A Convo with Ofo Ezeugwu, Founder of Whose Your Landlord
If you live in a big city (or even if you don't), chances are you've dealt with unsavory living conditions at one time or the other. Whether dealing with leaks, repairs or unwelcome creatures; there's nothing worse than a neglectful landlord. Our friend Ofo Ezeugwu was a college student fed up with the dynamics of the rental market in Philly, and decided to found Whose Your Landlord to combat the slumlords of the world. The spelling is intentional — they "use the possessive form of the word 'who' because [they’re] giving renters ownership of their situation by putting housing in their hands." Through landlord reviews, community insights, neighborhood engagement and available listings; WYL helps renters have a smooth experience throughout their search and stay.
The WYL is currently raising a $250k seed round via SeedInvest, a new platform that makes it easy to invest in vetted startups, and we thought it was the perfect time to have a chat with Ofo about the future of renting.
What events led up to you starting Whose Your Landlord? Did you have any experience with start-ups beforehand?
In 2013, I was the VP of Temple University’s student body. As we were planning out items to go on our platform, I was thinking about many of the issues students had mentioned to us, in terms of what they faced on a day-to-day basis. At the time (and still today) North Philly was undergoing rapid gentrification and this was having adverse effects on several communities―the black community was being displaced and the students found themselves paying high prices for shabbily-prepped apartments that new landlords could charge by the room. I thought, ‘what if there was a way renters could review their landlords, that way, those behind them would know what to expect before signing a lease?”
In terms of my prior startup experiences, Felix (one of my best friend for the last 17 years) and I co-founded Untapped, Inc. in 2011. It was a brand development firm working with artists and businesses on getting their message in front of the right people. We learned a bit about expectations, and we learned how it felt to come up short in important situations. For example, our graphic was once pulled from running during a comedian’s Netflix special live shoot at Irvine Auditorium. It was embarrassing but more of a lesson learned than something to hang our heads on. Untapped was doing fairly well, but when WYL came around, we knew it made more sense to focus on that and grow it.
Can you speak to the process of fundraising? How did you get others to believe in your vision?
Fundraising is an arduous process. I mean there are so many nuances to it; but, one thing I can say is that it comes down to momentum and finding that first investor. There’s a lot of trial and error. The process―which you’re told will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you plan for―in actuality, as a POC takes four times as long; is much, much harder and is more uncertain than our white male counterparts. There’s no secret, less than 1% of VC dollars goes to POC on an annual basis.
In order to land our first few investors, we had to show conviction as a team (put in the time). And, I’ll be real, our first large investor came because the son of the investor and I went to the same high school. If I didn’t acknowledge that, I’d be lying to the people reading that at home. Sure, we came correct. We wore suits. We pitched a hell of a business that had just closed a $20k check from a channel partner. BUT, we don’t even get in the room to pitch them if I don’t have that connection. This is how the world works. Your network is everything. We turned that first commitment into momentum that would lead to other investments. That said, the process was long, tough, and we haven’t finished it yet.
What has been one of the most rewarding parts of starting your own business?
Learning how the most accomplished people in the world think. When you build a business that legitimately helps people, others open their doors to you so that you can learn from their mistakes and so you can hang with their people. This is important because you begin (and most likely you already always have been) seeing the world differently. Change and the pursuit of it is an infectious feeling. Starting your own business helps you actualize this. And, it allows you to let your crazy free and enable it to take you wherever it’s supposed to take you.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Raising capital so that we can grow consistently. It takes money to make money. I’m now a believer that we cannot wait on these institutions to cut checks for us. Many aren’t built by or for us. We need, absolutely need, our fellow brothers and sisters to shake their personal pride and economic conservatism and begin to bet on ourselves. This is the only way POC won’t be boxed out of the future; because, tech is just that: the future.
Given that the Black community is specifically disenfranchised/treated unfairly within the housing market, do you see WYL as a tool to help?
WYL is absolutely a tool that will help. Landlord reviews and community-driven content, highlighting the issues of disenfranchised folks, is a great start. Once we begin engaging renters with each other on our platform (messaging, organizing), it’s a wrap. The sharing of pertinent information―whether that be allowing for open discussions on discrimination, unfixed items, poor treatment, etc. within the same building or across apartments with the same home providers will give the WYL Community real power. That’s coming.
What is your vision for the future of WYL and what are your plans for the seed round you're currently raising on SeedInvest?
WYL will be a billion-dollar company. It’ll get there because we’re going to be relentless in actually using data, compelling content, helpful information, the power of community, and access to TRUTH, to guide our company. We will be the place renters must go before they rent their apartment. We’re already market leaders. It’ll take time and effort, but we’ll get there. Other companies and organizations have approached us about potential acquisitions already. We’re on the right track.
Our goals for the round we’re currently raising on SeedInvest is to do the following: We’re creating a more engaging platform to allow renters to build more robust profiles and enable them to message each other. We’re producing more video and written content particular to the next neighborhoods and cities of focus. We’re beginning the production of a functional app that renters can keep with them at all times. And, we’re hosting quarterly WYL Community events to encourage more connectivity between millennial renters.
Any advice for young, Black entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Know that this isn’t all glitzy and fun. This is hard ass work. You’re going to encounter people who verbally support you to your face, but, behind the scenes, actually do nothing for you. You’re going to cry―maybe a lot. You’re going to hurt. You’re going to struggle. You’re going to argue. All in all, if you can learn to remain on an even keel and positive in thinking, you will always persevere. I live by the motto: No steps backward; just forward progress. Make every W a win and every L a lesson. If you do this, no one will ever have the will power to outwork or out-mental you.
And, when you finally make it―invest in the next up. Don’t get in the door and close it behind you. Run away from exceptionalism and encourage wins for The Culture. God will bless you if you remain consistent and committed. It’s your job to pass that blessing on to the next.