Taking the Pain Out of Apartment Hunting
Founders: Caren Maio, Matt Raoul, Mike O’Toole
Year founded: 2011
Location: New York, NY
Caren Maio, a graduate of New York University, had lived in New York City for 10 years and moved just about every year. Think folders filled with real estate listings, multiple bookmarks on her laptop, a spreadsheet or two, not to mention e-mails to herself cluttering her inbox. It was a problem that needed solving, and that is exactly what she and her Nestio co-founders, Matt Raoul and Mike O’Toole, have started doing.
From left: Mike O'Toole, Caren Maio and Matt Raoul
Knowing When to Pivot
Last year, their team was accepted into the elite incubator program TechStars, a three and a half month program that introduces founders to mentors, compels them to scrutinize their business models and when appropriate, pivot gracefully. That’s what Maio and her co-founders did. Their original concept was a site that can best be described as Yelp.com for apartment buildings, where users would enter ratings and reviews of buildings. “But two weeks into TechStars, it became evident after our first mentor meetings that the concept was not the ticket,” says Maio. “We were asking so much of the user up front without providing any immediate value.” Just as the partners were about to launch the beta site, they scrapped the idea, locked themselves in a conference room and “whiteboarded” until they came up with Nestio. It’s a site where apartment hunters can easily organize real estate listings and share them with friends and roommates. Listings can be sent immediately to a Nestio account via a bookmarklet, and users can easily make notes and compare them.
Maio credits TechStars with helping her and her co-founders tweak their business model. Some of their mentors actually became angel investors, providing the company with $750,000 in funding.
Nestio launched last June, and almost immediately Maio and her co-founders realized that a mobile app was a must. So they launched the iPhone app soon after and carefully observed user behavior. “They use the app when they’re on the go to vet properties and to remember what properties are which,” Maio says. When Nestio first launched the iPhone app, it found that about 30 percent of existing members were also using the app. That number has swelled to 60 percent.
“Over one third of our signups come through the iPhone app,” she says. “We’re really excited about that and we’re starting to think more about a big mobile push.”
The Right Partners
Like many tech startups, Nestio has yet to post revenues, but Maio is confident that there will be money coming in within the year. Already, the company has forged partnerships with Curbed, Prime NYC, Citi Habitats, eBay Classifieds and Naked Apartments to add a "+Nestio" button that lets users save listings directly to Nestio.
While those partnerships are “straight barter,” Maio foresees potentially lucrative lead-generation partnerships in the company’s future. Obvious prospects are moving and storage companies, cleaning services and the like. Nestio also can track the kinds of listings a user is bookmarking, make recommendations accordingly and earn commissions.
Based on a flood of e-mails from apartment hunters in other cities, Nestio opened its platform late last year so that users outside of New York can use the site. “I’m confident that, within the year, we’ll have all the pieces aligned, and we can start pulling in meaningful revenue,” Maio says.
Photo credit: Nestio