this someone, if someone hasn’t yet used your product? Would they be just across multiple different current products or services that they’re in this kind of combines it? Are they coming from other legacy systems that what is like that that shifted, whether it’s their own mindset, behavior and new options that they get for using your type of technology?
Caren Maio 7:30
It’s a great question. And it largely depends on on the customer. And we’ve taken a pretty consultative approach. However, there are obviously patterns in the types of customers we serve. Right. So I would say that folks typically fall into one of two buckets, right? They either went all in with their accounting provider, right? So these are systems that were built in, you know, the 1970s 1980s, in most instances, and they provide sort of this this all in one experience, right? And it’s a tale as old as time, right? You could go look at any other industry and say, Okay, well, I have an all in one solution. And it’s maybe like my old school ERP provider, where I can unlock all of the products in their suite. And I can go all in one, right connected experience, but it’s kind of impossible for one company to be all things to all people and do everything well. Right. So that’s that’s one path. The second path, is you could say, All right, well, I’m going to use this for that. And then this for this, I’m gonna bolt on all these different point solutions. And I’m gonna go from one system to 20. That’s not really terribly exciting, either, right? It’s not a connected experience, you might have these best in class tools. But if they don’t speak to each other efficiently, what good is it? Right? So we occupy a very specific place in that market where we are narrow enough in scope from again, that customer journey, right, first touch to close, where we feel like we can really innovate in that space. But wide enough, where we handle enough of that workflow, where it’s really a true platform, and it compare with, say, your old school, your accounting system, that that back end solution, right, so we are the first and the only independent multifamily software provider that focuses on automating that full funnel. So for us, we feel like that is a very special place because it delivers a connected experience. But it’s also one that’s best in class,
Alexander Ferguson 9:20
currently, or going forward. Do you see having any API’s or connections with other services out there to expand the capabilities? Or do you plan on just keeping it all in house? Or how do you see that roadmap?
Caren Maio 9:31
That’s a great question. And 100%, we do. And we actually already have a lot of those integrations today. So we believe in being an open platform. We we want to pair with whatever system or workflow or software you’re already using. We want it to be easy to implement this system and to use it we don’t want to create artificial barriers to make it more difficult. So from where we said, being an open platform is something that we’ve we’ve we’ve always stressed we’ve always tried to make good that we partner with many of the accounting providers. So we have API’s bi directional API’s to make that transition easier. We’ve also done some ad hoc integrations. So integrations where folks have said, well, I use XYZ software, all good. We don’t want to make your life more difficult by using us. So we want to reduce those barriers will integrate with that service. So we have tons of API integrations, like I said, bidirectional. We are always open to having those conversations. Again, we want to make it easy.
Alexander Ferguson 10:30
Nice, what kind of stats even just just some general numbers of what’s the usage of the platform and the kind of the growth where you guys are heading?
Caren Maio 10:38
Yeah. So I mean, being, you know, from the the space of what we occupy, right, and the workflows, we’re trying to automate or streamline, this is something that if you’re a member of a leasing team, you’re using this every day, right? You’re like you’re living in this system, this is the first thing you open when you get to the office, that’s the last thing you look at. It’s running overnight for you, right? Like we, you know, we utilize certain things, whether it’s our chatbot AI integration into the lead management system that we power, to schedule tours, answer questions, all of that it’s working for you always. So you’re tapped into it. You know, like I said, constantly, it’s part of your daily your daily workflow, which is the way it should be used to be to be used well and deliver that great experience. As far as we’re, you know, really where we’re headed. A big part of you know, I mean, like I mentioned earlier, since we pivoted to b2b, there’s been a seven year journey. For the majority of the company’s life, we were focused in our backyard, which is in New York City. So really helping New York City owners and managers streamline their workflow. In the beginning of 2019, we said, Okay, now let’s go wider. Let’s go national. So a big part of 2019 was going through that roadshow, introducing ourselves to that audience. 2020 is, is again, more of the same, capitalizing on some of the early success and early movers who joined us in 2019. And continuing that progression to to a national audience. And we now you know, operate multiple states, we work with some of the largest national owners in the country, full portfolio. So it’s a very exciting time. So we want more of that.
Alexander Ferguson 12:13
Your ideal user or buyer, is there a certain stage or size that they are and obviously location wise, now it’s expanded any English speaking, I imagine, spot, but any ideal specifics that that resonate?
Caren Maio 12:29
Yeah, sure. So certainly geo agnostic from a from a domestic standpoint, right, we can work with any, any owner in the United States, we find that the sweet spot is certainly at least 2000 units and above, right, so someone that’s professionally operating these assets. We have seen, obviously as as their scale with larger owners, folks, you know, 1020 30,000 units plus, starting to make inroads there, which is great. But I’d say more, more importantly, than size and geography is really philosophy. Right? So we find that we pair really well with owners who are thinking about this experience as a competitive advantage today, and table stakes tomorrow. Right? So when we work with an owner, and they say, you know, I really want to streamline this prospect experience, I care a lot about this experience. It’s not just about delivering a great product, meaning an apartment or a unit, it’s about really wowing the customer, the prospective renter, from the very first moment, they, they interact with us, when we meet a customer like that, or a prospective customer like that. It just gets me so excited, it gets us so excited, because that philosophy and that that that thesis is the same. So we know we’re going to be a great fit, because that’s that’s inevitably what our software is designed to do to help really modernize that entire experience and improve it.
