Summer is often a time when renters are on the move. Whether it’s a graduate moving on from college, a professional relocating for a new job or someone simply looking for a change, it’s an active time for relocation.
Find My Spot, a Milwaukee-based startup founded by Heather Johnston in October, is aiming to disrupt the relocation industry.
“We focus on telling you what’s available in the market, what neighborhoods you should live in, and which buildings to start with,” said Johnston. “It’s a different way of thinking. It’s not a Craigslist, it’s not a Rent.com, and it’s not Apartments.com.”
The company offers primarily web-based services for those who are looking to relocate, both in the B2C and B2B markets. Find My Spot works directly with renters to match them with apartments, and also with human resources and recruiting departments to help with employee relocation.
Find My Spot offers two separate services, said Johnston. The first, the B2C offering where the company works directly with renters, launched in March of this year. That service features both an online tool, which Johnston said is “like Match.com, except for a renter and an apartment building,” and a one-on-one personalized service option where a Find My Spot employee will help guide a renter through the apartment hunting process. The web service offers one free search, with each additional search costing $9.99, and the personalized service costs 40 percent of one month’s rent.
The second service, which is rapidly becoming a priority for the company, focuses on working with area businesses.
“We’re working with human resources managers and strategic recruiting teams at local business in order to offer a very cost-effective relocation solution to them,” said Johnston. “We try to focus on companies that are either bringing in younger employees – because it’s very common for younger people to rent – or employers that are bringing in people in a more transitional role.”
For employers, Find My Spot can create custom relocation packages, combining its web portal with one-on-one services, focusing on one or the other depending on need.
One example of this is the recently launched initiative called Teachtown MKE. The initiative will help 200 Milwaukee Public Schools, Teach For America and City Year teachers relocate this summer. These teachers will have access to a custom online portal – teachtown.findmyspotmilwaukee.com – that features move-in specials from buildings, a custom relocation packet, and video tours of various properties.
“Teachers have already started contacting us asking for how to set up neighborhood tours, and it’s all done through the portal,” said Johnston. “Each teacher has access to a free half hour neighborhood consultation to help them understand where they should land for living space.”
Johnston said working with developers such as Mandel Group was key in establishing the Teachtown offerings and the Greater Milwaukee Committee played an essential role in initiating Teachtown and sponsoring the initiative.
“Teachtown MKE partnered with Find My Spot in order to ease the transition and relocation to Milwaukee for our community’s newest MPS educators, Teach for America Corps Members, and City Year Corps Members,” said Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. “Find My Spot will enable smooth transitions to Milwaukee for those new to the city or those wishing to move back to the city and rediscover Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.”
Part of the reason Find My Spot has increased its focus on pursuing business with employers was due to its participation in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest and the four-month process that the contest involved, Johnson said. There were 326 total entries to the contest, and Find My Spot placed third in the “Business services” category.
While Find My Spot bases its operations in Milwaukee, currently working out of the Hudson Business Lounge in the Third Ward, Johnston wrote the web service’s algorithm herself with plans to scale nationally in mind.
“What sets us apart is that having the technology embedded in the algorithm really makes us a scalable business,” she said. “Instead of relying on human capital – essentially one-on-one interaction in a traditional realty model – our algorithm sorts through all of the properties in the database and gives it to either the renter or the Find My Spot employee that would be helping with personalized service. It eliminates 80 percent of the time they need to spend.”
Find My Spot’s pilot city is Milwaukee, and it has identified five cities – Denver, Austin, Tex., San Diego, Minneapolis and Seattle – for its initial expansion before expanding exponentially.
Before starting Find My Spot, Johnston was an engineer at Harley-Davidson, where she worked in three different cities in five years in a rotational program where she had a different job every year.
“The whole reason I started Find My Spot was that I relocated with Harley three times in five years,” she said. “They were paying thousands of dollars to relocation companies and frankly, none of them – relocation or real estate firms – offered a renter-focused program. It’s definitely a need in this country. If you talk to many moving professionals, they prefer to rent. Relocation companies are starting to see that, but their offerings are really tailored to the homebuyer.”
During that time, Johnston received her MBA at the University of Chicago to help prepare her for starting her own company. Now, she is combining the tools she learned there with her engineering background at Harley to be a successful entrepreneur.
“A broken process for an engineer is the same as a business opportunity for an entrepreneur,” she said.
Dan Shafer covers innovation and technology for BizTimes Milwaukee. Send news to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @danshaferMKE.