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"As an industry, we have done a really great job of creating digital opportunities for people to find out about properties when they're looking for properties. And then once they actually go on site to check out the apartment, there is a huge need for technology." – Jennifer Cyphers
Have you, or do you know anybody, who has tried to rent an apartment during the COVID-19 pandemic?
If so, you've likely noticed that technology is much more front and center now than it ever has been before. From digital showings to email paperwork to virtual listings, agencies are utilizing technology for multifamily dwellings more so than ever before.
And that's largely due to the acceleration of technology caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mitch Fanning [00:38]
Okay, welcome back to Sync or Swim. I'm Mitch fanning with Rentsync. And joining me today is Jennifer Cyphers, Founder and CEO of Pynwheel, a leader in the self-touring category in the multifamily space. Jennifer, how are you doing today?
Jennifer Cyphers [00:47]
I'm doing fantastic. I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mitch Fanning [00:56]
I'm glad you're here. So usually, I'd like to start off by expanding on that intro. And maybe we can kind of start by getting you to tell us a little bit about yourself. And specifically, you know how you went from studying pre med, from the University of Colorado, to getting your start in multifamily?
Jennifer Cyphers [01:13]
Yes, that is always an interesting story. So I actually graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, with a degree in psychology and foreign languages, and then went back to see you post back to get my pre med requirements. And while I was doing my pre med requirements, I got a job like an entry level position at a company that was a startup tech company in the multifamily industry called SaveRent. And while I was there, I got promoted. And then I got promoted again. And I kept getting promoted. And in the meantime, I'm taking the pre med classes, I was kind of looking at my career going off in one direction, versus being in school for seven more years, and then starting out at the bottom again. So I decided to just see where that took me. And I paused on completing my pre med classes. And that's all she wrote.
Mitch Fanning [02:08]
So it was going back to school for another seven versus just keeping keep getting those promotions. And obviously, that took you to where you are today. So yeah, exactly. I appreciate that. That story.
Jennifer Cyphers [02:21]
So I would end up in tech, I will tell you that much. I took one one computer science class in college and dropped out of it, because I did not think it was it was my thing loved loved science and foreign languages. And then so it's ironic that my career ended up being in technology.
Mitch Fanning [02:39]
So well, I mean, this kind of takes us to the to really the next question, you know, where where did the idea for pinwheel come from? And I guess the second part of that question would be maybe how you would define self touring from, from, say the other terms like virtual touring, and maybe even how it fits into that into the really that category.
Jennifer Cyphers [03:00]
Yep. So like I said, the majority of my career was in technology in multifamily, I ended up in marketing. And I was the director of apartment guy.com, which is an internet listing service that's popular nationwide, in the US. So at apartmentguide.com I spent a lot of time trying to create the best user experience for consumers to find properties. And I realized through that experience that we as an industry have done a really great job of creating digital opportunities for people to find out about properties when they're looking for properties in that first part of their apartment search. And then once they actually go on site to check out the apartment, there was just a huge vacuum of need for technology. So the industry was really helping prospective residents use technology to help find their property. And once they narrowed it down to a group of properties that they wanted to look at, then the technology basically disappeared, then we were back to brick and mortar. So prospects would go into a property and property managers were handing out brochures and circling maps with highlighters and bringing out binders. And so there just seemed like a great opportunity to help the prospect to find what they needed when they were on site using technology.
Mitch Fanning [04:24]
Yeah, it's interesting. And actually, I'm going to go off script a little bit. Obviously, I don't have a background in in multifamily. And I know I normally at some point in this conversation, I usually say that but I say that because to me, what I find interesting is, you know, this, this industry, when it comes to technology has has kind of evolved a little bit later than, say other industries outside of multifamily. But one thing I did notice is on the marketing side on the advertising side, it is has evolved a little bit on the operation side, it's very, you know, I think that's kind of where a lot of the technology started with the property management software etc. But that that leasing space or the space in between I noticed that's where the opportunities are in terms of just solving problems with technology and doing things differently. So it's interesting that you guys are really in that space. And that's kind of what I've noticed. Do you? Do you find that as well? Or is it just something that I'm kind of Am I crazy?
