Hi everyone, I’m very excited to announce that PadMapper has joined forces with a much larger (27 person) and much better resourced startup – Zumper!
I’m guessing that many readers of this aren’t very familiar with PadMapper, and there’s no reason anyone would know anything about the company’s inner workings, so I’ll start by saying a little about us.
Our main goal so far has been to provide a search engine for apartment listings, with the long-term goal of going beyond that to Make Apartment Hunting Suck Less ™. It started as a hobby project of mine in the summer of 2008, and grew organically to consume all of my time by winter 2009.
We’re not one of the stereotypical startups you hear about all the time in the Silicon Valley press, raising tons of money, driving around in Ferraris, and complaining about only having three options of catered lunch. PadMapper is a very small company – we had only 3 full timers and 1 part timer when we were acquired by Zumper. Until a year and a half ago, I was the only full time employee. Despite our small size, we have a successful product by most metrics – the website recently passed the 100 million session mark, from 50 million unique users, despite almost no marketing spending. “Pssh. Snapchat gets those numbers every day.”, I can hear you saying. Hold on a second, though – if we do our job well, our users will drop off within a month of first using us, and not come back for two years. The better we are, the less someone needs to use us before they succeed. We’re not trying to gamify addiction here.
We’re essentially bootstrapped – except for $14,000 raised from Y Combinator in the summer of 2010, we had no outside investment at the time of acquisition other than the $20,000 of personal savings I had when I laid down the first lines of code. Our office was some combination of my apartment living room and our local public library. The park outside the library was our call room. We owned our own server hardware that we colocated 10 minutes down the road (it made sense when AWS didn’t offer SSDs and their prices were much higher, plus RAM is still so much cheaper to buy than rent). We had weekly team dinners, but almost no meetings – we spent a very large percentage of our time on productive work. Most years, we spent <$1,000 on marketing. We were all engineers, including our business development person, Ed (who also wrote our iOS app). We survived a 3 year lawsuit brought on by a much, much larger company. We focused on promoting retirement savings for our employees as much as we focused on equity grants.
Not all of this weirdness was unambiguously good. If I was starting this today, I would have focused much more on finding a second person earlier, perhaps even lowering my standards for the second person (which might sound like a mistake, but looking back, my standards basically boiled down to “must be named Rob, have gone to MIT with me, and have the last name Crowell”). I might have accepted the distraction and taken the time to raise money. With a bigger team handling the day-to-day operations, I would have engaged with the industry more in-person. In earlier versions of this post, I thought it’d be useful to readers if I tried to lay out the things I would do differently in greater detail, but having never tried the other route, it’s impossible for me to compare effectively and offer any sort of sage wisdom, and I’m guessing there were aspects of our operation that would inspire envy in most VC-backed companies. Especially my fiancee’s awesome cooking for some of the weekly team dinners.
Fortunately, Zumper has figured out a lot of the things we haven’t been good at historically, and we have very well aligned visions for the long-term. We’re actually, honestly, not-for-PR-reasons very excited to be joining forces with them, learning from them, and sharing our experience with them to help them improve. They complement us extraordinarily well, and one of our big motivations for joining with them is that it will enable us to provide a higher level of service than we have been able to with our relatively meager resources. Having a dedicated mobile team, for instance. Or, actual partner support, instead of just me answering emails when I find time between deploying new HAProxy configs. The site will get a lot more listings as well, thanks to their excellent bizdev team and the Zumper Pro platform, which will eventually replace our aging PadLister platform. It will let us compete at a much higher level, and let us help more people in ways we wouldn’t have been able to support alone.
Hopefully my saying this doesn’t earn us an entry on Our Incredible Journey someday, but the current long term plan is to keep PadMapper itself separate and true to its roots, and expand its capabilities. We’ve just launched a long-planned upgrade to the desktop website that adapts the mobile website to take advantage of the additional screen real estate of laptops and desktops, and should let us make apartment hunting suck less across all platforms in a more unified way. Please let us know if there’s anything from the old desktop site that you sorely miss – I hate gimped mobile/console-first experiences when I have a real computer and a huge monitor, so please help us not be that by dropping us a line at email@example.com. (Also, please feel free to just say hi, send us photos of places you’ve found with PadMapper, pet photos, etc. – we enjoy all of it). There are some bits that we’re planning on bringing back soon, and just haven’t had time to rebuild.
And we have some incredibly interesting and unique things planned for once we solidify the new site. Zumper’s actual roadmap reads very much like the wish list for making apartment hunting suck less that I’ve had banging around in my head for years. I think this combination makes it much more likely that we’ll actually pull it off. It’s been a crazy adventure so far, and I’m really excited for the next few years.
Please excuse a short Oscar speech to thank people who’ve helped us out. I’d like to thank Rob Crowell, Ed Jiang, Hendrik van de Bruggen, Mary Nguyen, Stephanie Curley, Molly Rosen, Greg Kidd, Meg Nakamura, Bryan Springmeyer, Jason Kwok, Venkat Balasubramani, Sean McChesney, Andy Hecht, Tri Hoang, Pete Kruskall, Colin Gilboy, Wil Chung, Scott Stram, Josh DeSeno, Sean Quinlan, Rekha Doshi, Denise Pitterle, Rodney Knight, Gang Huang, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Brown, Miguel Hernandez, Tracy Osborn, Louis DeMenthon, Natalie DeMenthon, Paul Graham, Jessica Livingston, Harj Taggar, Jon Levy, Kirsty Nathoo, and everyone else who has played a part in the first leg of this adventure. Special thanks to my fiancee, Shan Huangfu, for putting up with me throughout our many ordeals, counseling me, feeding the team, and generally being the best partner one could ask for.
My thanks also go out to everyone who has used our software, told their friends about us, and sent us their feedback for making it possible. Please keep using our sites, telling your friends about it, and sending us feedback 🙂
PS: Check out the new site! PadMapper – Apartments for Rent