Are you a property manager or owner who wants to recoup financial losses when stuck with a bad tenant who stops paying rent or needs to be evicted? Lower your risk? Trust somebody else to manage your properties? Protect all parties involved?
Today, I am talking to John Higgins, co-founder and CEO of Steady Marketplace, a leading technology platform for property owners and managers. Steady’s subsidiaries offer financial products, including rent default insurance.
[02:00] Background of Big Financial Numbers: Starting with event-driven, distressed, and activist hedge fund managers with billions in assets.
[06:37] Steady’s products protect property owners/managers from bad tenant outcomes.
[07:40] Rent Default Insurance: Protection against rental income loss due to tenant’s failure to pay.
[10:15] Rent Default Insurance is widely available and adopted around the world. About 70% are renters and 30% are owners.
[12:38] Collaboration Over Competition: Don’t simply copy-and-paste products and policies; leads to lack of innovation.
[13:55] Automate It All: Learn from online lending space using technology to streamline processes, operations, and pricing.
[15:05] Perfect Businesses are Out of Business: Entrepreneurs think they’ve got something perfect, only to realize they need to make it better.
[16:15] By the Book: Take regulatory issues seriously, and make sure to do it right.
[17:00] Adoption is #1 challenge with any solution, software, or service.
[17:55] Competitive Advantage: Education, awareness, and understanding of product.
[20:53] FAQs: How does it work? Why does this exist? What’s the catch?
[21:55] Renter’s Insurance vs. Rent Default Insurance: What’s the difference?
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’re 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, expand the market, 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.
Today, I am hanging out with John Higgins of Steady Marketplace. John, welcome to the DoorGrow Show.
John: It’s great to be here, Jason. Thanks for having me.
Jason: John, you’ve got a really big bio and you’re really impressive. Do you want me to read all of it?
John: You can read whatever you want to read. I’m not that impressive. I’ll say you’re more impressive hosting this show and with your following in the space. I’m just a guy trying to make a difference.
Jason: I appreciate it. That’s what every good entrepreneur is trying to do is make a difference, at least I hope. Otherwise, they’re just causing problems.
I’ll read a little bit here. It says you are the co-founder and CEO of Steady Technologies Inc., a leading technology platform for property owners and property managers. Steady, through subsidiaries, offers financial products that benefit property owners and managers. Their first product is rent default insurance, offered in partnership with the top US insurance carrier that is a Fortune 100 company, rated A+ by AM Best, and S&P.
Prior to co-founding Steady, Mr. Higgins founded Nobadeer Advisors which provided business development and capital market expertise to technology-enabled lending platforms across the variety of consumers and business, lending verticals, and backed by top venture capital firms globally.
Prior to Nobadeer, Mr. Higgins spent 2.5 years at Prosper Marketplace, Inc. where he helped build the institutional loan program growing it from $0 to over $5 billion over his tenure and help scale Prosper’s monthly origination volumes over 4000% during his time at the firm.
Mr. Higgins also previously served as a director at Topwater Capital, now owned by Leucadia, where he made investments between $5-$100 million to hedge fund managers across a variety of strategies via structured managed accounts.
Prior to Topwater, Mr. Higgins spent five years working for event-driven, distressed, and activist hedge fund managers with assets as large as $1.85 billion.
There’s a lot of big financial numbers here, John. A lot of big financial numbers.
John: Want me to dive a bit deeper on it and summarize for you?
Jason: Yeah. Let’s dive into that and then tell us how you got into all of these.
John: Sure. I can start from how I got into the hedge funds space which led me through here. I started and talk my way into an internship my junior college, totally unqualified, at the University of New Hampshire versus people that are top of their class from top business schools. Got a shot to join big hedge fund on my way up. I worked my tail off that summer and got a full time offer. I joined that firm full time after I graduated college. I was really lucky. I worked for the really brilliant entrepreneur there who would start this business with $500,000. Four years later, he grew it to almost $2 billion.
Then, left that company and went to Topwater where I was invested in hedge fund strategies via structured managed accounts, kind of cross the bench of the long, short, and distressed credit. That company was acquired by Leucadia which is now Jefferies Investment Bank; the two merged. Leucadia was at a big stake and Jefferies a long story anyway. As that transaction was transpiring, I was approached by the former management team across the marketplace who’ve I known from the hedge fund industry. They had great entrepreneurs that built and sold the company that served hedge funds called Merlin Securities. They’re backed by Sequoia. Sold that business to Wells Fargo and decided they were going to take over Prosper.
