Brandon Procak (’06) and Mashhood Ahmed (’05) forged an incredible friendship while studying at Baruch. Nearly 20 years later, that friendship has led to a business venture: RentCity, a tech platform that aims to disrupt the apartment renting process by providing comprehensive data and firsthand reviews from tenants.
What inspired you to create RentCity?
We founded our company knowing that tenants rarely get the upper hand. RentCity is committed to raising the voice of tenants in New York City because there isn’t a place for us to share our rental experiences. Nearly 2/3 of tenants experience renter’s remorse within the first 3 months of living in a new apartment. Whether it’s a neon sign, 5 AM deliveries, awesome doormen or noisy neighbors–anything that affects quality of life–tenants should know what it’s like to live in an apartment before signing a lease. Leases oblige tenants to fork over tens of thousands of dollars in annual rent, and the decision is often made in less than 20 minutes. Nowhere else in life do we make considerable financial decisions with such little information.
RentCity’s mission is to end renter’s remorse. On our site (www.RentCity.co) you can choose your next home with our RentCity score and read first-hand reviews from tenants. Happier tenants can lead to longer leases and increased word-of-mouth marketing for landlords. Better information can lead to improved quality of life for the nearly 70% of New Yorkers who rent apartments.
We’ve launched our RentStories blog and podcast to provide thought leadership and informative articles on tenant needs, renter’s rights, and the rental marketplace. On our podcast, we interview interesting New Yorkers who share their experiences as tenants in NYC.
What lessons from Baruch were particularly impactful on your careers as entrepreneurs?
The obvious impact was the strength of our friendship that started at Baruch. Our Baruch network has many other successful entrepreneurs that we are still close with and have learned from. Coursework at Baruch, especially accounting and finance, taught us how to analyze successful partnerships through a profit/loss lens. My (Brandon’s) philosophy minor taught me how to channel abstract thought into practical applications. Mash was working multiple jobs for four years while attending school full-time every semester. This created a foundation of work ethic and the ability to balance multiple priorities that lasts through today.
How did COVID-19 affect your business plan and what you offer?
Our website launched in March 2020 right when the COVID pandemic was accelerating and things were the worst here in NYC. We knew that while spending all their time at home, renters were figuring out what they liked and disliked about their apartments. Tenants started using our site to write more detailed reviews than ever before. Surprisingly, we’ve noticed more positive reviews during the COVID pandemic, with tenants and landlords working together to ease the burden and anxiety we’re all feeling at home. What we’re most proud of though is our free-rent sweepstakes. We launched this campaign before the pandemic because it felt like a very relevant way to reward one lucky rental reviewer. Things changed quickly. We found that during the pandemic, there was a growing need for information and good news. We pivoted our blog to posting informative content about how to make it through quarantine; we researched and described the conditions of the eviction bans, tenant harassment, and other critical issues. These posts were shared widely and brought new reviewers to the site, and we heard so many painful stories of struggle. It felt really good to randomly draw our winner last week, and we’ll be writing about who won very soon. We were thrilled to discover this individual is as kind and deserving as we could have hoped and represents the very best of what makes New York City special. It’s nice to have something work out, in spite of everything.
Finally, what are your plans for the future of Rent City and other future plans?
Future plans for RentCity include launching version 2.0 of our site (tentative launch in the beginning of August 2020) with an enhanced RentCity score and additional features to build community and ease decision-making. We’re also partnering with a subscription art rental company (curina.co) to offer a free three-month rental of original, hand-delivered, NYC-made art for anyone who writes a review of their apartment on our site. Looking forward, we’re in talks to provide our data and RentCity score to virtual apartment touring companies so tenants can make more informed choices when moving during this pandemic. Many apartments are now rented ‘sight-unseen’ and we want to do our part to ensure tenants know before they sign!
Brandon, you’ll be adjuncting at Baruch upcoming. What inspired you to do that?
Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to pay it forward and have held many mentorship roles. I believe it’s important our upcoming generations are informed of their potential career choices, especially what those career choices might mean in terms of future exit opportunities, work/life balance, and the daily routine. If students make informed choices it’s better off for the students (obviously), but there is less turn-over on companies, many of which spend significant money and time on training and onboarding. My adjunct role allows me to combine my passion for entrepreneurship in the courses I’ll be teaching along with my desire to ‘pay-it-forward’ to students looking to make their initial career choices.