Jennifer Cyphers [05:24]
I completely agree with you. And I will tell you my entire career in multifamily. What has always been the case is that the consumers are always ready for the technology before the industry is before our clients are. So even when I started with SafeRent was, like 1999. And of course, that was really we were like real pioneers in the multifamily industry by bringing technology into multifamily. But the consumers, especially the the fact that the consumers are typically 18 to 35 years old, are usually very ready to use technology for everything, and the multifamily industry is a little bit more conservative. And so it always takes a little while for the multifamily industry to catch up with the needs and wants of the consumer. And I think that is true, too. With leasing. I think that COVID kind of pushed the multifamily industry ahead, maybe more than they were comfortable with and in a speedier fashion to meet the needs of the consumer with technology and leasing.
Mitch Fanning [06:25]
So, I mean, this might be a kind of a silly question. But why do you think that is? Why do you think we multifamily is later than, say other industries to kind of catch up on tech?
Jennifer Cyphers [06:37]
That is a really good question. The multifamily industry has evolved a lot since I started it in it in the late 90s. So the multifamily industry is definitely more open to using technology. And I think that there has been there have been huge leaps and bounds in the past 10 to 20 years in terms of technology and adoption of technology. But one of the reasons why I think that there is a lag is because it is really difficult for people who are on site who are really busy, especially property managers who are dealing with the day to day to introduce new technology into their flow. And I think that companies are cognizant of that. And rightly so they want to take care of their people. And they want to make sure that the people that are working the most efficiently and effectively on site are not getting interrupted too much. And they're not throwing new technology at them all the time. And so I think that there is a little bit of a disconnect between sometimes what the property management wants in what their prospects want. And that just takes a little bit of time to resolve.
Mitch Fanning [07:50]
No, it totally makes sense. So switching gears, I mean, you mentioned COVID, and the acceleration of technology. And obviously we couldn't get out of this conversation without talking about it. Obviously COVID has affected you know, a lot of businesses and a lot of people we that's kind of a that's that's news. It's not that's not new news, you know, in your mind over the last eight to 10 months, how has pinwheel helped its customers navigate through this difficult time.
Jennifer Cyphers [08:22]
I feel like we were very fortunate because we had designed and created the self tour application, which is our mobile application for allowing prospects to tour properties without a guide or leasing agent or property manager with them. So they use their mobile phone instead. And we created this application. One because we knew that prospects wanted it that the consumers wanted to use it and to because we foresaw that there would be a shift in the economy in the multifamily industry, and that this would be something that multifamily would need we did not expect it to happen so suddenly are so quick. So we really were fortunate that when the multifamily industries, suddenly leasing offices were closed across the country, suddenly, consumers expected social distancing. And states had social distancing requirements, we had a solution to offer to the multifamily industry. That was that was complete. So I know that there are a lot of companies that tried to pivot in April because it was a difficult time for a lot of businesses to introduce things like a software application. And we were just fortunate that we already had a couple of years into it. So we had a complete product that we could offer to our clients that that needed a solution. People still need apartments, they still need a home and they still need to be able to see it before they move in. And that was a real problem and it was a sudden problem that clients needed to face.
Mitch Fanning [09:53]
Yeah, and I've said this before as well. You know, they probably needed self touring or self touring was probably beneficial even before COVID. But it just, you know, people started to do the things that they weren't they should have been doing previously. They just started to do them now because they needed to.
Jennifer Cyphers [10:11]
Yeah, I agree it went from our preference to a necessity.
Mitch Fanning [10:08]
Now, when it comes to your business Pynwheel, have there been any really positives that you can speak of things that you'll continue on as a result of having to kind of pivot or not pivot, for example, but make changes as admin, anything kind of positive that have come from this?
Jennifer Cyphers [10:27]
Well, it definitely helps our company to grow because our other application is a touchscreen application. And certainly people were not using touchscreen applications when the leasing offices were closed. So it it helped our company, definitely that we were able to jump in and help multifamily properties with this new solution that we have to offer. However, operationally, I think one one difference is that we actually moved to working remotely in 2016. And the reason we did that, so all of our all of our people work remotely. And the reason we made that change in 2016 is just because our office went under construction. And so we had to move out temporarily. And while the office was under construction, we figured out all kinds of methods to get done what needed to get done, I wasn't a real fan of the idea of working remotely. But then we got to the point where it was obvious that the company was actually more productive and running more efficiently with everybody working remotely. And I think everybody this year has found out the same thing. So we were maybe a little bit ahead of the times with that. And now it's helpful. I think that the rest of the world really understands that a professional company can run efficiently with people working remotely. And there are huge upsides to it. One of them is of course, that people are able to be more productive and have more flexibility. And the other upside is that when we're hiring people, which we're hiring right now, we have no restrictions, I don't have to look for people who live in Denver, or who will move to Denver, I have the whole world to find the best person for the position.
