DGS 82: Real Estate Revolution with Nat Kunes of AppFolio

Do you use AppFolio? Word on the street is that it’s one of the most intuitive and easiest platforms to use, especially in the property management business.

Today, I am talking to Nat Kunes. He’s the senior vice president of AppFolio, which is an all-in-one solution for property managers to grow their business and be more successful.

You’ll Learn…

[03:05] Shifts in technology solutions: AppFolio started as software as a service (SaaS), Web-based product and then added mobile ability to access anywhere.

[04:29] Fourth Industrial Revolution: Applying artificial intelligence (AI) to property management problems.

[05:18] AppFolio acquired Dynasty, which provides AI options for the real estate market. Digital employees lease properties, schedule maintenance, and perform other tasks.

[08:16] Decision-making behind-the-scenes at AppFolio:

  • Customer Input: Constant communication to identify core problems.
  • Market Trends: Leasing, occupancy, and construction rates to fill units.
  • Technology Shifts: Leverage leading-edge game changers to solve problems.

[10:56] Integrations: Growing awareness of APIs to choose different vendors and tools to create custom connections.

[12:51] AppFolio Property Manager PLUS Product: Geared toward larger property management firms.

[13:30] Future Feature Request: Integration with Zapier to connect to more tools, save time, and increase productivity.

[14:05] Employee Experiences: Meeting customer expectations and talent management by hiring and retaining great people is a challenge.

[16:08] Recent survey conducted with John Burns Consulting found that factors inhibiting growth include retention and talent shortage.

[17:57] Broader Benchmarking: What makes a good leasing agent? What makes a great maintenance technician? What is expected?

[18:42] Switching software to grow business and move forward: Partner with progressive company focused on future.

[20:43] Internally, AppFolio uses external tracking, HR, sales, and other software that offers insights and feedback to make better decisions.

Tweetables

Fourth Industrial Revolution: Applying AI to property management problems. Click To Tweet Future AppFolio Features: Decisions based on input from customers, market trends, and technology shifts. Click To Tweet The growing awareness of APIs integrations to choose tools to create custom connections. Click To Tweet

Resources

AppFolio

AppFolio Acquires Advanced Artificial Intelligence Technology Provider

AppFolio Property Manager PLUS

John Burns Real Estate Consulting

Zapier

DoorGrowClub Facebook Group

DoorGrowLive

DoorGrow on YouTube

DoorGrow Website Score Quiz

Transcript

Jason: Welcome, DoorGrow hackers to the DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow hacker.

DoorGrow hackers love the opportunities, daily variety, unique challenges, and freedom that property management brings. Many in real estate think you’re crazy for doing it, you think they’re crazy for not, because you realize that property management is the ultimate high-trust gateway to real estate deals, relationships, and residual income.

At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change perception, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, property management growth expert, Jason Hull, the founder and CEO of DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.

My guest today, finally, we’ve got AppFolio here on the DoorGrow Show. I’m hanging out with Nat Kunes. I said your name correctly, I think.

Nat: Yup.

Jason: Awesome. Nat, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you here.

Nat: Thank you. So very excited to be here as well.

Jason: Cool. Nat, you are the senior vice president of AppFolio. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Give us a little background on you and then let’s get into the topic at hand.

Nat: Thanks for the introduction. I’ve been at AppFolio now for about 10 years, so pretty early on, in our company history, gotten to grow with the company as well. Our products are really geared around being that all-in-one solution for property managers. From everything that we wake up in the morning to do, it’s really to accomplish that one vision which is helping our property managers grow their businesses, be more successful, pretty much everything that sounds like you guys stand for as well. That’s why I’m really excited to be on the show with you.

Jason: Great. Glad to have you here. I was telling you right before the show, most of our clients use AppFolio. Word on the street is that it’s one of the most intuitive platforms to use, easiest, that says a lot about software. I mean, the number one challenge with software is adoption; getting people to just use the thing. Let’s be honest, that’s the number one challenge with software is just getting people to use it and it being easy to use. Kudos on that.

Nat, you’ve been with AppFolio for a decade now. That’s like a miniature lifetime. Tell us some of the changes you’ve seen while you’ve been there. I’m curious about that.

