September 15, 2016
by Allison Geyer
Like so many tech startups, Madison-based apartment search platform Abodo was conceived with hope that its technology could help solve a vexing problem — one its founders experienced personally.
CEO and co-founder Alec Slocum, a 2010 UW-Madison graduate, now laughs at his “irrational” decision to move to a different rental every year he was at the university — a common practice among students seeking to mix it up with new neighborhoods and roommate configurations.
Back in those days, apartment hunting in Madison was a “grueling, ridiculous process,” Slocum says. There was no central database to view available listings, so renters had to comb through property management websites, seek out rental listing pamphlets, troll Craigslist or walk around neighborhoods trying to spot “For Rent” signs.
“We felt like this [industry] is so, so far behind,” says Slocum, who came up with a solution. “Let’s take this process, which is totally analog, and make it digital.”
Slocum, along with his childhood friends Adam Olien and Chad Aldous, launched in 2012 what would eventually become Abodo — a website called MoveInMadison, which focused on rental properties in the UW-Madison campus and downtown areas. In the first year, about 40 percent of the UW-Madison student body used the website, Slocum says, thanks largely to word-of-mouth.
As the website was gaining traction among renters, property managers started taking notice too, recognizing the platform’s potential to increase their exposure. More companies started paying to include their listings. As business continued to grow, investors grew interested. Slocum’s company went through the gener8tor startup accelerator program in spring 2013, and began eyeing expansion into other markets.
“That’s when we really started on this path of going from being a localized, small business to wanting to take a larger swing at this industry,” Slocum says. “The question for us was, ‘Does the same problem exist in other cities?’”
Turns out it does. The platform expanded to four cities in 2013: Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio. Like Madison, these cities are all home to large universities as well as young renters preferring to live downtown.
“Not to compare us to Facebook, but it’s the same approach,” Slocum says. “Find the university, get a lot of traction, and allow the platform to extend itself out from there.”
Abodo has now expanded into 35 cities across the country and has more than 500,000 individual renters using the platform every single month. Its staff has grown from the three founders to 29 people working in the company’s West Main Street headquarters. And the growth seems poised to continue. Abodo recently announced the completion of its Series A financing, which brought in $4.8 million from 4490 Ventures, American Family Ventures and Flyover Capital.
“Our plan is to expand into at least 60 cities by the end of 2017, and we expect our staff to double,” Slocum says.
With that expansion, Abodo has also improved its platform capabilities, adding search functions and innovative features that reflect the needs of today’s renters and property owners. Over the next few months, they’re rolling out a consumer review platform to allow renters to leave feedback about properties and management companies. They’re also introducing a free, semi-automated “concierge service” that allows prospective renters to chat with a local expert about neighborhoods and properties. They’re also exploring fixes for other “pain points,” such as handling digital payment for landlords.
As Abodo continues to expand nationally, it’s rapidly gaining on its competitors — websites with names like Rent.com — most of which have been around for decades and have wadvertising budgets in the tens of millions. Slocum says Abodo has scaled up to about a quarter of those big companies’ users. And while he believes Abodo could become ubiquitous, his goal remains the same as when he started the company.
“Ultimately, we think in terms of solving problems,” he says. “We think the population that is underserved by existing products is that younger demographic. And that’s the future of rentals.”