For many college students, higher education often revolves around finding cost-effective alternatives in an expensive system. With student loan rates steadily rising, this can mean buying and selling their used textbooks and searching for part-time jobs in between classes. Most commonly, however, students decide to live in off-campus housing, which is typically thousands of dollars cheaper than living in a dormitory. Unfortunately, as many post-collegiate renters can attest, finding the right apartment is often far from easy. However, instead of walking away with stories of bad landlords and lost properties, one college graduate decided to build a business to make the process of apartment-hunting easier for students.
Dominic Anzalone, 23, started Rent College Pads LLC after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. As a student, Anzalone and his roommates had repeatedly experienced difficulty searching for housing, often seeing the best properties in the area get snapped up by other students before they could act. To solve the problem, Anzalone gathered a team of friends to program and design a website and used some of his savings from summer internships and stock sales. Today, a year after the start up moved to Milwaukee and launched its website, Rent College Pads LLC has 10 employees and conducts business in 16 markets in three states.
The company owes its success to its unique and targeted approach: instead of going after the few high-vacancy properties in a market, which are often heavily competitive, Anzalone pursued the dense market of college housing. While other companies, such as Abodo.com in Madison, focus on college housing, the niche is typically ignored by bigger websites like Apartments.com and Rent.com.
This allowed Anzalone to take advantage of a dearth in the property industry. Arriving in Milwaukee in the summer of 2013, he contacted landlords in the area and university officials at Marquette University to bring attention to his services. Anzalone also used search engine optimization and other digital marketing techniques to attract students. As a result, the start up’s website, rentcollegepads.com, is now referred to students at Marquette through the school’s off-campus housing site. So far, over 4,700 students have found housing through the company at Marquette along.
The company has reportedly helped a number of local landlords and property management companies fill their units for the upcoming school year. One company, Tristan Estates LLC, has even stated that they have rented all of their properties a month earlier than usual. Other companies, even those outside the college housing market, have also spoken highly of Anzalone’s mission.
While the company is still, Rent College Pads was recently listed among the top 10 Milwaukee Start Ups to Watch in an area blog. The start up has also reportedly spoken to investors about raising money to fund further growth. While moving into new markets requires a great deal of effort to garner attention and find reputable landlords, many area business owners have speculated that this small, unique website might have what it takes to build a national brand.