Wharton MBA students tend to all live in the same area in Philadelphia: east of the Schuylkill River but no farther west than Broad Street, south of Walnut and north of Lombard. Most, if not all, settle down for two years within the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. It’s a rite of passage when students start: securing a new place to live—whether it’s in a Center City high-rise with a doorman or in a historic Philly rowhouse with a rooftop deck. It’s easy to imagine incoming students picking the brains of current students and staff during Wharton Welcome Weekend.
Where’s the best place for me to live come August?
Ashrit Kamireddi and Scott Bierbryer (both WG’14) launched a startup called VeryApt to provide answers to that question–through an online search tool that provides personalized recommendations and high-quality reviews.
Think of it like TripAdvisor for apartments.
As with most young alumni with whom I have spoken about their ventures, Kamireddi came to Wharton with the seed of an idea already growing in his head. He had worked at TripAdvisor in product development and marketing prior to his MBA. Kamireddi next met Bierbryer—where else, at their apartment building. Bierbryer had worked in consulting and finance previously.
The startup idea germinated into a partnership, and Kamireddi and Bierbryer pursued it in the Wharton Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition (BPC) their first year. They didn’t make it past the first round, but the BPC experience provided valuable lessons: e.g., sales milestones, website development goals.
(By the way, the semifinal round for this year’s BPC is well underway. See the Wharton Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition website for dates and names of BPC semifinalist startups, who will be pitching judges this Friday, March 20.)
Milestones became successes for Kamireddi and Bierbryer. By the summer between first and second year, they had a site live; by the fall, they had made a few sales. By January of their second year, they knew not to pursue on-campus recruitment. They were becoming their own employers—and investors, having bootstrapped the company with $20,000 of their own money.
The site is based on a Netflix-like algorithm that allows people to set and prioritize nuanced preferences quickly and easily, then receive easy-to-sort recommendations. Apartment owners use the site as a marketing channel and a way to gain visibility in target, high-quality populations—like new MBA students or white-collar professionals starting at a large corporate employer. Like Yelp, VeryApt applied tier serving, so that paying customers will get more leads and more visibility in searches than nonpaying apartment owners.
School didn’t just become a “hobby” at this point, however. It was a laboratory. VeryApt fine-tuned its pitch further in the 2014 BPC—at the same time, picking up an alum as an investor and adviser, Drew Marich, WG’97, former general manager at Rent.com. Kamireddi and Bierbryer also conducted an independent study with Professor Susan M. Wachter, Wharton’s Albert Sussman Professor of Real Estate, who introduced them to Kevin Gillen, a former professor at Penn’s Fels Institute of Government, who introduced them to large property owners in the Philadelphia region. The idea was to test their business plan in the real world of apartment rentals—particularly, the real-world of Wharton students, Rittenhouse Square.
Today, the team is in growth mode. When I spoke with the co-founders, VeryApt was operating with five employees and had just closed a $270,000 angel round led by StartUp PHL. More fundraising was in the works to expand—into six cities as of January and hopefully into 15 more by the end of summer.
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