Oliver, A New Apartment-Finding App, Cuts Out The Middlemen

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If you’ve ever tried to find an apartment in a popular city like San Francisco, New York, or Chillicothe you’re probably familiar with magical beings called brokers. These creatures take a cut of your rent while doing surprisingly little and it’s high time they are “disrupted.” How, you ask? Oliver.

Oliver is the latest effort to cut out the middleman. The app “connects renters with apartments,” a fairly simple concept that is surprisingly hard to implement.By aggregating rent inventory directly from landlords and managers they, in practice, become a frictionless marketplace that connects renters and tenants without a mushy brokerage layer getting in the way.

Oliver’s origin story is simple, said cofounder Yossi Shemesh. It all started over dinner with a real estate developer Amir Shriki.

“I found out that the real estate inventory is out there and can be aggregated. We invested money in the project and I started building a prototype with a team of developers – a machine that aggregates all real estate inventory directly from the landlord’s data sources,” said Shemesh. “In August 2014, we ran the first proof-of-concept – we hired a bunch of interns to connect users with the landlords and built a slim web based version of our product. We had dozens of showings per day that converted to real rentals – we stopped the POC and started the seed round.”

The app does everything you’d expect. You simply select an apartment and make an appointment with the landlord. While brokers will tell you that they help weed out the weirdos and the lookie-loos, if the sharing economy has proven anything it’s that services like this can work quite well when the landlords do a little work and most apartments require applications and credit checks anyway, further reducing the utility of the broker.

“All the other players – Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy, RentHop, NakeApartments – are ‘lead generation’ platforms and their revenue model comes from charging middle men. We plan on eliminating that by becoming the Uber for rental where you actually connect directly, seamlessly with the apartment / landlord,” said Shemesh.

The service has raised a $1 million seed round from a group of New York real estate angels. Shemesh and Shriki founded the service together and bootstrapped it for the first few months. Shemesh is the co-founder of Mobli, a photo sharing app that made a buzz a few years back. Since launching in Manhattan about a month ago they have seen 2,000 renters visit the site and have served about 200 conversions a day. They are opening the service in Brooklyn this week. Obviously it’s a crowded space but it looks like Oliver could be an interesting new player in a lucrative market.

“There is no doubt the middle-man is going to disappear,” said Shemesh. Here’s hoping.