Mitch Fanning [12:18]
Yeah, there's a couple of things, or comment at least one. You know, I think Denver was a growing tech hub already pre pre COVID. But I think what it's done is it's it's given other areas, the opportunity to almost become one. In a way, if somebody wanted to start a company locally, they can now start to kind of draw in talent from from other places. And you're seeing that mass exodus from California to to Austin. So not that Austin wasn't a tech hub before, but I think in lesser known areas or secondary markets, that's that, that obviously can come about. So the other thing too, just from that comment, you know, in your mind, do you, you know, pre COVID were you guys getting together? And still having almost a bit of a hybrid? Or are we guys fully 100% remote? or How did that work out?
Jennifer Cyphers [13:14]
Well, we now have people who live all over the place. So we didn't get together often like I know that there are some companies that will still try to get together now, like weekly for mass, happy hours or whatever. We actually announced in 2020, that we were going to have quarterly retreats, we had our first retreat, and we would get everybody together and have dinners and fly them into Denver. And then in December, we did a retreat where we went to the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs for a couple of days. And decided that we would do quarterly retreats, like I said, in destinations. And sadly, of course, we had to cancel that as soon as we started it. But I do hope that when we get back to being able to get out in the real world that we will go back to having our quarterly retreats.
Mitch Fanning [14:02]
Yeah, I think it's something we've been talking about at rent sync. You know, when everything is safe again, to kind of get together. I don't necessarily think everyone's gonna go back to the office full time. But I think there should be a hybrid, meaning that people should get together and see each other because personally, I haven't seen probably, we've hired probably at least 30 people, or 40 people that I have never actually physically met. So it's Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone.
Jennifer Cyphers [14:31]
Agree. This is the first time that we've hired people that I haven't been able to meet in person. And that's so strange. And the other thing about this is that when we went to working remotely, we really encourage people to stay active, stay fit. You know, you can't just sit at your desk in your house all day long, you have to be able to go to the gym and go for walks. And you also need to be able to stay socially fit. And so one of the benefits of working remotely is that people have more flexibility and time to stay socially engaged. And during COVID. Obviously, that has not been a thing. So a lot of the companies that are working remotely now I think, will find that their employees are desperate to go back to work because they're just missing interacting with other people.
Mitch Fanning [15:14]
No, there's no question. Yeah, there's no question that that's definitely something where people are not going to be, there's a craving for that to kind of get back to it. Now, when it comes to, you know, we talked a little bit about, you know, multifamily industry being disrupted by technology. You know, the one thing I kind of want to come back to, as we, as we zoom out a little bit is, you know, we I guess we talked a little bit about the driving forces behind that change. But I guess my question is, you know, do you think this, this trend is going to continue? And what are your thoughts around that?
Jennifer Cyphers [15:48]
I do. And I actually think there was an interesting phenomenon that happened when the, during the recession when the economy was not great. And that is that a lot of problems in the multifamily industry and in all industries, I think became obvious. And companies, startup companies that started during a recession, like we did, I think tend to be, have more fortitude and lasts longer. And so I think that there was a lot of great technology that actually came out of that companies that started during a recession, when it's not a good time to start a company, but they just so believed in what they were doing. And then when there was an upswing in the economy, there was just a huge need in the multifamily industry, for, for technology, and really just for advancement, because there were so many plans that had been made, like in 2008, that just sat on ice for years. And then they were desperate to get those developments up and running. There was a lot of saturation and markets suddenly. And so it was just really ripe for good technology. And now I think since we've had that bump in technology, the industry is getting more used to evolving at a rapid pace, and especially with COVID, as well, I think that the industry had to evolve at a rapid pace, then and so these little bumps, I think, will help the industry to continue to evolve at a more rapid pace.
