You’re Your Own Best Customer | Ryan Coon from Avail

Sometimes businesses come from identifying a need in the marketplace—other times they come from identifying your own.

Ryan Coon was a DIY landlord who needed to manage the time-consuming process of finding and screening tenants, signing leases, collecting rent, and performing maintenance, and he realized there was no current technology solutions for these problems.

So he started Avail, which now serves over 150,000 landlords and 400,000 tenants. Ryan tells us his story of leaving the world of financing to start a tech company and why merely having a great product isn’t enough.

Find more about Avail:

Ryan Coon is co-founder and CEO of Avail, a platform that improves the rental experience for DIY landlords and renters. At Avail, Ryan focuses on company strategy, hiring, and developing new partnerships. Prior to co-founding Avail in 2015, Ryan was an Investment Banking Associate at BMO Capital Markets performing M&A and equity capital markets transactions for financial services firms.

Ryan left BMO in February 2011, to travel the world and to learn Ruby on Rails. Ryan earned Bachelors of Science degrees in Accounting and Finance from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Ryan is on Twitter @ryanmcoon.

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!

Alexander Ferguson 0:00
Sometimes businesses come from a identifying a need in the marketplace. Other times they come from identifying your own. Ryan Coon was a do it yourself landlord, who needed to manage the time consuming process of finding and screening tenants, signing leases, collecting rent and performing maintenance. And he realized there was no current technology solutions for these problems. So he started Avail, which now serves over 150,000 landlords, 400,000 tenants, Ryan tells us his story of leaving the world of financing to start a tech company and why merely having a great product isn’t enough. Thank you so much for joining me excited to to learn more about your entrepreneurial journey and how availe started and the problems that you’re solving with your technology. To start us off, what year did you begin this venture? And where did it start?

Ryan Coon 0:52
Yeah, great question. And thank you for having me, Alex. Avail was really born, I would say in 2012 2013. That’s when my co founder Lawrence and I recognized a need for this set of tools. Now, that’s not actually when we launched the product, but more when, when the idea was conceived. So actually had a product and market more in 2015.

Alexander Ferguson 1:19
Got it. So 2015, you’ve you’ve nailed down the actual product. You saw the problem already in 2012. And you were in the space yourself, if I read your origin story in your sights. You saw the problem because you were experiencing the problems Correct?

Ryan Coon 1:33
Absolutely. So before starting a technology company, I was actually working in financial services working for a large bank, and was also one of these Do It Yourself landlords so experienced the pain point firsthand, no one else was out there solving the problem. And so that’s when I decided, look, let’s leave a job at a an investment bank and pursue building a technology product. Here, they’ll be focused on helping these do it yourself or DIY landlords who end up being busy full time professionals. They’re people like you or me. They’re doctors, bankers, attorneys, librarians, who happen to own a small number of rental properties on the side. So anything from a few single family homes to a couple condo units, small multifamily properties, that’s really who we focus on helping with our properties.

Alexander Ferguson 2:31
Now, in the beginning, you saw this is this issue that wasn’t a solution for DIY for those small time tenants, landlords, and you’re like, let’s make this happen. Did you bootstrap it? Did you get VC funding? How did it begin?

Ryan Coon 2:44
Yeah, so in the early days, my co founder, Lawrence and I, again, we fit this profile, we were busy professionals, part time, landlords, we were we were and still are based here in Chicago. And so in true Chicago, kind of roll up your sleeves, gritty fashion, we actually spent two years learning Ruby on Rails ourselves. So kind of bootstrapped it. During those days, I ate a lot of ramen, and stuff. And so Bootstrap to learn how to code, launch the product. And then we raised a little bit of capital. So capital definitely came after product after customers in the startup journey, there’s different milestones. So milestone number one, just get your MVP or minimum viable product out there in the market. Second, real milestone is proving that there’s product market fit, that your product that you’ve invested in, and that you build really is solving a pain point for some people. And then this next milestone that a lot of companies, some get to some don’t is proving a really efficient, scalable, go to market strategy. So how, how can we get customers in a scalable, repeatable, predictable, wet?

Alexander Ferguson 4:14
And how big is your team today? Then four years later? Yeah,

Ryan Coon 4:19
so today, we have 23 people on the team. And then a handful of remote contractors and different professionals that we work with that have more specialties that we want, but they’re not willing to relocate to the cold snow of Chicago.

