April 30, 2014

3 marketing skills sharpened by renting an apartment

4 minute read, in Marketing

This weekend my landlord dropped by with a bottle of brandy, and a big apology: He’s selling the house. Shit.

Our application made it to the top of the pile on this place primarily because both my husband and the landlord speak Russian. What are the odds of that happening again. And then I realized- if connection got us a great place once, maybe its a plan we can use again.

I picked my favourite house on the block, that one with all the windows and rooftop patio, and dropped a hand written note in their mailbox. The note was pretty much a plea to poach their house if they happened to be moving anytime soon. Long shot, I know. But the next day, I got a call. She wasn’t moving, but her sister was. And the day after that, I got an email from her sister. Her place was out of my budget, but she’d pass on my note. Before I knew it, I had started a paper version of social media.

This sparked some big ideas:

Don’t under-estimate the power of common ground

I had an idea to talk to one person, and it led to a bigger opportunity to talk to a community. It got me thinking, what makes some ideas turn into opportunities, and others not?

Then I stumbled across the artist statement of Hugh MacLeod, and found an answer to this question. MacLeod defines opportunity as a thing that happens when common ground meets something worth sharing.

That’s when I understood why my experiment worked.

The common ground: How hard it is to find a good place to live in Toronto. It’s a subject that everyone can speak on, as an expert, with passion. That’s huge potential for many conversations.

The something worth sharing: Advice. Potential referral. A story to share. A lead. Good Karma.

This ‘combining common ground with something worth sharing’ is a recipe for making things happen.

A process based on feedback leads to success

Even though the first letter didn’t work, I got connected with someone else. Who might pass me on to another opportunity. And along the way, I’ve been getting feedback from the people who’ve picked up on my paper trail. Here’s an example:

“Jen just wrote me a very sweet note and is trying to poach my apartment. I give her full credit and a big high five for putting out there, but I am not leaving this pop-stand. I told Jen that (so and so) is leaving her place on (street name), and that she may want to see it. Discuss.”

Feedback + experiment + feedback + experiment leads to better decision making, and helps you remain focused on finding the best solution before investing a lot of time into it. (Like, say, committing to a year lease.) If this model applied to apartment renting, and tenants referred tenants, the experience would be better for both tenants and landlords. Renters could start looking for an apartment months in advance, instead scouring posts 1 week before moving day from landlords. A backdoor approach to apartment hunting would promote transparency. This might get landlords to focus more on up-keeping the property. And landlords might start a better relationship with tenants because they were referred. Referrals = trust.

Start small

This letter is working at the smallest scale. And the feedback I’m getting is encouraging me to continue growing the project. How often do we abandon great ideas because factors such as work, cost, and duration, get in the way? I’ve learned that starting with the absolute minimal viable product (MVP) of an idea is more sustainable. It’s a sure way to start making change and seeing results with the least amount of investment.

Based on what I’ve learned from this experience, I want to expand this experiment to phase 2. It might end up being a blog forum, social media group, or a website. But in the meantime, my minimum viable product is to start a movement and keep learning and collecting followers along the way.

Help me this project get rolling, and help me find a place by passing this on 🙂

Jen and her husband seek a 1-2 bedroom, for July 1st or later. We would like some kind of outdoor escape (patio or yard), and lots of light. Preferably located in the west end. We have a nice cat. We have amazing day jobs that we’re pretty passionate about, but we’re artists on nights and weekends. This means we are going to re-paint the place with an incredible colour palette, and have references to prove it. We’re looking to spend up to 1700$ a month for the right place.

If this sounds like something you know might be soon available, connect with us at:

If not, we’d appreciate your passing this note on to someone who might. Thanks for changing the Toronto apartment hunting experience!

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