Apartment-finding startup looks to college towns for growth

Madison startup Abodo hopes to make finding an apartment online almost as easy as streaming a movie on Netflix.

And it’s not trying to do so in large markets like New York or Los Angeles, but mid-sized college towns like Champaign, Ann Arbor, College Station and Madison, where the three co-founders launched the company in 2012 after struggling to find an apartment.

“The process is really outdated,” co-founder and CEO Alec Slocum said. “I think everybody knows that. … It’s a really, really bad process that causes a lot of stress, and it’s even worse in these markets.”

The UW-Madison grad and two of his friends decided to start Abodo after an apartment search in Madison that involved “trying to find landlord websites that didn’t exist.”

They first launched the company in 2012 as MoveInMadison.com but decided to expand after seeing its popularity with students in Madison. The app will serve 30 cities by the beginning of next year — up from 10 cities at the start of 2015, Slocum said.

“We’ve done a lot in terms of expansion,” Slocum said. “It’s pretty crazy around here right now.”

The app has more than 1 million listings nationwide and hopes to replace “the old guard that’s made the search process so difficult for renters.”

The current search process, Slocum said, involves either traditional catalogs and their websites or Craigslist postings for smaller property owners who don’t want to pay to advertise their available properties. That means the current online listings are limited and can often be outdated, Slocum said.

Instead, Abodo hopes to list both large and small properties — and have its staff constantly check to make sure the apartments are still available.

“We’re making sure that we have more listings and really unique listings, so that when a renter comes on Abodo, they don’t have to spend their time going back and forth on Craigslist,” Slocum said. “They don’t have to walk through neighborhoods. They know that they’re seeing everything they can possibly see in that city, and that is a rarity in this space.”

Like a website for plane tickets, Abodo takes a fee each time it refers a renter to a large apartment building. But it lists smaller properties for free, partly because the app wants to have more listings available for users.

Abodo raised more than $2 million in two fundraising rounds, investing part of that money in product improvements like a function to review apartment listings.

Yet there’s still “a lot to do” for Abodo to improve the renting process, Slocum said, citing a list of “outdated” processes like apartment applications, security deposits and paying rent.

Slocum also noted the company is currently hiring, hoping to add on to its current staff of 24 employees.

“We’re always interested not only in talent that comes out of the university but just people that live in Madison, as well,” Slocum said. “We want to build it here in Madison. We want to build a big company here in Wisconsin.”