Alexander Ferguson 4:37
Is that one of the areas that used your funding for is hiring the folks or what was was it also go to Marketing? How did you then focus your energy to continue to develop and grow the company? Great question.

Ryan Coon 4:48
So when when we go out and we talk with investors about raising outside capital, it really is your mark for two things. So it’s marketing. So how do we go out and reach new customers, and then its people. And people for us, really translated into growing our team, both our marketing team, our product development, so product engineering design, and then our operations and customer support team.

Alexander Ferguson 5:19
Got it? Now from from then 2015, four years later continue to grow. Have you really felt you found your fully your product market fit? Have you crossed the chasm from early adopters to the majority?

Ryan Coon 5:33
Yeah, we’re I mean, we’ve definitely found that product market fit. So today, there’s about 150,000, landlords from all across the country who use avail today to manage rental properties that are located in about 20,000 zip codes, 150,000, landlords, 150,000 landlords, and about 400,000. Renters also use the avail platform. So in terms of product market fit, I’d say they’re doing okay. can always improve, can always get better our product can always evolve and change. But yeah, feeling excited about where we are.

Alexander Ferguson 6:16
Now, as you seen this, this growth and continue to go. There are other technologies that are I’m sure popping up. So tell me more about yours? How are you different? How have you applied it so that it really is solving this need?

Ryan Coon 6:30
Yeah, so as a do it yourself, landlord, there’s really five things that you have to do everything from finding tenants screening them signing a lease, collecting rent, and managing maintenance. Our secret sauce here to Vail is that we help landlords with all of those things. And then we help with every one of those five, and that the pieces talk with one another. Now, to your point, there are other companies out there that have popped up that are trying to help with just one or two of those. But really, when we talk with customers and ask them about the value that we’re providing, is that everything is in one place. And the pieces communicate really well together,

Alexander Ferguson 7:14
streamlined, it saves a lot of time, the whole automation, if you can automate processes as somebody has to worry about something that is a great help, I can imagine.

Ryan Coon 7:22
Yeah, we will love telling our landlords to set it up and forget about it.

Alexander Ferguson 7:27
So obviously, in order to accommodate all these different steps, you probably integrate it with other API’s of other technologies. What do they look like? Yeah, of

Ryan Coon 7:36
course. So there’s a lot of things that we build here in house. And then we also leverage other other tools that exist. So for example, we help landlords connect with renters. So renter our landlords are searching for, like they’ve got vacant units, they need renters. And so we’re not going to go out and rebuild a Zillow or calm, we’re just going to partner with those big companies. And so that’s an example where a landlord can create a listing for their property within a veil. And we will just push it push it out, similar to like a zip recruiter model. We also on the tenant screening, landlords need to get a credit criminal and eviction report, we’re not going to go recreate a credit model. We just partnered with TransUnion, and plugin to the TransUnion API.

Alexander Ferguson 8:37
Got it. And that allows again, you don’t have they don’t have to go to those different places and set it up on Zillow or TransUnion. They go through your system, and then it takes care of handle all of it. Yeah, and all of that. Now that means you’re you’re collecting a lot of interesting data, probably over time of of the usage and integration of how they’re utilizing their their properties. Have you thought about and are you currently doing any thing with that data when it comes to automating further or machine learning or utilizing it?

Ryan Coon 9:15
Yeah, that’s definitely top of mind for us. Because you’re right with 150,000 owners across the country, we were getting a lot of really interesting, valuable data. We’re currently not doing much with that. All that data exhaust, if you will, that’s going through the product. But I think in the future, we will start allowing landlords to benchmark their property performance against others in a way that helps them understand how their properties are performing. There’s additional ways that we could potentially package all of that data and provide it to bigger companies that want to sights on the market. There’s a ton there

Alexander Ferguson 10:03
for accomplishing 150,000 landlords, it’s no small feat to get on there. Over the past four years, I’m sure there were some hurdles you had to overcome in order to realize what you’ve accomplished today. What what’s one that you can share that you were able to overcome? That hopefully, maybe another entrepreneur can skip by, by what you can share?