They reached out and said, “We’re looking for someone to help us build out this business as we take it over and turn it around.” Really fortunate to work with tremendous entrepreneurs and the tremendous team there. During my time there, we went from about 50 employees up to about 600+ when I left. That was my first foray into more pure play technology.
We’re a financial technology platform. We’re offering unsecured personal loans online to end consumers. If you’re thinking about going online, applying for a personal loan, no human interaction, […] pricing, I can get you a loan in a matter of days as opposed to having to leave your house, go to a bank, et cetera, and fill up paper forms.
After leaving Prosper, I was consulting for various lending platforms as you touched on in the intro. I got to work again with tremendous entrepreneurs across a bunch of different verticals. One of the people I’ve got to work with was doing some lending into the small landlord space. It’s fix and flip lending and also rental lending. I started looking at the opportunities. I said, “This is really interesting. I know all of these products that helped multifamily owners protect them against bad tenant outcomes.”
There’s a lot of companies that pop up doing that, but no one’s really going after single family. I started looking at the space and opportunity. As you and everyone else in the space realizes, it’s actually bigger than the multifamily space.
When you live in New York, everyone thinks rental properties are the big highrise. In fact, there’s roughly more than 16 million single family rental units in the US, then another 8 million duplexes, triplex quads. All in all, you have about 20 million rental units in the US owned by individual investors that owned less than 10 units.
These owners actually can’t solve for this risk which is if the tenant goes bad. The smart owners are getting professional property managers or actually better at picking tenants at the established processes and procedures. They’re getting bad tenants out. It can help manage those properties and have better outcomes. But still, when there’s a loss of rental income due to tenant default, there is no protection.
In fact, my business partner and co-founder, Viken, had a property in New York City that he was renting. Person just skips town in the middle of the night. He was left with close to $20,000. It actually might have been north of $20,000 loss because the tenant just left the unit and didn’t say anything. It took awhile to get it rerented. He had no coverage. If he had, it had no protection against that. If you had Steady or some of these other providers that are popping up, they could’ve indemnify themselves from that loss, and could’ve been made whole for a modest premium.
Long story short, there’s a big need in the market to this type of product. What we’re really excited about is working with all the property managers across the country to help ensure this is product underlying landlords and finding ways for everyone to win.
Jason: Cool. Let’s talk about the product specifically. Explain this to somebody that’s never heard of this. They might even be an unseasoned property manager. Describe the problem that exists, that this solves for.
John: Sure. When you look at it, if the tenant goes bad whether it’s professionally managed or not—let’s suppose it’s some professionally managed properties; that’s really who we’re serving here in this podcast, and who we speak to—if their tenants goes bad, the owner’s mad at them. They might’ve lose that door because guess what? They probably picked the tenant. They were entrusted by the landlord or the owner to find the tenant, to select the right tenant, and now the tenant’s bad. So, the owner’s mad, they might lose every relationship. The owner’s also rental income. As a result, property managers also lost their property management fee income. Generally, they’re charging based on the property management fee.
If you look globally, across Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, this type of insurance product, rent default insurance, is widely available and widely adopted. The reason is that, if you look in other jurisdictions, primarily Europe, it’s flipped from the US. It’s about 70% renter 30% owner. As we know, post financial crisis, more and more US consumers are now choosing to rent instead of own. So, the property management space is going to be larger and the rental property market is getting larger.
As this is occuring, we think that more and more people will be in need of this insurance because we have a growing market. The insurance itself indemnifies and there’s different flavors. We’ll speak generally about rent default insurance and what’s out there as opposed to Steady, specifically. What we want to do is educate the market on the availability of these types of products.
Rent default insurance, generally speaking, indemnifies the owner against losses as a result of the bad tenant outcome. It could be eviction, tenant skips, et cetera; different programs to different coverages. What this does is it allows the owner who can’t self-insure due to the diversification to recoup losses if they are unfortunately stuck with the bad tenant that stops paying rent or needs to get evicted.
Different people had different approaches to it. Us at Steady, we’ve taken a lot of the learnings from the online lending space using technology to streamline processes, operations, and try to deliver a great product that are at a reasonable price to the end market.
A lot of property managers are saying, “Hey, this is great. This is a huge concern that my underlying owners have. What happens if the tenant doesn’t pay rent?” They see property management companies out there that have eviction protection plans or other plans. You’ve got the SureVestors, the Rent Rescues, and a bunch of other great companies out here, all serving for these types of risks and helping solve these pain points.