Mitch Fanning [17:17]
There's no question now, if we are if we were to now zoom in a little bit, you know, in your mind, when we talked a little bit about it, when it came to kind of the the leasing space of kind of the, the, I guess the lifecycle of going resident to lease or even just just the flow of tech stack? You know, when it comes to, I guess the question is, in your mind, you know, what is that number one problem that really hasn't been solved yet when it comes to marketing and multifamily.
Jennifer Cyphers [17:48]
From a large standpoint, or a high level standpoint, the problem that I think a lot of people are trying to solve Pynwheel included that hasn't really been solved yet, is that we prospects can't lease sight unseen. So like I said, right now we're having to hire sight unseen. I mean, we do our zoom interviews and meet people and spend as much time with them as we can. But we don't have that personal connection. And one of the things that we've learned from prospects over the years from doing interviews and research is that prospects don't actually want to go do on site tours, they don't want to go check out the property is it is annoying to them to have to schedule something to meet with somebody. And so allowing them to tour on site alone is a much better process for them. But the real problem is that prospects don't trust marketing sources. So they're looking at properties online. And the information that they're getting is the shiny, pretty version that the property wants them to see because they're trying to attract customers and then hoping that they can close them when they wait. And prospects are wary of it. It's kind of like, I always like to make the analogy to online dating, that when you are doing online dating, you see the pictures of somebody and you know that it is their best picture when they were their most fit. And they're only telling you the great things about them. And then you go in to meeting them knowing that they might not be exactly what they look like in their picture, and that you might find out some things about them that they didn't put in their profile. And so I think that this gender ration of renter's just goes into touring being a little bit skeptical. And it would be so great if we could give them more accurate information ahead of time. So that they weren't required to go on site and kind of pick things apart.
Mitch Fanning [19:45]
Yeah, that's immediately I, you know, the easy. The thing that comes to mind very quickly is kind of the kind of G2 crowd or G2, for multifamily, where it's essentially reviews, right? So kind of getting that third party validation that, you know, these communities or these properties are, what they are, and being able to have that social proof to kind of, you know, sign the lease, but that's definitely interesting. Do you think that problem can be solved?
Jennifer Cyphers [20:15]
I do, I think it will be eventually. And I think that there are like I said, I think that there are a lot of companies who are trying to solve it. And getting closer. So I think that it will be solved eventually.
Mitch Fanning [20:28]
Now, I guess a follow up question to that is, do you think this or self touring, even overall, will would would take the place of a leasing agent? Eventually?
Jennifer Cyphers [20:39]
I don't think that it will take the place of a leasing agent. But I definitely think that it will change the need for personnel on site, meaning you might have a leasing agent now that then is able to spend their time doing other things you might have there a lot of properties that have that are smaller properties that maybe only have a property manager on site. And to them being able to shift some of those more route leasing responsibilities, like for example, repeat tours, no property managers should have to leave their desks to take somebody on the third tour of the property, that's just an inefficient use of their time. And so I think what will happen is that it will shift the responsibilities of the on site staff on to more important revenue generating activities.
Mitch Fanning [21:28]
Now, I couldn't agree more. So before we get into what I would say, is my favorite part of the conversation, which is the quickfire round, got one more question for you. And it's really, you know, what does the future hold for Pynwheel?
Jennifer Cyphers [21:42]
Well, we're doing a lot of research this year, and how we can improve our products. I feel like we have validated Pynwheel self tour this year as the best self tour application and experience for prospects in the industry. And we want to make sure that we are continually improving the product to make sure that we are always offering the best tour technology. That may mean well, that will mean making improvements to our self tour application. However, it may also mean going into additional directions depending on what the industry needs. And what we are set up to achieve, we have a really good strong back end system and technology that will allow us to allow visitors on site temporarily for any number of reasons. So we'll certainly be looking into that. As well as just making sure that we're adding things to the application that will make the experience better for prospective residents. And one of those things that we're looking at is access control. We're always looking at ways to improve access control. And currently, what we're, what we're working on is a way for prospects to get into properties and get into units and get into amenities using their phone as a fob. So it will essentially just as they're going through enjoying the self tour blocked doors will just magically unlocked for them, which will make a huge difference in terms of what their experiences and the ease of use.
Mitch Fanning [23:16]
That's great. I guess before we get to the quickfire, I'll give you the opportunity. Obviously, this solution isn't always for every client or community can maybe you give me a sense of like the best fit type of client like you know, how many, how many units typically in a community, etc.