Nat: Yeah. Really, we’ve seen some major shifts in technology solutions over that time period. One of the things people are really fortunate in our timing when we started the company, we started out as a web-based product, so Software As A Service from day one. By being web-based, we’re able to offer really complete solution that people could access from anywhere. When we started selling AppFolio in the early days, what we’d find was people were oftentimes using either Excel or QuickBooks or maybe some old solution that was on a CD or a server in our closet.

Over time, what we saw was that technology shifting. We started web-based, quickly moved into mobile, knowing how important mobile was to our customers and their customers—the tenants, the residents of these different units, the property owners as well—and all that communication, it needs to happen. We drew a line in the sand and said, “Hey, anything that you do on your computer, you should be able to do on your mobile device.” That was kind of a different take when we first started down that path. Because originally, people were coming out with apps that would do just like one little maintenance thing here or one little big sync thing there and we said, “Really, everything needs to work on a mobile device.” That was kind of the first major shift just since we started AppFolio.

The second major shift just happened in the last couple of years and you’re seeing us invest a lot in it. It’s really what we’re calling kind of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s tied to artificial intelligence. What we’re doing now is applying artificial intelligence technology to property management problems. Doing things like having opportunities to create digital employees that help people do things like lease up properties faster, handle maintenance issues in a much faster fashion.

That’s kind of the new major shift that we’re seeing in the industry. Over the last decade, we’ve kind of lived through a couple of these transitions. Our goal is always to be leading the charge on behalf of our clients to make sure that they always have the most modern property management software is available to them to help them grow their business faster.

Jason: We always hear this idea of AI. A lot of times when I’ve looked at different AI systems, it really, a lot of times, just looks like a really elaborate tree structure where they’ve just created a bunch of ‘if then’ statements and they call it AI. How is this actually coming into AppFolio? What are you guys doing to stay at the forefront and bring AI into your platform? Maybe give an example.

Nat: A great example, you guys might have seen, we made an acquisition earlier this year of a company called Dynasty. What Dynasty does is artificial intelligence for the leasing process. When you give out a phone number for someone to inquire about an available unit, what it’ll do is it will start a conversational AI experience with the tenant via text messages. It will have full on conversations talking about availability of the unit, pricing of the unit, setting up a time to show the unit as well.

You can imagine all the things behind the scenes that have to work for that to happen, it has to be able to have access to your leasing agents showing calendar, it has to interact with the prospective tenant, find times that work with them. It has to know full on availability of your units and then be able to book showings. Then follow-up with confirmations on these showings and then follow-up with, “How was your showing?”

What we found is, using artificial intelligence, we’re able to close people for showings at a much higher rate in humans alone and it takes away all the mundane tasks, as you can imagine, of just the back and forth of calendaring and all that time that kind of goes into that and lets your leasing agent really focus on what they do best which is closing the unit, getting that prospect in there, booking it as fast as possible so that you can focus on showing the unit and doing that.

That’s a great example. All of that’s done through conversational AI. If you talk to prospective residents, they really have no idea that they’re conversing with an AI device. They really believe that they’re talking with a human. That’s what makes it so effective in closing those showings, in getting those guys to actually show up on property. That’s a great example of it in action in.

I think that you’ll see that manifest itself in many different areas of the property management business. Think of all any mundane tasks that doesn’t really require your best staff to do. Booking a showing is just a calendar activity of back and forth. Imagine that in other areas of your business where you can apply your resources to higher priority projects that let you grow your business.

Jason: Maybe you could give listeners a little bit of insight behind the scenes there a t AppFolio since you’ve been there for so long. You’ve acquired Dynasty, you’re implementing this leasing conversational AI which sounds really cool, how do you guys go about deciding what is the next feature? How do you guys go about deciding internally? Maybe you could share a little bit what sort of the culture is. Because I think a lot of people see you as this big player in the market and I’d love to hear what goes on behind the scenes into the decision-making area.

