by Kalpi Desai (WG’16)
In 2013, they launched VeryApt.com, a website that uses an intelligent apartment search algorithm to help people find the right apartment.
How did you come up with the idea for VeryApt?
Answer: Although apartment search is something that people universally dislike, I’ve always felt that finding a new apartment should be an exciting experience. I’ve changed apartments almost every year since undergrad, and each move was an opportunity to experience a new neighborhood, try out new restaurants, and meet lots of great neighbors. Unfortunately, the actual apartment search experience never got any easier. Prior to attending Wharton, I spent several years working at TripAdvisor and one of the things I loved about working in travel was how excited people got about planning their trip. I want our users to feel similarly excited and passionate about their next apartment.
Who is your target audience and how do you attract users?
Answer: The majority of our users are young professionals and graduate students, but we’ve also seen quite a few families and retirees who wanted to move back in to Philadelphia from the suburbs use the site. Like most tech startups, we focus on online marketing and social media to attract users. One of the great things about the apartment search space is that people frequently ask their friends for advice when they are moving to a new city. We strongly believe that if we can focus on building an amazing consumer experience for renters, our users will share that experience with their friends.
I understand that you founded VeryApt while at Wharton. How did the Wharton community support you with your startup?
Answer: We’re very proud to be a Wharton startup and we are excited to see so many of our classmates starting their own companies. I know there continues to be an ongoing debate about whether entrepreneurs should go to business school. While I don’t think an entrepreneur needs an MBA, the Wharton, and more broadly, the Penn community has been incredibly helpful to the growth of VeryApt. The faculty and the alumni have been a tremendous resource as we developed our idea, learned about the real estate space, and refined our business model. In addition, we also added two Wharton MBA interns over the past summer–Jason Reaves WG ’15 and Rohit Gupta WG’ 15—who did tremendous work and helped us really accelerate our growth trajectory.
Which classes or clubs did you find to be the most beneficial for entrepreneurship?
Answer: Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship (MGMT 813) was definitely the most directly applicable class I took while at Wharton. Whether you are working on a startup currently or you aspire to start a company ten years from now, the class does a great job of helping you think through many legal concerns that can impact every part of your company. Beyond the usual suspects like Entrepreneurship (MGMT 801), Enabling Technologies (OPIM 662) and Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation (FNCE 750) are both great classes.
In addition, Founder’s Club and e-Club are both great resources, even if you are just casually interested in entrepreneurship. The business plan competition was also a really unique experience that helped us really develop the vision for VeryApt.
What is your vision for VeryApt over the next few years?
Answer: I want to build on the success VeryApt has had in Philadelphia, and expand to several new cities over the next 12 to 18 months. We’re continually working to add new features to the site, improve the consumer experience, and grow our reviews. We’ve been thrilled with the customer feedback we’ve received over the last 6 months and we believe that by focusing on personalized search and high quality user reviews, we can dramatically change the way people find apartments.
Any advice for future Wharton entrepreneurs?
Answer: The most important thing I can emphasize is to set a clear list of tasks for each week that roll up into monthly milestones. Business school is a great place to start a company because of how much flexibility you have as a student, but there are also an incredible number of distractions. I had to reduce the number of clubs I was involved in and cut out traveling my second year to make substantial progress on VeryApt. The thing to keep in mind is that at some point in the spring, you will have to make a decision about whether or not you will abandon your startup and accept a job offer. Early on, you and your cofounders should discuss what type of business progress you would need to see by March or April for everyone to stay committed to the company. This will make the decision process much easier and ensure everyone is on the same page. There is nothing more detrimental to a startup than having one of your cofounders leave just as you are about to start trying to raise money—if your team doesn’t believe in the idea, neither will investors.