The reason for that is this huge market is a huge concern. If you’ve got one property, say you own a home and you move for work across the country. You can’t sell your home or whatever reason you have. You put it with the professional property manager. They’re managing that, but you’re relying on that cash flow for maintenance, upkeep, taxes, et cetera. In many cases, to pay the mortgage.
If that tenant goes bad, all of a sudden, you’re break even or your cash flowing property gone upside down and now you’re coming out of pocket. You now have a liability that you have to come out of the pocket for every month. That’s a big pain point, a big concern, and what these types of products do is solve for those types of risk, help landlords have peace of mind, and protect against bad tenant outcomes.
Jason: You name dropped some of your own competitors, which is very generous of you. How does Steady standout or differ? How do you compare, standout, or differ in the space?
John: We’ve taken a bit of a different approach on how we can structure our products and policy. A lot of other competitors, not just in space but in insurance generally, what they do is copy and paste what other products work on their markets or other products that other people have launched, and there’s not a lot of innovation. As a result, we haven’t seen a huge take rate for these types of product in the US.
What we found—you might feel differently—my business partner, Viken, grew up in Paris. What works in Europe doesn’t necessarily work in the US. What works in Australia doesn’t necessarily work for the US. What Viken and I did when we came together is we deconstructed how these programs work globally. We took a lot of the learning from online lending to build what we believe is a better program here in the US.
One differentiation is automation. Our entire process is fully automated. We just set an email prior to this event saying, “We are now in 20 states.” We’ve got the ability to be in all 50 states. The reason we’re not in all 50 states right now is because we want to automate everything. It is going slow to go fast. As we start to take it off here and ramp because the updates have been very strong, it’s continuing to go stronger daily, everything will be automated. What that will result in is more efficient processes, procedures, and better pricing.
Jason: Explain what that means so everyone understands. You’re saying that automation is a differentiator and that it’s fully automated. What’s automated?
John: A property manager or a property owner can go online to the website, inquire about rent default insurance on their own, and complete the entire process in less than two minutes. There’s no human interaction necessary and they could do everything themselves. Now, newer company, newer brand, we’re lucky to be aligned with the very strong brand in the insurance space, but nothing’s perfect. As you know, as an entrepreneur, you think you’ve got something perfect and they realize you need to make it better. That’s how the process works. It’s constant iteration to get better, and better, and better.
Jason: The perfect businesses are out of business.
John: Right. We continue to constantly push new development releases and streamlining things. What we believe is that, if you can make the process as easy as buying, say for instance, travel insurance when you’re buying a flight and make it that easy, that will be a great outcome for us and for this market. The way which you can do that is through API integrations, the right product structures, the right creativity, the right business development strategies, et cetera.
If you look at our product, where our technology is our technology, our product is our product, the two weren’t built separately. They’re built together. They work very closely together and in tandem. Because of that, it allows us to deliver a great customer experience, a frictionless process, high scalability, and keep headcount well.
Right now, our biggest expenses have been legal and engineering, as you can imagine. It’s a technology company, but legal because we invest heavily in making sure that we do everything right and by the book. Also, that our partners do things right by the book.
As you know, the property management space has some instances where people have more of a cavalier or cowboy type approach that works until it doesn’t. For us, we have ambitions to be a very large company and we operate in a highly regulated space. It’s non negotiable for us to run into issues on the regulatory front or have our partners run into those issues. We take that very seriously and focus on in making sure everything is done the right way.
Jason: That makes sense. The number one challenge when it comes to any solution or software or third party service is adoption. It’s how easy is it for them to adopt this and use. If adoption is a challenge, then it’s not going to work. It’s not going to grow. People are not going to use it or it’s going to be confusing or frustrating.
I’m a big Apple fan. Apple made adoption very easy. My AirPods, I just hold them out, open them up, my phone just show them on the screen, and they connect. It was magic, it’s easy, I didn’t have to fill around weird Bluetooth settings or hold down buttons. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense.
You’ve mentioned that it’s easy for the consumer or for the property manager. One challenge that I see a lot of firms run into is when you’re servicing an audience that’s servicing that same audience. You almost can become competitors with them. How do you negotiate that? How does the property manager still have a competitive advantage against them just working with you directly?