Nat: We use a few different inputs in terms of how we decide what to focus on. First and foremost, we look at our customers and we say, “Okay. What are our customers desires? What problems are they trying to solve in their business?” We have constant communication and feedback loops with our customers. Our customers are very diverse. We have customers with sometimes 50 doors, and we have customers with tens of thousands of doors. They could span a lot. We have customers that focus on single families exclusively, some do multi-family, some do commercial units—it kind of crosses the gamut there of community associations as well. We’re constantly gathering input from our customers trying to identify, “Really, what are the core problems they’re trying to solve?” And then we take that back and say, “Okay, how can we apply technology solutions to solve that?” That’s kind of one layer.

The other layer we’re looking at is market trends. We’re trying to stay out in front of, “Okay, what’s leasing and occupancy rates look like this year? What does the macroeconomic market construction rates?” All that kind of stuff to try and stay ahead and say, “Okay. If it looks like, for instance, a lot of new construction is going to come out of the market, that’s going to flood a bunch of supply which means it’s going to be harder to fill those units.” Focusing on leasing experiences for our client thus can be critical for their success over the next couple of years. That’s kind of another layer.

The third layer we’d look at is major technology shifts that we believe would be kind of game changers in the market and we need to get ahead of on behalf of our customers. Like I mentioned, AI is a big one. That is really the big shift in technology solutions, we’re calling kind of that Fourth Industrial Revolution. We believe that will change the trajectory of software and how businesses operate just as much as mobile and the web did previously. We’re getting ahead of that for our customers and focusing on areas within our product that can leverage that technology to solve our customers’ problems in their businesses is yeah, their main input.

We take all those, amalgamate them up, and then that’s the focus of our teams. We have a lot of resources at our disposal to execute against that for our customers and deliver great products consistently to them.

Jason: One of the trends we noticed inside our DoorGrow club group and one of the trends that we’ve seen a lot of people pushing and asking for, is there seems to be this heightened awareness of APIs, integrations and being able to pick and choose different vendors and different tools. I’m curious, is that anywhere on the roadmap for this? I know you guys are doing some really innovative things with the AI but as far as allowing AppFolio customers to create connections to other tools and third-party tools, is that on the horizon at all for AppFolio?

Nat: Yeah. That’s a great question. What we take a look at when we look at APIs in general is, we really dive back to the problem that we’re trying to solve. We talk to our clients and say, “Okay, what’s the API being used for?” A good example of that in action is someone said, “I have this business intelligence database that I want to pipe my data out of and into, so I can do this custom queries or reports and it’s something for my investors or my owners that are unique to them and I want to do that.” Other examples that we’ve seen is, “Hey, I want to use a particular collections firm to do my tenant collections.”

What we do is we tend to look at those on individual basis, say, “How can we provide the best experience for that particular use case?” Instead of a generic API structure that doesn’t really work really well with a lot of different vendors and you can wind up with broken integrations and different things that you’ll hear complaints often about, we tend to focus on particular vendors that we can partner up with. Right now, we actually have hundreds of integrations with different vendors behind-the-scenes. Some of them are out there and we talk very proudly about them and partner up with them. Others are enabling our customers behind-the-scenes as well.

Late last year, we actually launched a new product that’s geared more towards larger property management firms called AppFolio Property Manager Plus. As part of that, one thing we heard from them is, “Hey, I need that data via an API to input in two things like my data warehouse and my business intelligence applications.” There is an actual API that comes with that product to do just that. On a case-by-case basis, we do look at those things. At this point, we’ve done that enough that we, like I said, hundreds of different integrations with different third parties. But that’s the approach that we take when we hear customers. We ask that, say, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve and let’s figure out a way to solve it together.”

Jason: I’m going to throw a feature request because I’ve been asked by every property management software that comes on for this, because I think it’d be a game changer, but Zapier integration. I don’t think there’s any major property management software that’s come up with Zapier integration which will allow them to connect to lots and lots of different tools and resources. I’m throwing it out there. Maybe you guys will do it in the future. We’ll see. I think the first software that will do that is going to get a lot of attention because it really opens up to a lot of tools and it’s one integration.

Nat: Yeah.

