Company News

Who's Side Are We On?

We’ve had some smart people ask us this question directly or indirectly, so I thought it was important to put this out there as early as possible and repeat it as often as needed:

Whose side are we on? Our members.

That’s not a too-cute cop-out. It’s the central crux of our idea. We want to establish ourselves as the trusted service for both small landlords and tenants.  We do that by creating value for all of our members. We create value by having all parties buy into who we are and what we do.

We make it easier for landlords and tenants to do what they have always done – communicate, exchange payments, service maintenance requests, and find each other. Instead of relying on middlemen or disorganized direct communications, we offer one solution that both parties can use to stay on top of their relationship.

Our singular innovation, however, is that we make all of those interactions useful by tracking them for each party.  We create shared transparency and accountability around these common points of interaction by building a wealth of useful data that both parties have access to.

By tracking these interactions, both tenants and landlords can benefit from the trust that builds over the course of their relationship. It gives both sides credit for doing what they have always done.  The best part is - this record can help both parties with finding their next tenant and landlord and so on and so on.

Sometimes it’s not always that frictionless. Someone forgets to pay rent on time. Someone forgets to check on a clogged bathtub. These things happen because we’re human beings.

We get that and that’s why we don’t believe in assigning vague ratings to these interactions. We're not trying to be the Yelp for housing.  We’re also not here to assign blame or moralize one or both parties’ actions.  We track the interactions that occur with everyday living and share that data with both sides. We think that will lead to better relationships and more trust.

If a conflict arises, and sometimes it does even when both parties are operating in good faith, we let both sides work it out through the proper framework, based on the same shared data. We defined a clear strike zone for everybody – we just call balls and strikes.  

Origin Story

During the heady days of the financial crisis in 2009, I was a writer/bartender living in Stuyvesant Town in the East Village.  The 25,000 residents of Stuy Town and I had a disturbingly close view of the crisis as the property went into bankruptcy and receivership. Added into the mix was the first court ruling in what became known as the Roberts Case – a huge roll back of illegally raised rents – that initially lowered my rent but plunged me and everyone into deep uncertainty and confusion.

Having been a recent resident, I felt slightly guilty about having my rent reduced so dramatically. I decided to get involved and volunteered with the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association who had been organizing residents through the entire ordeal (and for decades beforehand). I got started knocking on doors, handing out flyers, attending rallies, and learning the underlying issues.

Then one day about a year later, I got an eviction notice.  As it turned out - after two court appearances and months of back and forth - the previous management company had basically lost some of our rent payments and misapplied others to another apartment with a similar name to mine.  After the stress of going through that process coupled with the total uncertainly of my current lease, I recognized that something had to change in the rental market or my head was going to explode. 

So I decided to go back to grad school for urban planning and made peace with not being the next Fitzgerald.  Instead, I wanted to understand why the housing market was so messy, so opaque, and so unfair - and do something about it.  As I progressed through school, I also started to recognize that, though tenants get squeezed badly in the current market structure, landlords, particularly smaller ones, also faced their share of squeezing.  The fact that both sides had genuine grievances was a revelation. How could the market be failing both parties so badly?

I should mention here that while in grad school and still bartending, some friends and I started a company called Brightbox, which is a secure cellphone charging kiosk. We raised money, hired some great people, and expanded across the country (and internationally) over the next few years.  Having the dual-track of startup experience and housing experience helped me conceive homeBody.

Finally, while still with Brightbox, I met my co-founder Jo Owre, who had joined as our senior engineer, after his previous startup didn’t work out. That ended up being a blessing in disguise for both of us.  With Jo onboard, I found someone that knew the technology and business worlds well, was insane enough to jump head first with me, and got my vision for homeBody.  That vision is simple enough – to make renting fair and easy for both small landlords and tenants. 

This is homeBody

This is homeBody. Right now, it is as much of an idea as it is a company; if we work hard enough and don’t screw it up, that will always be partly true.

The idea is to bring small landlords and tenants together. Not in a ‘to change the world, man’ platitude-spewing way like some claims thrown around in the tech scene, but in an entirely real, entirely sincere, and entirely helpful way.

Small landlords and tenants benefit when trust exists between them. Sometimes this relationship is not as smooth and upfront as it could be.  Sometimes it is flat-out gnarly. It does not need to be that way.

We believe that shared-information creates trust. When both parties know what both parties know, when both are transparent and accountable, life is pretty straightforward. Then it becomes about actually living.

We built a technology that makes sharing information easy and useful. Landlords keep a pulse on what their tenants need and what they need from their tenants; tenants get credit for being a good renter, roommate, and neighbor while keeping their landlords on point.

We created a company to make renting a home fair and easy because we believe housing is a right. We want our members to benefit from our knowledge of housing and technology and from our commitment to service. We will bring on great people who value those things too; who keep challenging us to be better. We will always be never good enough.

We established a culture that comes correct to all of our stakeholders. Whether it is our members, our employees, our investors, or the public body at large, we will be a responsible and respectful community member and will contribute positively to the communities we serve.

Now, on to that whole ‘working hard and not screwing it up’ part.