John: I guess, education, awareness, and understanding. People […] this in massive market. People don’t even know about this product. One parallel I draw frequently is pet insurance. I’ve got a pet, I’ve got a dog who’s five now. I have pet insurance that I pay $70 or $80 a month. They haven’t got a good plan because the vet at the time said, “Hey, you should consider pet insurance if there’s ever an issue.”
To me, the asset there is the pet. A little bit different than a rental property, maybe not as emotional as a rental property would be. They said, “Maybe you should look at this.” It’s a similar thing as what you’re seeing happening in the property management space. Property managers are the fiduciary, the trusted advisor to the asset and the asset owner, which is the landlord or the small rental property owner who’s contracted the property manager for their services. If they can be introduced to this product, it’s for their benefit.
We don’t have a big direct push. We’re not looking to go after single family rental landlords directly. Our entire business model is predicated on partnerships. Based on our analysis, there’s roughly eight million rental units in the US managed professionally. We’ve love to see that grow larger. Those are also, for us, we believe the best risk. As I touched on earlier, we believe strongly that property managers are better at picking tenants, have an established processes and procedures in getting bad tenants out, and they can get units rented more quickly.
Jason: Which lowers your risk as an insurance provider.
John: Correct, which results in better outcomes from the underwriting perspective.
Jason: Okay, makes sense. Your interests are aligned directly with property managers. They’re your focus.
John: Yes. They are our focus. We just did a giveaway today to property management conference for people that could enter. We view property managers as our partners. Again, the reason I mentioned some of our competitors earlier because the rising tide lifts all boats. We want to see everyone do well, we want to see landlords have access to the solution so they get better outcomes, and we want to see property managers to be able to benefit from this as well.
Jason: Yeah, I love it. I believe that too. I have said before, rising tide raises all ships, but sometimes the bar is so low in property management in some areas and in some markets, that I don’t think every ship’s going to rise. Some have too many holes and are going to sink, but that’s okay.
John: That’s right. That’s Darwinism.
Jason: Right, survival of the fittest. What are some of the most frequently asked questions or concerns that property managers are asking you or have been asking in sales conversations? So that we can make sure we address them here on this show.
John: A lot of things that a lot of property managers ask is simply how it work. We have an FAQ section on our website and we can share the link on it. “How does it work?” “Why does this exist?” “How can no one else is doing is?”
As I catch on, this is the third time I’ll mention SureVestor, Rent Rescue, and others. The awareness is growing and that’s what the biggest challenge is for all of us in this space is awareness that these types of solutions are available. This isn’t like rental insurance or pet insurance. Pet insurance, I guess, is now becoming widely adopted, but people don’t know about it and don’t understand it. Most of the reactions we got is, “Wow, this exists? This is great. How does it work?” “Wow, that’s inexpensive. This makes a lot of sense.” It all depends on the property address, the rent amount, and the pricing.
Jason: For anyone that’s confused, let’s just explain the difference between renter’s insurance and rent default insurance.
John: Renter’s insurance covers the renter’s possessions and liability to the landlord, generally speaking. It’s paid for by the renter and they’re doing it, so if there’s a fire in the unit, they’re not covered from the landlord’s policy. Their possessions are gone. The landlord gets the unit rebuild, the house rebuilt, but they don’t receive anything. Now with renter’s insurance, then we get some coverage for that.
From the landlord’s perspective, if the renter has renter’s insurance, they have a guest over, they slip and fall, and break their leg, it protects the liability to the landlord for them getting sued from that slip and fall. That’s renter’s insurance.
Rent default insurance, it depends on the program. Different people, different features. Generally speaking, it covers loss of rent due to tenant skips, eviction, and tenant nonpayment for whatever reason.
Jason: Sometimes, we have to make sure things are at an 8 year old level so that everybody gets it.
John: I generally need things at an 8 year old level to understand.
Jason: Right. Most entrepreneurs do because we’re just so damn impatient at paying attention to things sometimes.
All right. We talked about how it works, why is anyone doing this. Any other frequently asked questions that people are concerned about?
John: “What’s the catch?” generally. Insurance companies, for better or for worse, generally don’t always have the best reputation for making it easy to make claims, et cetera. That’s another thing. Some people want to see the policies and see things in that nature.
Again, the big thing is people just don’t understand these types of products exists. That’s why we’re out there educating the market and letting people know that there are these types of coverages available and you can get the coverage to these types of risks.
Jason: Let’s touch on the benefits for a property management business in having this in their repertoire of services and how this can help them sell and close more deals, give them the competitive advantage, maybe.
