Founder: Mayank “Mike” Garg
Company Description: Technology platform that streamlines the rental application processing life cycle
Company Site: https://www.gozent.com
Date of interview: October 2014
Mayank “Mike” Garg is the founder of Gozent, an on-line rental processing platform. He moved to the US from Delhi, India in January 2009 to study at Purdue University and moved to Chicago after graduation for work and dreams. During our introductions, he shares a story about overcoming challenges in clever ways. At school he wanted to improve his English verbal skills. (I’m surprised to hear this since Mike speaks with the flow and confidence of a native English speaker.) Instead of investing in a traditional tutor, conversation partner, or classes, he decided there was a cheaper and more flexible way to improve – He began calling customer support centers of major companies such as Apple and Amazon for conversation practice. Let’s just say, it worked.
On coming up with the idea:
Like many business stories, the idea, opportunity and team presented themselves through personal experience and relationships. After renting an apartment in Chicago, he found that the rental process was surprisingly manual and just took too long. He found that his co-workers also felt the same pain in the rental industry and were interested in solving the problem with him. In May 2013, Mike put everything he had from his personal savings and success at day trading into getting the product to market.
Being 23 years old, it was a big decision for me to take all my money and invest it in a startup. But I thought if I don’t do it today, how will I do it in the future? I just went with my gut.”
So why does Mike believe in Gozent over another product or service? He points out that other products cover 1 or maybe at most 2 components of the rental process. Gozent is the only one that gives landlords the ability to post their listing, accept applications and get the lease signed. After almost a year of research, build and teamwork, Gozent launched in April 2014.
On having a good team:
Mike sourced most of his team from his existing co-workers. He wanted to be completely honest and transparent with his CEO and SVP and let them know what he wanted to do and who was part of his team – luckily, they were supportive. This story also matches what Mike describes as the most important trait he looks for in a team member –
The biggest things I look for are honesty and hard work. If people aren’t honest with me, then I can’t work with them. Everyone is accountable for what they are doing.”
While he believes and advertises that his team is his a competitive asset, he has also come to recognize that Gozent is moving into a stage where he needs to find people who can think about the company 24/7 instead of as a part-time job. His next goal in the people space is to transition to have full-time team members.
On getting customers:
To get customers, Mike went to Craigslist and began calling landlords that posted listings. He learned that the problem he identified is indeed real – on average he spent 20 minutes on the phone with potential customers who wanted to learn more about Gozent. While the interest was positive, Mike found that the challenge with a “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) product for his target customers is overcoming the average level of technology proficiency in the industry and willingness to just, as the term suggests, “Do-It-Yourself”. Besides level of technology proficiency, he found that narrowing his target customers to landlords who were coming due or overdue for a tenant was helpful. “It depends on how hungry they are for their next tenant.”
On what people don’t tell you:
The learnings that Mike has picked up in about a year are clear, simple and applicable across products.
- Do careful due diligence on associated costs if you need to partner with a large agency or bureau, whether for business or technology. If you can’t support it financially at the beginning, look into other options to get things started.
- Don’t obsess with automating everything upfront. When the volume is low at the beginning, don’t let finishing the automation build on the back-end hold up going to market. “I was foolish enough to think I couldn’t do it manually. That was the quicker way to get to the market”.
- Have dedicated resources. Mike sticks to his statement that he has the best team, but confesses that at this stage in the game, it’s tough to not have the full-time team he needs yet.
On what’s next:
His priority for Gozent is currently on funding so the marketing and employment budget can increase. But besides that – “One thing I’ve also learned is that once you launch a product, you can’t just feel like you’re stuck with the product. Know your options. I don’t call a day good or bad. Even if I fail, I learn a lot from it and it is valuable to me.” That doesn’t mean Mike doesn’t believe in Gozent, he just wants to keep a clear head about everything. For now, he closes with,
I’m going to work my ass off.”