3 Founders, 1 Vision: Why We're Bringing FinTech to Landlords

 Post by Azibo Team on November 19, 2019

Chris Hsu teamed up with co-founders Gregor Watson and Rob Bloemker to create a business that would revolutionize the financial services experience for independent landlords—solving the very challenges he faced as a landlord himself.

After Chris Hsu served in the Army, where he gained invaluable leadership experience as a Captain, he returned home and was looking for a way to support his family. He decided to invest in property and become a landlord to generate income.“At the time, I had no 401(k), no assets,” Chris recalls, “I was looking for a way to build wealth in a tax-efficient way, and real estate was truly the best way to do it.”

But it wasn’t easy: a lack of transparency in the industry made it challenging to determine what kind of insurance to buy and what rates were reasonable when securing a loan. And while Chris has now been a landlord for nearly two decades, he says it hasn’t gotten easier—especially when balancing landlord responsibilities with a full-time job.

Chris went on to lead global companies—as managing director at private equity firm KKR, COO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and CEO of software company MicroFocus, just to name a few. And he became frustrated that he couldn’t drive efficiency as a landlord the same way he did while leading major businesses.

So when the opportunity came to launch a startup focused on bringing together digital tools, financial solutions, and insights to transform the independent landlord experience, he was eager to get on board, knowing that no one else was tackling this huge market. Plus, having spent his career helping large companies adapt to disruption, he says, “I wanted to be the disruptor for a change, and build a company from scratch.”

Chris teamed up with co-founders Gregor Watson and Rob Bloemker to create a business that would revolutionize the financial services experience for independent landlords—solving the very challenges he faced as a landlord himself.

A Team Unlike Any Other

Chris isn’t the only Azibo co-founder who’s faced challenges as a landlord. Gregor and Rob both purchased thousands of single-family homes shortly after the economic downturn, converting them to rental stock and managing them as a portfolio.

“There’s always an opportunity in chaos,” Gregor says. “I think out of the ashes of the Great Recession, the single-family rental industry took shape, and we saw the PropTech and FinTech industries really grab hold. Some very big, very old platforms have been shaken to their core—creating a crack in their armor to allow new platforms to accelerate.”

Both Gregor and Rob turned this real estate opportunity into successful companies. Gregor founded Roofstock, an online marketplace for buying and selling single-family rental homes that reached over $1B in transactions in its first two years. Rob founded and served as CEO of Five Ten Capital, a private equity investment firm that acquired, renovated, and managed 2,000 single-family rental properties across ten states before it was sold to another investment firm.

Over the course of their careers, they developed expertise and a deep understanding of their fields—Rob as a credit market innovator and Gregor in PropTech—often partnering in their endeavors. In fact, because they couldn’t find a simple funding solution for their portfolios of single-family rental homes, Rob and Gregor co-founded a lending business called Dwell Finance—which they grew into one of the largest bridge lenders in the U.S., and one of the first to provide a multi-borrower’s securitization in the single-family rental housing space.

Rob and Gregor are serial entrepreneurs, always looking for new ways to innovate. They teamed with Chris, who had accumulated decades of experience in technology, financial services and consumer businesses. Together, they saw an opportunity to help address the very pain points they experienced as landlords, using their deep understanding of real estate, financial markets, and building technology-based marketplaces. Their combined expertise, in business and as landlords, positioned them perfectly for the job. In fact, their team is unmatched in the industry, and they’re prepared to take it by storm and not only build a visionary company—but also change the lives of landlords across the country.

A Platform to Solve Landlords’ Most Pressing Pain Points

“Our initial idea for Azibo was focused on solving the pain point of providing multi-family landlords with lending,” Gregor says. “But in our customer research, we found that independent landlords had a far broader financial services need than we really understood.”

While independent landlords own 80% of the residential real estate market, many of their financial processes are still analog. Most independent landlords track rent payments in Excel, secure loans and insurance via phone or in-person communications, and have limited access to analytics that could help them understand their financial performance. In fact, most services that landlords rely on aren’t designed for their specific needs.

This challenge resonated with Rob, who has made a career of combining data and insights with his deep knowledge of the credit market to determine the most valuable real estate investment opportunities.

“I think most landlords are suffering from worrying about what they don’t know. It’s amazing to me that as much as technology is available, it hasn’t reached landlords yet,” Rob says. “We want to create something that gives them that knowledge and transparency.”

Chris, Gregor and Rob knew they wanted to build a solution for landlords that offered transparency, efficiency, and simplicity across all of their financial activities. They envisioned a one-stop-shop platform that streamlines insurance, banking, payments, lending and analytics to help landlords make more informed decisions about their finances.

“Banks and insurance companies are typically not vertically focused,” Gregor says, “We thought that if we created a vertical solution for landlords, we could provide a platform for them to apply for financing, get insurance, and really understand how they’re doing compared to others in their market.”

To make Azibo a reality, they partnered with Frank Rotman from QED Investors and David Weiden from Khosla Ventures. In addition to providing the funding for the seed round, both Frank and David brought their passion and expertise in banking and in real estate technology, respectively, to Azibo’s business. Frank has long believed in the power of vertical banking, and that financial services companies will be successful by focusing on a niche market and providing products tailored to those needs—rather than being a monolithic bank that tries to cater to everyone from individual consumers to global corporations.

Together, the team shares a vision: to provide radically improved tools and transparency for landlords to manage their rental property finances.

“To build a business, you need a unity of thinking, but a diversity of skills to crack a problem,” Frank says. “We have a unified vision and we all bring different skills and experiences to the table—and that’s very valuable.”

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