Jason: Alright, cool. Let’s talk about this idea of your employees’ experiences outside of just meeting customer expectations. You would this over and it’s just that many firms are still struggling to overcome the challenges with business growth and talent management. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Nat: What we hear when we talk to our clients is one, we’ll say, “What’s the biggest challenge in your business?” A lot of times, it doesn’t actually necessarily boil down to software or technology or things like that. It’s the people element of business. Hiring and retaining great people in the businesses is a struggle, it’s a challenge. There are definitely talent shortages in some key areas, amongst them, maintenance and some of the other areas of the business.

What we’ve been able to find through our technology is two-fold. One is helping you do more with the team that you have. That’s a great way to solve talent shortages. As I mentioned that leasing situation, if I have five leasing agents then I can add 100 more doors and still have five leasing agents, that’s huge. You don’t have to continue to find new people. The counter to that is retaining those people. One thing we pride ourselves, as you mentioned earlier on, is our software being extremely easy to use.

What benefit that gives our clients is a, the day-to-day work of the employees of the firm is much richer because it’s just easy. They’re not struggling with our software constantly day in and day out and complaining about that and causing them productivity loss. And then the other factor that comes into play there is when onboard a brand-new employee, you can train them so much faster. Because it’s so intuitive and easy to use, instead of handing them a big binder and saying, “Read this for two weeks and then maybe you could start using the software,” they can get in day one, start using, and be a productive, effective employee much faster.

Those are the areas that we really focus on to try and help our clients with that talent piece of the equation.

Jason: You’d sent this over and it says that you work with John Burns, a real estate consulting firm, and you discovered that four of the top five factors inhibiting growth were employee related. What were these five factors? Do you have that?

Nat: One thing we should do is perhaps we could actually share out the report with you guys and include that at the end. Because it’s a lot to go through the whole things right now but a lot of them were retention of existing employee, key talent shortages. It’s the ones that I’ve already hit on, add it up to the five. But there’s a lot more nuance detail behind each of the five. I think it behoove you guys to read through that report because it is actually extremely valuable as companies look to grow their business to read through that, because there are some good strategies in there, how to counter that, and how to continue to grow despite those five headwinds that might be against the business.

Jason: Yeah, we see that. I have the sand traps, at least that I’d call. We’ve got the solopreneur sand trap which is about 50-60 units and that’s where they’re trying to hire maybe their first team member and that’s a challenge to just offload anything or to get a team member on and retain them. The next sand trap is getting to that 200-400 door category. This is the team sand trap where they now have a team and they’re trying to figure out, “How do I keep good team members? How do I have A players instead of B players? How do I get people that aren’t just showing up for a paycheck, that want to go home at the end of the day and complain about me and the business and the job, and they live for the weekend?” I think that’s a big challenge. Property management is a tough business to be in. They deal with a lot of difficult things and so sometimes it is difficult to keep the team happy, positive, and motivated and not too stressed.

Nat: And benchmarking as well. It’s like, “What makes a good leasing agent? What makes a great maintenance technician? What makes being able to see what’s normal, what should be expected of them in a day-to-day basis, to being able to look broader?” That’s another key area. It’s like, “How do I know if I have a great leasing agent? If they’re turning a unit in 15 days, is that good, is that bad, is that short, is that long?” Being able to have that benchmark to compare against industry normal and then also geographic normal—all that kind of stuff—is critical as well to, like you said, building a great team and making them productive and effective.

Jason: Alright. Let’s take the listeners. Listeners are challenged with growth a lot of times. They’re dealing with team issues, they’re dealing with operational stuff, they’re usually pretty in bed with their software. If they’re with AppFolio, it’d be difficult to switch. If they’re with somebody else, it’d be difficult to switch. What ultimately do you think we should leave with the listeners as a takeaway from this for them to be able to grow their business and to move things forward?

Nat: The things that I always give guidance on is just make sure you’re partnered up with a company that’s looking to the future. You want a future-proof your business. You want to make sure that you’re keeping that long-term view in mind when you choose software solutions. You may have some short-term pains, I’d say, it’s hard to find a software solution anywhere, in any business, in any market that sounds 100% of everything you want. But to make sure that you’re partnering up with a company that you feel is like-minded, that’s progressive, that’s constantly pushing forward towards new things. Like what I talked about AI, if you believe that AI is the future as well, then you want to partner up with a company that is investing in that space, that can provide solutions there. That kind of like-mindedness I think is one of the most important things that I say that can enable growth.