Alexander Ferguson 13:59
Taking a moment to dive a little bit deeper into the technology side. Yeah. You mentioned earlier about. You mentioned about chatbots. I mean, that is definitely one big area of conversations the way people moving along, they just want to answer quick and a lot of automated as possible. Tell me more about how is your system work? How is it different? What do you what kind of a basis to use to use probably the common whether it’s Google or or Amazon’s kind of NLP services to like power a lot of your services and you build off of it? Tell me more about your technology?
Caren Maio 14:29
Yeah, so I think a big part of our technology and really just the philosophy of how we build and why we build is so that we can help our customers the owners meet consumers where they are, right so like to touch on what you said earlier of giving a real world example, let’s talk about like the way we all search for apartments as prospective renters. Typically nine o’clock at night least if you’re anything like me, nine o’clock at night, glass of wine in your PJs, searching right? You have questions right like for me, when I see something and the days of Instant gratification where I can order a car food, you know, Chinese food, whatever it may be instantly. When I have a question about a property, I’m pretty impatient. I want that question answered now, right? When I decide I want to take that next step in my experience, which is scheduling that tour, be it in person or virtual right these days? I want to do it immediately, right? Like the restaurant reservation style, I want to book it the old way, right? It would take me at least to the next day, sometimes even 48 hours from that request to get my question answered and schedule that tour. I’m already thinking about the next thing, I’m at work. I’m having a conversation. If someone were to call me, which is often what happens, right, a leasing agent will call you and say, Hey, inquire, you know, you know, like, as to when you want to come in, I’m already like, two days later, thinking about whatever, whatever else I’m going to do. What our technology enables these owners to do, is to say, Okay, so now it’s nine o’clock at night. So when searching, we’re able to pair with Google Calendar, Outlook, right? Pull in those available times, and say hi, so and so thank you for your interest, right. Here are some times where I’m available. By the way, you asked a question about our pet policy? Here’s the answer to that question. So again, it’s using technology to meet consumers where they are. So now you know, a process where maybe that lead would have been lost forever in the old way, or at least would have taken hours, if not days to respond. You can do that in real time. Right? And to answer your question on the way we think about building, we believe that there is plenty of even non endemic software that’s available, right? That can be used to speak multifamily real estate. So like, give you an example. Our telephony system is powered by Twilio. Right. We didn’t need to stand up, or we don’t believe we need to stand up our own, you know, built in house technology to deliver that experience. There are great systems out there. We just need to bring those in, integrate them and make them speak multifamily real estate,
Alexander Ferguson 17:01
effectively taking the existing technology going last mile. So it’s usable in a specific use case solving a problem.
Caren Maio 17:08
Exactly. And, you know, to be clear, there plenty of technology, we build ourselves in house. But for a lot of the additional sort of layering on whether it’s, you know, telephony, like I mentioned, or something else, we believe that, okay, like, we want to build innovative solutions, we want to build them fast, and we want them to do the job. So we’re not, you know, we don’t have an ego as far as where that where that comes from.
Alexander Ferguson 17:32
Looking forward from here. How many, you know, maybe the next two to five years? What’s the roadmap where you see that you see the company? And in those years come?
Caren Maio 17:43
It’s a great question. So I think for us, it’s we, you know, again, the True North has been modernizing and streamlining this experience. So, you know, when we started, as I mentioned, we started in New York, we’ve always thought of our product as the proverbial funnel, which is why it was the most natural thing in the world to rebrand from sto to funnel, funnel leasing is the is the actual company name. But we’ve always talked about that funnel, right. So top of the funnel, which is making sure your assets are marketed everywhere, they need to be middle of the funnel, which is CRM engagement towards scheduling, getting those questions answered and moving that lead, or that prospect through the experience in a really efficient, modern way. And then bottom of the funnel, which is the product I mentioned earlier, that we’ll be launching soon, around, applying signing leases, and doing that, and in a much more modern way, think TurboTax or Rocket Mortgage for, for leasing, right. So bringing those experiences together has really been our focus, we will continue to improve that. But I really think using technology to bridge the gap and help these owners deliver a very seamless, dare I say delightful rental experience is really the space we want to occupy. So you’re going to see us over the next couple of couple of years, obviously continuing to hone those products that I mentioned, as well as look to enhance it and innovate, to again, help these owners meet consumers where they are. And that’s that’s, that’s really the focus and what we’re all about. And we’re super excited about it.
Alexander Ferguson 19:17
For folks that want to learn more, where can they go and what’s the good first step that they can take?
Caren Maio 19:21
Sure, yeah, so for folks who want to learn more, I would always direct them to our website, funnel leasing comm there are plenty of ways that we encourage you to get in touch with us whether it’s real time chat or emailing us. We will respond as quickly as humanly possible. But there’s plenty of information to dig into there to familiarize yourself with with what we do and why.
Alexander Ferguson 19:44
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