Sarnen Steinbarth, CEO and founder of TurboTenant, and Sarah McTate, director of operations. Courtesy TurboTenant

BizWest 500: Necessity sparked fast-growing FoCo company

FORT COLLINS — Necessity sparked the invention of TurboTenant Inc., an all-in-one free property management tool, for CEO and founder Samen Steinbarth, who needed help juggling hundreds of units. Serving independent landlords like himself led the Fort Collins company to become one of the fastest growing businesses in Northern Colorado.

TurboTenant reported a two-year growth of 190% to BizWest. The company said that its $922,593 in revenue in 2017 increased to $2,680,000 last year, placing it on the BizWest Mercury 100 fastest growing company list.

Property management goes way back for Steinbarth, who was 19 years old and still in college when he acquired his first property. He played the role of landlord and housemate, renting out three rooms in his house.

He started a property management company in Helena, Montana, while managing his own sites. At the age of 22, Steinbarth and his wife, Liv Steinbarth, purchased a 29-unit apartment complex. A few months after, the couple added a 13-unit apartment complex.

Steinbarth also moved into real estate training, educating other property owners, real estate agents and brokers. His management company encompassed 300 units.

He relocated to Fort Collins and sought property near Colorado State University. At the time, he and his wife personally managed nine units but used a “fancy big property management company software” for the entire company.

“I still wanted some of the benefits of that, but I was no longer managing for other people,” Steinbarth said. “TurboTenant was kind of born on my own need to have software that I’d like as a small landlord with nine units.”

Steinbarth started creating TurboTenant in 2015, launching later the following year, though the idea is 15 years old. Today, TurboTenant has more than 250,000 landlords and 5 million renters in the U.S. using the software, he said.

For TurboTenant, growth is attributed to its user base: the independent property owner. Most of its landlords are 100-unit owners and have one to five properties. Steinbarth said that independent landlords are both the largest and most underserved market in the rental world.

Todd Richardson, acting general deputy assistant secretary for Policy Development and Research for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, researched who manages U.S. rentals. Research looked at the 10.6 million taxpayers who declared rental income in 2015 for 17.7 million properties, according to the HUD website.

He estimated “there are between 10 million and 11 million individual investor landlords managing an average of two units each, many with just one unit.” For business entity landlords, he estimated that there are fewer than 1 million business entity landlords, and they likely own an average of more than 20 units, with many managing hundreds of units. 

TurboTenant boasts quick and convenient interactions between renters and landlords with a streamlined application process, tenant screening and online payments.

Steinbarth said that the platform brings the rental process into the modern era by going paperless. He said it’s attractive to renters because it helps “to bring these old school landlords into kind of the 21st century of technology.” It’s a quality that he thinks short term rentals and hotels adopted more quickly.

“When was the last time you used the paper form and mailed a check in to book a hotel? It’s been a long time. But yet that was still the industry norm in the rental space. Paper checks, paper rental applications,” he said.

Steinbarth was inspired by Airbnb Inc., the popular San Francisco-based online marketplace for vacation rentals. It was founded in 2008, just seven years before TurboTenant got its start.

Like Airbnb, TurboTenant is free to use. It takes a cut of some transactional fees such as money from rental applications rather than requiring a subscription. Basically, TurboTenant charges if it works.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a downturn for TurboTenant in March and April, declining in revenues by 50% of what the company projected for that period. But, Steinbarth said that due to pent up demand from renters, TurboTenant bounced back in May. He said that there was a slight uptick from what TurboTenant projected based on its growth patterns.

TurboTenant sees its highest growth when renters are moving. That period usually starts in the summer and lasts through September, Steinbarth said. In the time of coronavirus, he thinks that TurboTenant can facilitate social distancing practices. With the platform allowing for online, background checks, rent payments and other services, TurboTenant is “COVID-friendly,” he said.

TurboTenant doubled its staff in May, mostly in the software development department. Previously, there was one software development team of five people. There are now 16 employees split between three teams, Steinbarth said. There are now around 26 employees in total.

One of the newest additions to the staff is Seamus Nally, who serves as chief product officer. Steinbarth and Nally both competed in the finals for the  Galvanize — Pitchers & Pitches competition in San Francisco. At the time, Nally was the CEO of Qwip It Inc., an enterprise conversation platform.

“It’s been exciting to grow from myself, as the first and only person without a paycheck, to a team of 26,” Steinbarth said.

One of the best decisions when building Turbotenant for Steinbarth was hiring employees, who bring skills to the table that can help take work off of his plate. As a property manager, not a software developer, some early-stage issues stemmed from tech problems. He recalls a two-week period where gmail users email confirmations ended up in junk inboxes. Steinbarth joked that some of those issues were comical. Now he has staff that he can rely on.

“We now have people at the company who know 100 times more about software than I do, and I trust them,” he said. “So I can certainly sleep better at night because we have in house people who are certainly software experts. I no longer need to be a software expert. I was never a software expert. I’m still not a software expert, but at least I don’t need to be.”

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FORT COLLINS — Necessity sparked the invention of TurboTenant Inc., an all-in-one free property management tool, for CEO and founder Samen Steinbarth, who needed help juggling hundreds of units. Serving independent landlords like himself led the Fort Collins company to become one of the fastest growing businesses in Northern Colorado.

TurboTenant reported a two-year growth of 190% to BizWest. The company said that its $922,593 in revenue in 2017 increased to $2,680,000 last year, placing it on the BizWest Mercury 100 fastest growing company list.

Property management goes way back for Steinbarth, who was 19 years old and still in college when he acquired his first property. He played the role of landlord and housemate, renting out three rooms in his house.

He started a property management company in Helena, Montana, while managing his own sites. At the age of 22, Steinbarth and his wife, Liv Steinbarth, purchased a 29-unit apartment complex. A few months after, the couple added a 13-unit apartment complex.

Steinbarth also moved into real estate training, educating other property owners, real estate agents and brokers. His management company encompassed 300 units.

He relocated to Fort Collins and sought property near Colorado State University. At the time, he and his wife personally managed nine units but used a “fancy big property management company software” for the entire company.

“I still wanted some of the benefits of that, but I was no longer managing for other people,” Steinbarth said.…