We see a lot of our customers are able to grow their business because they invested in solid technology early on. That would be one thing that I would say as a key takeaway. I’d say that even at AppFolio, we offer software solutions from other companies and that’s what we look for when we buy software to help us run our businesses. “Who’s going to be with us in 10 years? Who’s going to be in it for the long haul?” Switching software every year is extremely painful and it can set your business back. You want to make sure that when you do that, that you’re really investing for the future.

Jason: That brings up a really curious question. If you’re a software company, what software tools do you use internally? I’m sure listeners will be a little bit curious that.

Nat: We use lots of different software. We use a lot of software to help us make better decisions as a business. We’ll use things within the product to serve up insights so we can see, “Oh, hey. People are spending X amount of time on this page.” Or, “People are clicking on this a lot. Why is that?” It helps us serve up insights that we can then talk to customers and say, “Hey, I notice when you’re looking at residence, you always click this one link. Is that because it’s not as easy to get there as it could be?” Helping us make the product easier to use. We use a lot of tracking tools like that to try to make better decisions within the product.

We’ve use lots of product that’s on the market. We’ve used a few over the years that do that. We’ll have those types of things. We’ll have tools that help us gather feedback. We are constantly gathering feedback from our customers, actual verbatims, and they’ll see that borrow sometime and show up at the bottom of the screen that says, “Hey, would you recommend us to a friend or colleague? What do you think about AppFolio? Help us make it better.” Anytime we roll out new features, we have software that lets them click and provide direct feedback and say, “Hey, I would change this. I would change that.” We’ll iterate on that.

Then we have obviously lots of backend software just like any company of decent size. We have companies to help us manage payroll, and HR, sales, all those kinds of things as well. But those are kind of generic company products as well. A lot of what we invest in is technology to make our products better and provide more value to our clients.

Jason: Alright. Well, I appreciate you coming on the show here, Nat. This was interesting. How can people get in touch with AppFolio? What’s the easiest way?

Nat: The best way is to contact your client services rep if you are a customer. They’ll always know exactly where to direct you to and help you get any help. If you’re looking at new features, functionality, you need training, whatever, we can help with that. For prospects or people that are interested in checking out our software, you can definitely go to appfolio.com, there’s a form right there, it gets routed right to one of our agents that can help you take a look at the software, take a deeper dive, learn more about the features, learn more about where we’re headed with it, a little bit about the AI stuff I talked about today, you can learn a lot through that as well. That would be the two main paths that I’d say if you’re a current customer versus someone who’s interested in checking out the software for the first time.

Jason: Cool. Nat, thanks for coming on the show. Glad to have AppFolio represented here on the DoorGrow Show. I wish you guys success in helping the industry.

Nat: Awesome. Thank you so much for having us. We’re happy to join anytime.

Jason: Alright. Thanks, Nat. Cool. For those of you that are watching, make sure you check our AppFolio. If you don’t have a property management software, it’s definitely on my list of the top ones to check out for sure. Take a look and check out AppFolio at appfolio.com.

If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, you’re struggling, or maybe you just need a better website, or maybe you want a little bit of coaching, something related to growth, reach out to DoorGrow. Check us out at doorgrow.com, schedule with me or my team, and we will get you connected and help you move things forward. Make sure you join our community, connect to this podcast which is the DoorGrow Club. You can get to that by going to doorgrowclub.com.

If your website is more than two-three years old, it’s probably getting stale, it’s probably leaking money so go test it out, go to doorgrow.com/quiz, raid your website, check it out, and it’s going to give you a letter grade—like going back to elementary school, people. You’re going to get a grade on your website based on how effective it is at making you money and meeting your needs in terms of growing your business. Websites are not built to just please Google; they’re built to please people. If they please people, they make you a lot more money. Ultimately, that’s Google’s goal as well, to please people. That’s how they sell ads. Alright, everybody, check that out. Until next time, to our mutual growth.

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