John: What do you see is property managers are now looking at this and some are saying, “I’m just going to include it in all my plans,” and say, “This makes a lot of sense.” Now, we’ve got a differentiator. All of my property management packages include three months of rent default insurance if the tenant goes bad. They’re out there marketing and saying that it includes it.
Others are saying, “This is interesting. How can we offer this and earn some B revenue?” The only way it works, as I touched on earlier with compliance, is you can’t get paid for the sales, solicitation, negotiation of insurance, unless you’re an insurance producer. You can do other things such as marketing fees, et cetera, but you can’t make conditions on the sale, solicitation, negotiation, and insurance.
That’s why we spend so much to make sure that anything we do, anything our partners do in partnership with us, is fully vetted and above board. We make sure everyone stays on the right side of the rules.
Jason: Do they become somewhat of an insurance agent? Or you’re just laying that all together?
John: No. They do not become insurance agents in any way, shape, or form unless they’ve got an insurance agent license. Then, they could be an insurance agent, obviously.
Jason: Okay. John, it’s great to see an entrepreneur doing something that’s impacting the industry. I believe these products are going to have massive ripple effect in the industry. They’re going to create a lot more safety and certainty in the property management space. It’s going to lower the risk. It’s going to lower the pain threshold for landlords to trust somebody else to manage their properties. It’s going to protect all the parties involved and that means it’s going to help the industry grow.
If Australians, somebody said their markets are any indicator, it seems like these types of products help these markets grow significantly in a relatively short period of time, over a decade. They’ve grown phenomenally. I heard stats like Australia’s grown through 25% in a decade. Largely, they claimed that it was connected to that. I don’t know if that’s accurately or true, but if that were true and the industry—single family residential—were maybe about 30% are professionally managed, that almost be our industry doubling here in the US. I don’t know that there’s enough companies here in the US right now to handle that level of growth. That would mean we need to double the amount of companies or we need to double the size of every company that exists. Something in between that.
John: Or let’s double the size of every company that exists. That’ll be a good outcome for everyone.
Jason: Yeah. Regardless, I want to make sure that we’ve got the best. Let’s raise the tide. I appreciate that you’re seeking to raise the tide. I think collaboration over competition is what builds market, it’s what builds the category. It’s always important to build the category before you try to build the individual brand. That’s Marketing 101, everybody.
Property management is in the same boat. Property management has very low awareness, in general, here in the US and right now, we’ve got a lot of people going around something in their chest, trying to fill their individual brand. We need to build the category first. There’s a lesson for the industry to take away from what you’ve mentioned and what’s going on in what you’re doing, so I appreciate that.
John: NARPM’s done a good job trying to get the industry moving in the right direction. People like you and a lot of others that are trying to educate and build awareness are very helpful as well. It’s great to see everyone working together in some way, shape, or form.
Jason: There’s no scarcity in property management. There just really isn’t. There’s 70% in single family residential that are self-managing right now. That does not indicate scarcity. In certain channels of marketing, there is a lot of scarcity because everybody’s doing the same stuff, there is scarcity.
John, I appreciate you coming in the show. How can people get in touch with Steady and learn more about this?
Jason: Perfect. John, I appreciate you coming on the show, I appreciate what you’re doing, and I wish Steady success.
John: Thank you, Jason. Thanks for having me.
Jason: Check them out at steadymarketplace.com. If you are, for some reason, not getting the growth that you want, you’re growth is good, but you want to pour a little gasoline on that fire, if you find that you’re getting a lot of your business lately from word of mouth, and from the trust that you built in the marketplace, I would love to pour gasoline on that fire.
That’s what DoorGrow specializes in, optimizing your warmly funnel and optimizing your business for more organic growth, which is a lot less expensive than showing up tens of thousands of dollars a year towards pay per click, SEO, and everything that everybody is competing and already doing.
Like I said, I don’t believe there’s scarcity in the industry, but I believe there’s false scarcity that’s been created by marketers, and you can avoid that. For those who can’t see, I’m wearing my “SEO won’t save you” shirt. A lot of people are relying on SEO to save you.
Don’t get me wrong, SEO is great. If you have the top spot in Google, that’s great to have search engine optimization. But there are things that are better than having the top spot in Google like being the most trusted company in your market. Our whole system is focused on building trust for your brand, for your business, and helping you to go after that blue ocean where there’s all that business available; that 70%.
I appreciate John being on the show. Until next time, to our mutual growth. Bye, everyone.