Name: Dan Laufer
Company: RentLingo, the ultimate hub for expertly assessed apartment reviews
MBA program: Stanford, class of 2013
Did you arrive at school with a specific business idea? Not really. I had some vague ideas but nothing concrete.
How did the business come about? It started with a class I took in the engineering school. It was an experiential class: we had to recruit a team (no more than 1 MBA/team) and come up with a business idea. Every week we had to go interview potential customers/users and iterate on a product. We had to run many tests and really hone in on product market fit.
What was it like to start a business while in school? I found it to be mostly positive. There are obvious stresses when something gets busy on one side or the other, you’re admittedly not giving 100% to the other side. Having now gone full time on this for several years I now realize that the effort of what I was doing while still in school is not even close to what it is now. But it was still productive. The opportunity cost felt like $0 since I knew I wasn’t going to be pulling a salary during that time anyhow so it’s a cheap way to learn. And the things I would learn working on the business were frequently relevant to stuff we were doing in class so in many ways I found it to be complementary of my learning. It’s also easier to get access to people/have them talk to you by using the student card. At the end of the day, your company won’t succeed or fail because of this access but it doesn’t hurt either.
Did you ever contemplate leaving school? Not seriously. I gave it a little thought but to be honest, we didn’t get enough growth while I was a student to justify it.
Would you make the same decision (to attend school) again? Why? 100%. So much of our business’s growth and success can be attributed to Stanford. Most of our investors came from people I got to know who lectured there. My co-founder was a Stanford engineering student (we met in the class where we started RentLingo). The network has been insanely helpful. And I know people give short thrift to the actual learning you do in an MBA but for what it’s worth, I felt like I gained a ton from some of the classes. Thinking through unit economics, how to search for product market fit, nailing the right hypotheses in the right sequence were all critical insights that I don’t think I would’ve had right away and I see a lot of companies in the Valley messing up.
What does the future hold? Good question! We’ve found a great niche in location intelligence and we’re going to continue to push that market leadership position so that renters seek out our site when moving to a new market to know not just what listings are available but are they “in a part of town I want to live in”?
What are your big upcoming milestones for 2016? It was important to us to get to profitability which we achieved this year. Early profitability isn’t the right path for every business, but we wanted to control our own destiny. Our focus now is on scaling and growing aggressively and push out more tools/resources to reinforce our market leadership on location intelligence.
What tools and resources have been most helpful to you that you’d recommend to other aspiring entrepreneurs? Read Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup and Steve Blank’s 4 Steps to the Epiphany. Both provide tremendous insights into how to find product market fit and scale a business. Other than that, LinkedIn is a god send for hunting for potential connections either for investors, potential partners or customers. And CrunchBase and AngelList are great resources for getting intel on other companies and/or potential investors.