Ryan Coon 10:27
Yeah, I think with any, any tech company, a lot of founders funds the trap of building a product and believing that build it, and they will come that it doesn’t work like that. And so the biggest hurdle that we’ve had to overcome, it’s just how do we effectively reach our target audience in a scalable way. And it’s something that we have a really good team that’s focused on this. But it’s really all about figuring out where are your target customers living? What are they doing? And then how do you go out and create messaging and content that resonates with them? So a lot of these DIY, do it yourself landlords, professionals in the business? So they’re, they’re people just like you or me, Alex, who are like, whenever I encounter a problem, probably the same as you do. You go to Google, and you say, how do I X, Y, or Z, and these landlords are no different. So they go to Google and type in things like I need a San Francisco lease template, or i What do I do for renters late? And all of those keywords that ultimately, we’ve created content that ranks really well provides a lot of value, and then introduces the landlords to avail.

Alexander Ferguson 11:57
Got it? So it’s a good flow in flow for for new potential customers, for you guys for that content? Moving forward five years from now, where do you see your guys?

Ryan Coon 12:10
Yeah, so in the United States, there’s about 8 million Do It Yourself landlords. So so it’s like a giant underserved space. Five years from now, I imagine that we will be providing services and hoping a much, much bigger percentage of those landlords than we are today. I also think that our product will evolve. And we’ll be able to help landlords with even more of their pain points, and more things that cause a lot of headaches for landlords.

Alexander Ferguson 12:44
So both expanding into that 8 million, I don’t even know that that number exists. That’s good to know, 8 million getting close to that, as well as the offerings that you can provide to them. Now to realize that vision, what upcoming, unique challenges fun challenges are you going to? Do you see that you’re going to have to overcome?

Ryan Coon 13:04
Yeah, so I think in the short term, it’s a lot of just the blocking and tackling. Like we know exactly what we’re doing. We’ve got an incredible team in place right now that we’re looking to grow. And so always, always trying to figure out what’s next. But we spent a lot of time talking with customers, understanding their pain points. And so at this point, it’s all about execution.

Alexander Ferguson 13:35
They have, would you get more funding in order to grow faster? Are you confident in your continued just natural growth?

Ryan Coon 13:43
Yeah, so we may look at additional funding. I think, unlike a lot of tech companies, we’re not dependent on outside capital for survival. And so if we decide in the future to raise additional funds, it’ll all be really focused on growth. Just how do we keep the lights on?

Alexander Ferguson 14:06
Yeah, I’m reading through Blitzscaling. And it’s, I’m curious, I always have entrepreneurs that decide to choose to do that just expensive growth, find the capital make it happen versus not choosing it. So one of the things I like to ask,

Ryan Coon 14:24
yeah, that’s a great book. I’m about two thirds of the way through the audio book. It’s a great one. I think Blitzscaling is really effective after you’ve nailed that really scalable, go to market. And specifically when you’re when you’re like feeling that poll from your customers. It probably doesn’t work in in businesses where you’re still battling in your soul fighting, but if you’ve nailed that product market fit that go to market, it can be a real really effective tool?

Alexander Ferguson 15:01
Where are you looking to for new learnings and insights? What books are you reading lately? Obviously mentioned one podcast, what do you listen to reading to fill your mind?

Ryan Coon 15:11
Yeah, um, for me, I spent a lot of time looking at other successful tech companies, how they’ve grown. So couple books that I dug into recently would be the, like The Everything Store, which is the story of Amazon, or Delivering Happiness, which is the Zappos story. So it’s really trying to listen to how those big successful companies were built, and trying to read between the lines and understand what are some of the lessons or learnings that we can borrow and use here at avail?

Alexander Ferguson 15:48
Love it. What my last question for you is, what kind of upcoming technology are you most personally excited about?

Ryan Coon 15:57
I’m really excited for self driving cars. That that’s, uh, I mean, in for a number of reasons, I think, just safety overall. I think once we have it, where self driving cars are ubiquitous, I think the roads become a lot safer for people. It would also be incredibly nice to get into a car, type in a destination and let it go.

Alexander Ferguson 16:28
In the I’m with you on that, for sure. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing both your journey and where you’re headed and the way you are continuing to innovate. Where can people go to learn more and what’s a good first step for them to take?

Ryan Coon 16:42
Yeah, so the audience can find us online net We’re on all the social media channels at Hello avail.

Alexander Ferguson 16:52
That includes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.


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