Jennifer Cyphers [23:33]
Well, it's interesting that you say that what we've seen so far is typically communities are over 20 units because they need to have some availability. Basically any property that has people touring, if they're, if they have seven units, and they're 100% occupied all the time, they wouldn't see a need for this. That being said, we do have a version that's even for single family homes. So any size property should be able to use this anytime they need a tour and I don't see any restrictions other than, like I said, if there's other than occupancy, if you're at 100% occupancy and you don't need people to tour your property, then you won't need this,
Mitch Fanning [24:14]
Right? No, exactly. Okay, great. I appreciate that. All right, so the quickfire round, and the way this works is, I'm going to ask a question, and you'll have about 60 seconds or less to answer. So Jennifer, are you ready?
Jennifer Cyphers [24:27]
Mitch Fanning [24:28]
Alright, here we go. First question, Who should I have on this podcast?
Jennifer Cyphers [24:33]
Ooh, there are a couple of really bright entrepreneurs that I have been working with recently. One is Cody Horacek Reserb, who is our partner in access control, and they're doing some really cool new things with access. And we're also working with a company called Drello that is doing a lot of great things with smart apartment access as well.
Mitch Fanning [24:54]
Perfect. Okay, I've made a note of that. So we'll get them in. We'll get them in the queue. I appreciate that. Next question. Yeah. What's one thing you wish your phone could do? Oh, can you hear me?
Jennifer Cyphers [25:04]
Ironically, the one thing I wish my phone could do is not be a phone, I find myself using it for things like I'll be doing demos for self tour, or I'll be using an application for something else. And it always is so annoying when my activity is interrupted by a phone call. So that's one thing I wish I would do is I could remove the phone settings. Of course, all of my phone calls that are necessary are scheduled. And so usually when I get a phone call, and it's, it's some kind of a spam call. So that would be, that would probably be my number one thing. And also, just because I'm so focused on access control, right now, I just see a future where we have our phones that are unlocking doors for us, as long as they're in our pocket, our front door or car door, or access to work, it's going to kind of be our key everywhere we go.
Mitch Fanning [25:57]
Ironically, you're not the first one to actually answer Give, give me that answer. So it's kind of interesting. So, third question, what's one thing you've changed your mind about lately?
Jennifer Cyphers [26:08]
I would have to say I'm hiring. So we're doing a lot of hiring right now. And so I have changed my mind about people that I'm interviewing between the first and second interview, or between resume and interview based on information that they're sharing with me. One person in particular comes to mind that really popped up to the top of my prospects, because she had done a ton of research on Pynwheel and was so interested in what we were doing and spoke to articles that had been written about us. And I was so impressed with that that interview really changed my mind in terms of where she was in our list of priorities.
Mitch Fanning [26:48]
Excellent. Fourth question. Artificial Intelligence fills you with hope, or dread, pick one.
Jennifer Cyphers [26:55]
Hope. Artificial Intelligence fills me with hope, because I see all the possibilities of the future of life being more convenient for everybody and also for job creation, because I think we're going to be switching into a new kind of industrial revolution with some of the technology that is coming out of the new technological revolution. And I think that that will create a lot of jobs. However, I am a little bit hesitant to sound so naive, because I remember reading in a book that somebody said that when cars replaced horses, that it would end violence in the world. So, I hesitate to be too optimistic about how artificial intelligence will improve our world.
Mitch Fanning [27:42]
That'll be interesting to see how there was a correlation between cars and violence. But I digress. So next question, your favorite place for takeout in Denver.
Jennifer Cyphers [27:54]
Whoo. My favorite place is Ongs Bangkok cafe. It is a tiny, little Thai restaurant in an obscure strip mall in Englewood. It's like a few blocks outside of Denver, and they have the best Thai food.
Mitch Fanning [28:10]
Perfect. And last question is really, where can people find you on the interweb?
Jennifer Cyphers [28:14]
Oh, Pynwheel.com it's so easy Pynwheel with a Y, just like cyphers is with the Y. PYNWHEEL.
Mitch Fanning [28:23]
Perfect. All right. Well, that's it for another episode. Jennifer. Thank you so much for doing this. And until next time, keep swimming. Yeah,
Jennifer Cyphers [28:31]
Thanks so much for having me. It was great.
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