“It is definitely a marathon, not a sprint,” Isaac Palka said of his experience of running a start-up with his brother Omer Palka.
The company is called Zenly, NYC’s first online platform that integrates video tours of apartments, visit scheduling and apartment application all on the same website.
Realizing the painful process of apartment hunting and frustrated by out-of-date stock images posted by brokers on many websites, the New Yorker duo set out to challenge the traditional real estate market, aiming at putting an end to the in-person broker approach. Their idea is to help apartment hunters identify a new home by providing video tours shot by a team of trained staff. Following that initial idea were months of research and a year of building the website and reaching out to partners.
Zenly.com was officially launched in June 2014.
According to the Palka brothers, approximately 500 listings of Manhattan-area apartments (for rent) are available on the website in a given month. The number fluctuates based on availability of the properties.
Considering people do everything online nowadays—from grocery shopping to dating, the Palka brothers believe that their seemingly disruptive approach speaks to any renters who want to save time and money, especially those young people who prefer accomplishing things online or spending more time on the Internet.
Zenly charges 5% commission upon lease signing, which is 1/3 of the typical broker fee. Registered users are able to search Manhattan-area apartments and schedule visits instantly on Zenly.com. An email confirmation with time and place will be sent to the user, with a suggested itinerary of the visits. Once one arrives at the property, property representatives take over to show the place. When an agreement is made, renters then pay their security deposit, first month of rent and fees on Zenly’s platform.
The program has received positive feedback from users since its launch.
“We had people saying ‘God bless you,’ and had people saying that they wish they had us when they started out looking for NYC apartment,” said Omer Palka.
Currently, Zenly only offers listings in New York City, but the brothers are ambitious: they expect this model to be applied to more cities or other countries as the company grows and expands.
They are not afraid that their model might be taken and copied.
“They can try. But it’s very difficult to get things off the ground,” Isaac Palka said as they both laughed off.
And one needs look no further than their resumes to get a sense of why the two make a good pair of business partners. On the one hand, they are bound by blood and have grown up with each other so that they “are very familiar with each other, and can communicate with each other with all honesty.” On the other hand, the two have complimentary skill sets that lay a foundation for running a successful business.
Coming from a finance and investment banking background, Omer’s experience with large companies has given him a transferable advantage in dealing with large property managers and multi-billion dollar companies at Zenly. He is currently overseeing the company’s overall strategy and general operation, while Isaac’s main responsibility lies in tech, marketing and database management. They are both NYU Stern Business School alums.
Asked what is the most vital for a start-up business, both stressed the importance of “building a product that people need and love,” as well as good execution.
Omer and Isaac Palka have shared valuable advice for IntroAmerica readers who aspire to start their own business.
1. Build a product that you’re really passionate about.
Many people start their startups hoping for the glory and fame to come. But running a startup is nothing about that, at least not at the initial stage.
2. Always know what skills and experiences your company needs, and go find people who complement each other in terms of skill sets.
3. Attend related events to meet with like-minded people or find people who are passionate about your product.
4. Research, research and research before you meet an investor, and make sure you not only know what to respond when asked a question, but also how to respond.
Zenly is now offering special discounts to students looking for apartment in Manhattan area. Interested? Visit Zenly.com for more information.