Rent Like a Champion on ‘Shark Tank’: Interview With Founders

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Rent Like a Champion, which enables college football fans to rent housing during game weekends, entered the Shark Tank on October 30. Heavy interviewed CEO Mike Doyle and co-founder Drew Mitchell about their business. As for their future plans, Doyle said, “We are currently in 21 college towns, and we know we’ve only scratched the surface of this marketplace. There are 20 more towns that we plan to expand to, and we are going to use Shark Tank to kickstart that growth. We plan to get into each of those new markets in the next 12 to 18 months, but we don’t want to stop at just college towns.”

Here is what else the entrepreneurs – and Notre Dame grads – told us about…

To read all of Heavy’s Shark Tank coverage, click here.

How the Idea Came About

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MD: Our business model was stumbled upon by accident. The three original founders- Drew Mitchell, Derrick Shenk, and Jordan Curnes – began buying homes in South Bend in 2006 and renting them out to Notre Dame students and families. It was a very traditional brick-and-mortar real estate business. Upon having vacancy in the portfolio, we put a couple of homes on Craigslist and eBay, and accidentally identified deep demand for weekend home rentals near a college campus. I joined the team in 2010, as an undergrad, to help rent out the full-time properties. I was immediately drawn to the football weekend part of the business, and asked Drew, Jordan and Derrick for an investment to launch the model in a new market. After a successful test expansion in 2011 to Penn State, we started expanding nationwide in 2012.

DM: Necessity is the mother of all invention. We had vacancy in our residential rental portfolio, and needed cash flow. We thought of all the people coming to Notre Dame for football games, and started marketing our homes as vacation rentals. Voila – we were on to something! At that point, we spent about two years building out our website and when Mike Doyle showed up, the platform was ready for national expansion.

Their Notre Dame Education

MD: When I started at Notre Dame, my plan was to go to law school after graduation. Halfway into my sophomore year I realized that wasn’t for me. At that point I was partially done with a political science degree and had no idea what direction I wanted to go with it. About that time I got hooked up with Drew and our other partners, and so began my love affair with entrepreneurship. I began taking basic finance and accounting courses, as well as entrepreneurship classes. It was not the traditional business education that many people have, but my studies definitely made me a better analytical thinker, writer and eager learner.

DM: Without having gone to Notre Dame, this business would never have started! I double majored in Finance and Computer Applications as an Undergrad, graduating Cum Laude, and returned there for my MBA, during which I focused on marketing and entrepreneurship.

What They Contribute Their Swift Growth To

MD: Hands down, the amazing team that we’ve been able to build out. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people in the Chicago startup community, and luckier still to convince them to join the Rent Like A Champion team. Our growth really started taking off when we started adding team members, and I know that was no coincidence. Additionally, the founding partners have stayed very involved as advisors, and have really helped me attain the level of confidence of business-acumen necessary to run a company generating multi-million dollars in annual sales volume.

DM: Mike Doyle. He’s a visionary, an executer, and perhaps the most conscientious person I know.

How Homeowners Register

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MD: We try to make the signup process as seamless as possible for our homeowners. The process is done entirely online, with no up-front cost, and the entire sign-up takes under 20 minutes to complete. Homeowners answer some basic questions about their home, provide us with photos, and decide which weekends they would like to make the home available. It’s very easy!

What Happens If the Houses Gets Trashed

MD: The reality is that this does not happen. While it’s a common fear of our homeowners, our track record speaks for itself. We have processed thousands of rentals and have an incident rate of less than 2%. In the rare instance that there is an incident, the average security deposit charge is only $97. Our typical renters are families, coming to the game with children and looking for a comfortable home to stay in. On top of all of that, just this year we unveiled our $1m Insurance Protection Policy, which covers every rental in every one of our homes.

DM: This is one of the most common questions we get – let me boil it down: The most logical user of our service is the family, and families tend to be respectful. We place a $1000 hold on renters’ credit cards, and that typically keeps them well within the lines. When we do have an issue, it’s quickly addressed and our homeowners are reimbursed within a week.

How Their ‘Shark Tank’ Appearance Came About

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MD: The entire process was incredibly surreal. I sent a cold email to the casting department about a year ago, not expecting to hear anything back. In the spring of this year we got a call from them, and that really started the vetting process. They wanted to make sure that everything we were saying was truthful, really turning over every stone. As we continued talking to the casting team, it was unclear what our odds were of actually being on the show – 1 in 10? 1 in 1,000? When we got the call that they wanted us to film we were ecstatic, and started doing everything we could to prep for the show.

DM: This is all Mike Doyle. He handled all of the pre-application, application and most of the logistics. I didn’t get pulled in until my exceptional charm and profound good looks were necessary.