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Why We Started Block
Every year, over a hundred million American renters look for a new place to live. And almost every single time, they go through hell. I know because I’m one of them, and I started a company called Block to help renters take the pain out of finding and getting a great place to live. We launched in public beta last week, and to commemorate our launch, here’s a little context on where we’re coming from and where we’re headed.
A few years ago, my wife and I had a baby. In addition to the normal joys and stresses of new parenthood, we started relying heavily on the on-demand economy to keep us sane: we hired a TaskRabbit to build our son’s crib, we used Amazon Prime to deliver diapers, and we would have starved to death without Instacart. While my world-war-veteran grandfather is rolling in his grave, this is a portrait of urban, Millennial life.
When our son was about five months old, we decided it was time to find a new apartment to rent—one with more room, more privacy, especially (finally!) parking. Mild dread kicked in when we fired up Craigslist in a browser tab, but we’d done this half a dozen times before as adults. We could do it again.
The first bad sign was our inability to keep track of the places we were looking at. My wife would iMessage me ten web links in a row of places to look at on my phone, I’d say I hated the carpet in one of them, and then we’d spend five minutes arguing about which of the ten links I was referring to.
Then there were two places we wanted to see that turned out to be scam listings—identity thieves laying-in-wait, hidden behind cute listings of Venice Beach bungalows.
We had our eye on a place in Mar Vista that looked huge in the listing, bright and clean. It took us 45 minutes to pack our baby gear and drive over. As we stepped out of the dark, musty-smelling apartment into the hallway, we bumped into an exterminator who tipped us off to the bedbug problem in the building after complimenting our “cute kid.”
Our nightmare experience peaked during a lunch break, when my wife called me, sobbing from a Post Office. She was getting a cashier’s check for the security deposit on the place we were finally approved for when our son had a poopy-blowout down the front of her shirt while waiting in line.
“We can never do this again,” we said to each other as we collapsed onto the couch on our first night in our new place.
If you’re a renter, I’m sure you can empathize with at least one of the problems my wife and I ran into during our last apartment hunt. The experience of being a renter is completely broken. I’ll go into why in a series of future posts, but right now, I want to tell you what it is we’re doing.
None of those things needed to happen to my wife and me. Block is making them a thing of the past.
Let's start with what Block does for free:
- You can bookmark any apartment listing you find on the web, in one central place. This is called the Short List.
- If you're looking with roommates or a partner (we call your group a Search Party), everyone can log in and see the same list of places, no matter what website the original listing is from.
- Scams are intelligently detected and removed from your Short List.
- You and your Search Party can vote on each listing. Listings you've given a thumbs-down to are demoted from your Short List.
- You can privately chat with your Search Party, and your chats are organized by listing. This keeps your comments about ugly carpets connected to the listings it's actually about.
Renters from all over the world are using these features already, and getting a ton of value out of them absolutely free.
But when you want to unlock wizardlike powers of apartment hunting, you've got Block Pro.
Block Pro costs $129, and in addition to everything above, you get personal, human help. Might not sound like much, but consider this:
- You get personalized matches sent to you by an expert so you don't have to spend a second on apartment websites if you don't want to.
- If you see a place that looks interesting, you can send us to physically visit the place before you, to take great pictures, a 4k video walkthrough, answer any questions you have, and give you a full report of what we found (good or bad). We call this Scouting, and our users are going bananas about it. Imagine never having to waste time on a misleading listing again. If we see bugs, we'll warn you. If we're charmed by the tile backsplash, we'll rave.
- When you find the place you want, we'll coach you through the application process, and even deliver your application and security deposit if you need.
This is where we're starting, and we think we're really onto something. Block Pro is only available in Los Angeles today, but it will be coming to more cities very soon.
And as we roll out new features, you’ll see a theme. No one is working to make sure you—the renter—are happy, that you’re thriving, that your life is any easier. Renters have been an afterthought for most of American history—an awkward phase between childhood and homeownership. But that’s changing fast.
Block is here to help you, the renter, thrive. No one else out there is as fanatical as we are about renters. Because we are renters. And a lot of the people we love are renters, too.