by Sally Parker - Rochester Business Journal - September 2011
One in three Rochester households rents a home. For those looking for an apartment, the current system in this region and elsewhere can resemble a wild goose chase, says Ben Munson, CEO of Newdigs, a real estate technology company that just graduated from Venture Creations, the business incubator at Rochester Institute of Technology. Full article
by Oren Bennett - UNY Startups - May 2011
Julian and I were at the Imagine RIT festival this past Saturday. I was about to head over to get a pulled pork sandwich at one of the many food tents when Julian abruptly called me over. He said, "Listen, Newdigs is over at the Gordon Field House. Take your cam and try to get an interview with Ben Munson; he's a very well spoken guy with a lot of enthusiasm. I talked with him before over a drink and wish I had gotten his pitch on camera!" I immediately grabbed my pocket-sized digital and the next thing I knew I was second in line in front of the illustrious man himself.
I have to say of all the startups that were at Imagine RIT, Newdigs was my favorite! Apparently Julian's favorite was the DangerZone App, which in and of itself could potentially become another feature on the Newdigs platform. Everyone wants to live in a safe neighborhood after all. Don't wait, find out for yourself and watch the video of my interview with Newdigs!
Partners building apartment search service
Envisioned as a multiple listing service for apartments, Newdigs.com aims to combine all of Rochester's available rental inventory in one online marketplace.
With experience as apartment landlords, former tenants and leasing agents, Ben Munson and Daniel Mooney, two Rochester Institute of Technology alumni, combined their knowledge to empower tenants to comparison shop in ways Craigslist does not.
To launch the business, Munson, 30, and Mooney, 32, decided not to chase venture capital but to raise money from friends and relatives first, to keep the business here and maintain better control of it.
Newdigs opened its friends-and-family investment round in September and so far has raised one-third of the $250,000 Munson and Mooney are seeking. With the money, the duo wants to hire a half dozen people, mostly RIT co-op students, to flesh out more of the site's functionality.
Since building the basis of their site and moving into the RIT high-technology incubator in September 2008, Munson and Mooney have been applying the suggestions and lessons they have gathered from venture capital experts at High Tech Rochester Inc., Excell Partners Inc. and Trillium Group LLC.
Last year, Newdigs competed in the Rochester regional business plan competition held by HTR and participated in the Entrepreneurs Network program, sponsored by Monroe County. The latter is a sort of boot camp for startup businesses like Newdigs to test their revenue models and introduce their companies to venture capitalists.
One cornerstone of their plan, Mooney and Munson say, is getting landlords from every corner of the city involved.
"We're really trying to shed some light on the affordable housing inventory. If you think it's hard to find an apartment on Park Avenue and find pictures of it and have a sense of whether you want to live there before you get there, just try to find something in the northwest section of the city or the northeast," Munson says. "There are literally no places you can go to find any information on that apartment inventory.
"We're working with (the Housing Council in the Monroe County Area Inc.) right now to put Rochester on the map as having one of the most transparent, searchable, affordable housing markets in the nation."
With the Housing Council's partnership alone, 200 to 300 units have been added to the Newdigs inventory. By the end of November, Newdigs will have more than 450 apartment listings spread across a fivecounty area.
Beyond the local market, the ultimate goal, Munson and Mooney say, is to go national, but to do that they need to establish a strong launch pad in each region. To that end, Newdigs allows landlords of properties with fewer than 25 units to list for free, in the same way Craigslist does.
Critical to their success in any market, the founders explain, is a full inventory. Additional needs include digital leases, tenant applications and other online forms that property managers can use to make their job easier.
Munson and Mooney want to make searching for an apartment easier and more uniform for landlords and for tenants by eliminating some of the guesswork.
"We realized pretty early on that Craigslist with a map is fine, but we didn't want to just incrementally improve," Mooney says. "We wanted to really knock it out of the park.
"For us, that was bringing in features like property management, tenant screening, features that landlords do on a daily basis."
Mooney, who like Munson owns rental property, quit his full-time job in July to focus more on programming the site. Now that both are focused exclusively on Newdigs, development is expected to be that much faster.
Right now, the site is live, allowing landlords to post listings for free and inviting them to provide feedback so that Munson and Mooney can make as many enhancements as possible. For landlords of properties with more than 25 units, the cost to market an apartment complex, for example, will be $95 a month starting next year.
One of the enhancements will include an iPhone application, which can help prospective tenants investigate detailed Newdigs listings while they are scouting for properties on foot or by car.
Making a lot of incremental innovations, Munson and Mooney say, will be instrumental to success.
Chapter 58 welcomes NewDigs.com
IREM Chapter 58 - The Insider - October 2009
NewDigs.com, a Rochester based company, is a rental property transaction platform that combines a revolutionary map-based search interface with online marketing tools, advanced rental market reporting , and integrated property management functionality. NewDigs seeks to work directly with the members of IREM's Chapter 58 for the remainder of 2009 to develop an all-in-one solution for both marketing and managing rental properties, which will debut in early 2010. From September 2009 until its official 2010 release, newDigs will be operating in what is referred to in the internet industry as a Beta version, a working preview that can be used to list rental property and generate leads.
Rather than build another ILS (Internet Listing Service) like Rent.com or Apartments.com, newdigs.com aims to build one central listing platform for all rental property. To that end, they offer free listings for any building under 25 units. Listings for larger properties will eventually bear a small charge, which newDigs says will be substantially less than any of the nationally recognized competitors. CEO, Ben Munson says, "We plan to charge a $95 per month fee for properties of over 25 units, beginning in 2010. The services that a customer will receive for this fee will go beyond anything they have ever experienced from a listing website, and will include not only a beautiful mediarich listing on our website's map, but unprecedented reporting and lead management functionality. We are offering members of IREM the rare opportunity to be involved in the software development process. The goal is to dramatically reduce cost per lease acquisition while increasing the ability to report on market data." Munson also stated that the listings will be free for everyone, larger properties included, until 2010 while the company continues to develop some of the site's key functionality.
As a friend of IREM, newDigs has offered to do the legwork in populating each of Chapter 58's members' properties. The company requests that photos, floor-plans, and unit info are sent to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. Listings will be populated by newdigs.com and will remain free for the duration of 2009.
Local YP launches apartment-finding startup
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - May 2009
Ben Munson wants to make your next apartment search a whole lot easier. The energetic 29-year-old is preparing to launch a Web site, newdigs.com. It not only lets landlords and renters post and search listings for free, but it also maps out all the apartments and allows you to set up to 100 selection criteria for your search. He came up with the idea when Craigslist started allowing landlords in Rochester to list apartments for free.
"Currently the only real tools for effectively searching Rochester's beautiful rental housing inventory are to drive the streets looking for signs, or shuffle through thousands of headlines in the Craigslist rental section," Munson said.
Munson and his co-founder, Daniel Mooney, have been working on plans for a better option for the past three years. Munson, a Penfield native, is highly motivated to launch a successful company in Rochester.
"I'm excited to finally love where I live, and I'm eager to get my business off the ground and enjoy my family and friends. I think there's also a lot we could do with a successful company like newdigs.com in Rochester. This city has so much going for it; I'd love to play a part in its sustainable redevelopment," Munson said.
You can check out the first version of newdigs.com on June 1, 2009. Munson is eagerly awaiting your feedback.