After three months in Las Vegas, Milan Vrekic has launched the company he spoke of when his term as executive director of Volta ended last year.
The former CEO of TitanFile and his partner Colin White have launched Zora, a company that uses technology to streamline the process of property management for small residential landlords. It will have dual headquarters, with the sales and marketing team in Las Vegas and the development team in Halifax. These cities will be the company’s two first markets.
“Home services and real estate services are one of the last remaining big pots of gold on the internet, and no one has got it quite right yet,” said Zora CEO Vrekic. “It is exciting to think about the implications and possibilities that Zora can have in the rental space.”
When Vrekic left the Volta startup house in Halifax, he and White had not yet nailed down what Zora would be. After hashing out ideas focusing on financial or content products, they decided on a platform that aims to make it easier for landlords to attract and service better tenants.
“We’re focused on getting landlords a higher quality of tenants, so they don’t have to worry about them,” White, the company’s chief technology officer, said in an interview. “Our research has shown that having an empty apartment is less expensive than having a bad tenant.”
He said that Vrekic rents out a Dartmouth condominium he owns and has seen the pains landlords face. His wife, Jenya Hryshyna, is a property manager and took a similar product through the Starting Lean initiative at Dalhousie University in Halifax last year.
When they settled on the idea, Vrekic and White applied to and were accepted in The Mill, an accelerator in Las Vegas, receiving US$25,000 (C$31,600) from the VegasTechFund on entering the program.
Having just completed the three-month program, they have now launched the product and are raising $250,000 in capital from investors in Canada and the United States. The round is oversubscribed, said Vrekic.
Zora is an online platform that streamlines the jobs facing landlords, especially those with fewer than 10 properties. In the early stages, the company plans to reduce the property management duties and eventually become a full property management specialist. While the company’s technology eases the process, Zora will also have to hire staff to do some of the heavy lifting of property management.
First, Zora checks a prospective tenant’s history — not just credit history, but a full range of factors in rating tenants.
It then guarantees the landlord prompt payment each month. If the tenant is short of funds on rent days, Zora pays the landlord and lets the tenant pay later, with a penalty. Finally, Zora can call on a roster of service providers for maintenance and other jobs.
There are plenty of online platforms for landlords, but White says they basically try to turn landlords into property managers by highlighting the tasks that need to be done.
“But the landlord doesn’t want to manage the property — they want it to be an investment,” said White, who was formerly a co-founder of a hardware company called Pixel. “We’re going in the opposite direction. We’re trying to take (work) away from the landlord and get them a good tenant.”