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Friday, April 23, 2010

Students Create Entrepreneurial Apartment Hunting Website

Daily Skiff

A thin layer of debris that included energy drinks and chip bags was strewn about his room. An unmade bed sat next to him as he typed away.

Most college students are familiar with this setting, and for Ryan Fleisch, a junior entrepreneurial management and marketing major, it became a typical scene, even though he wasn't like most students. He was starting his own Web-based business.

Fleisch said he got the idea for his business, Purplerenter.com, last year while apartment hunting with a friend.

"I heard from a lot of students who were in a similar situation as us that were having trouble finding a place near Texas Christian." Fleisch said. "There wasn't a site around here to help see what was available."

The website works by sorting through a list of apartments based on criteria selected on the site's search engine, Fleisch said. Users can search for apartments based on the number of rooms and bathrooms they want or even on their distance from campus.

Fleisch's partner, Chris Sterling, a junior finance and accounting major, said the website localizes the listings by inputting the user's current address and then uses GPS coordinates to find the apartments that best fit the search criteria.

"Most apartment listing sites just give you a large area, and you end up with listings way out in north Fort Worth apartments," Sterling said. "We centralize everything and make it real easy for the students to figure out what they want."

The duo got the first website up in a month but then couldn't get much further, Fleisch said. Apartments were hesitant to sign up with his company because the Web traffic was unproved.

However, he couldn't get people to view his site without apartments advertising on it. Something had to give, Fleisch said. He decided to let apartments post listings on his site for free for a few months until the Web traffic started gaining more hits.

Fleisch said he and Sterling plan on charging Dallas apartments to advertise on the site after the free period is over.

Brandon Tyler, a representative for Sky Rock condominiums, said Purple Renter focused on a more specific audience than anything Sky Rock had used in the past.

"I think it's a very strategic place to put marketing dollars," Tyler said. "They've got a great business plan and structure. I feel they're filling a gap (at TCU) that hasn't been filled by anybody."

The website hasn't been around long enough, Tyler said, to track the benefits.

Tyler recalled the first day he met Fleisch and Sterling and said he knew the idea was something special.

"They came and approached me on a Thursday and had a sample website up Friday night for me to look at," Tyler said. "They're very prompt and professional."

Fleisch said he worked 30 to 40 hours a week in addition to his school work when the site first started. However, the website started to become self-sufficient once he and Sterling began tracking hits, which Fleisch said allowed him to regain his social life.

The website now uses Google analytics and Joomla application software to track the hits, Sterling said.

Brad Hancock, director of the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center, said Sterling and Fleisch proved to be a hard workers in and out of the classroom.

Hancock said he originally thought the website had great potential but the concept for Purple Renter would be more valuable in a bigger market such as Austin apartments or Lubbock.

"Initially I thought the market might be crowded," Hancock said. "But then I realized they were a little bit different because they're helping people who already have space that needs to be filled. So the better I understood their business proposal, the better I liked their idea."

Fleisch said the guidance Hancock and the entrepreneurship program provided him with was invaluable.

"I never would have known that a business like this could exist," he said. "Without the (entrepreneurship) program, I never would have had the connections to make this happen."

Talking to people who already started their own businesses would be a great starting point for future entrepreneurs, Fleisch said.

Sterling said he wants to expand the listings to include houses in the area and not just Texas apartments. The website recently began negotiating with realtors, though nothing has been finalized yet, he said.

Purple Renter will soon allow students to fill out a questionnaire on what they want, he said. That information will then be compared with available listings realtors have.

Inquiries have already been made about starting a similar website in the Southern Methodist University area, Sterling said. In the next three years, the duo hopes to have sites for Texas Tech University and other universities outside of the state.