If you build a great product, your customers will be your best advertisers.
That’s something Kevin Kiene has learned. The founder of ezLandlord Forms, an online provider of property-management legal documents, remembers a time before that lesson was entirely his.
“In the beginning, we were marketing and advertising before we had a great product,” he said of his Web site, which will turn three this August. “We have a great product now.”
There were usability and design concerns and nowhere near the breadth of options the site now offers. But a lot can change in three years.
Last month, they launched a complete site redesign and are in the process of becoming a green certified business and doubling their staff. This month, they surpassed 300,000 members, many of whom are paying into its subscription model, pushing year-to-date sales by more than 225 percent. In September, HGTV’s Designing Spaces will be shooting a segment on the site to air at the year’s end.
“Business,” Kiene says, “is good.”
The company, which has office space in Cinnaminson, N.J., currently features seven employees who work from their homes across the country, including a Willow Grove-based Web developer and Kiene, 40, a native of Fox Chase in Northeast Philadelphia.
But Kiene, who now lives in Frankford, is proud to talk about the site’s national appeal, in addition to its growing traffic and how the idea for ezLandlord Forms came to him because he could never find a lease that would square away who was taking care of the damn lawn.
“It came out of a need, being a landlord for more than 15 years, knowing that I couldn’t always find a good lease agreement that could really protect me,” he said. “You’d call a friend who is a landlord, or you contact a real estate agent and say, ‘Hey do you have a lease? I need a lease.”
What lease documents he has bought were rarely up to date, Kiene says, and they rarely detailed responsibilities like cutting the grass, shoveling snow and switching batteries in smoke alarms. So he created his own basic lease and added or subtracted items and details as he saw fit.
That formed the core of what has become what Kiene says is the largest, most comprehensive property-management legal document resource on the planet.
It’s a subscription model: two weeks for $25 designed for one property; six months for $40 and one year for $76. It costs less than $10 per year to add an additional property. Membership gives users access to, as Kiene puts it, “the whole ball of wax.”
That includes the site’s robust Lease Builder Wizard, which puts users through a checklist of details to create a state-specific, tailor-made lease agreement, and its state assist features, guiding users through different laws, practices and expectations from state to state, including how large a security deposit, return-check fee and pet fees.
The site also has a network of real estate attorneys from each state, and just about every property-management document with a wide variety of details. Of course, the site’s staple products are its rental agreements.
“If you have to buy each form, is it really worth it?” Kiene says. “We give you a central source.”
Below, watch an animated tour of the company’s development, which cost a cool $20k, Kiene says
Kiene says he’s proud to be building this business in his native Philadelphia. (He says the above video was made by a Chicago-based firm, which plunked in the New York and Windy City references, much to our displeasure.)
It’s here where he found his real estate experience. At peak, he owned 10 rental properties in other parts of Northeast Philadelphia and “Kensington in the beginning,” he says. Now he says he’s filling a new role in a trade that became his career.
And Kiene isn’t done growing the site. He wants to develop a premier and secure resource for tenant credit checks and eviction history
“We want to build the best system,” he says.
That’s how your users will spread the word about the good work you do, he now says he knows. He continues to have the site’s usability tested, with the help of volunteers, and he keeps plunking down money that he says could score him the big suburban home some might dream of over a modest Frankford rowhome.
“Four years ago, this was just an idea. It took a year just to get the product together,” he says. “We have more to do, but there’s still nothing that comes close to what we offer. There’s nothing more important than that to me.”