From Real Estate Wiz To Startup Founder Of Turbo Tenant


Please introduce yourself (any co-founders) and your startup?

My name is Sarnen Steinbarth and I am the founder of TurboTenant.

Here at TurboTenant we are changing the antiquated way small property managers and landlords market and manage rental properties by bringing the process into the 21st century.

I’ve created a software that helps independent landlords radically improve the investment performance of their properties by offering them access to online tools, previously only available to large property management companies.

So far, we’ve launched features like property listing websites, automatic marketing of properties to major listing sites so listings are seen by as many renters as possible, online tenant applications, tenant screening (including integrated credit, criminal background, and eviction reports) and some really unique features like TurboTexts, which gives landlords a modern way for to communicate with renters.

Creating this software is a passion formed out of my unique journey in real estate, property management, and real estate education.

How did you go from idea, to MVP and launch?

My startup has been fueled by a passion for landlording that began at a young age. By age 18, I acquired my real estate license. By 19, I bought my first property and by 22 I owned a 29 unit apartment building.

By pouring my own sweat and equity into the properties I acquired and by honing in on property management skills, I was able to build a massive portfolio at a young age. By 2009, I started my own property management company to keep up with high demand of my own properties.

In 2010, I took my passion for property management a step further and started my own property education company in the state of Montana. During these years, I not only juggled landlording, property management, and teaching, I also worked full-time as an air traffic controller, met and married my wife and started a family.

Through this experience, I began to glean important information from my students. I began to see a pattern in the pain points of landlords and real estate agents. They were seeking a better solution for marketing their property online, accepting applications, and screening tenants.

Existing software was geared towards property management companies and was unaffordable for an average landlord, as well as being too complex for the average user. And so, the idea of TurboTenant was born: an easy, online solution at no cost to landlords that would help bring the process of landlording into the 21st century.

By 2012 I had purchased www.turbotenant.com and by 2015 I had my first investor, Mark Hopkins, accomplished author and businessman.

In October of 2015, TurboTenant officially launched with an online marketing platform, a rental application, and tenant screening integrated through TransUnion. Today TurboTenant serves more than 400,000 landlords and tenants.

What challenges did you face during this period and how did you overcome them?

While TurboTenant has seen incredible growth in the first years, it has been a journey of true highs and lows. The first night I launched TurboTenant, it took off faster than I imagined possible. Landlords were signing up and creating dozens of property listings within hours. As I watched it take off so rapidly, it was an incredible high. Unfortunately, this high was followed by a crushing low when I discovered the first major problem TurboTenant would face: fictitious listings being created by people trying to perpetrate scams.

I learned a valuable lesson on day one, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is, for both property listings and start-up life. Our day-one failure turned into one of our greatest strengths and inspired one of our core company tenets, which is to fail fast. We now are leaders in rental listing anti-scam technology, and even help and consult with other sites to collectively prevent scams in the US.

During this journey to build and launch your startup what is one thing you look back on with a sense of achievement?

I am proud of the fact that with minimal funding up front I was able to successfully launch TurboTenant. I am not a developer myself but contracted out the development work I needed in order to launch functional software from day one. It has been exciting to watch my passion become reality through hard work, ingenuity, and constant adaptation.

Offer us one insight, tip, marketing strategy or growth hack that has worked really well for you and your startup?

When I began TurboTenant, I was able to go over 6 months without any employees.

First, I found a local development company to build out the software itself. I built front end website myself with a bit of contracted help. I contracted a local writer do a few blogs to get content started on the site. I used contractors on Fiverr for other small projects as needed. I convinced the guy that did voice-overs for Google to do a small project for cheap, again contracted.

During this time, I also found deals offered to startups for software that would help automate a lot of time intensive tasks. A great example of this was finding a startup deal offered by Hubspot. Utilizing these tools and resources freed up more of my time to focus on running my newly founded business.

In those six months, I was able to launch a software startup without hiring a single employee. TurboTenant went live with online rental marketing, rental applications, and integrated tenant screening. Starting TurboTenant in this lean fashion enabled me to grow quickly

How is your startup going and what do you aim to achieve in the next 3, 6, 12 months?

From launch day to now, we have grown to become a company that serves over 400,000 landlords and tenants. Earlier this year, we raised $1.5 million in growth capital. Due to our success and continued growth, we have also expanded our team from only a couple employees a year ago, to over a dozen now.

We are a fast-moving, agile, startup, which has allowed us to improve features as our landlords request them. Having a background in property management is one of the reasons we stand out in the industry and allowed us to rapidly iterate on features based on the needs of landlords and tenants. This has led to customizable rental applications, the addition of renters insurance, a re-imagined landlord interface – complete with tech-forward features like TurboTexts – to better communicate between landlords and tenants.

We love making software that is easy, fast, powerful and free for landlords. We are excited to be disrupting the antiquated rental process in the US and are humbled that every couple minutes a new landlord signs up for this exciting startup journey with us.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about?

We want to change the way landlords manage their properties. It’s that simple, but it’s a large goal since there are over 20 million independent landlords in the US currently. Finding them and educating them about how their lives can be easier is the mission we’ve set out to accomplish.

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