Meet Onerent, a startup that took advantage of every entrepreneurial opportunity at Santa Clara University—and now over half the company is Broncos.
Onerent, a startup billing itself as the first consistent and transparent rental experience thanks to its end-to-end property management service, is a true product of SCU ingenuity. The founders, Rico Mok ’15, Greg Toschi, and Chuck Hattemer, became friends at Santa Clara University and used every resource SCU offered to start and grow the business, from attending the talks, office hours, and mentorship offered by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to participating in the Leavey School of Business’ California Program for Entrepreneurship and the Santa Clara Entrepreneurs Organization (SCEO).
Two years and more than $6 million in funding later, the company is growing fast, and over half of its employees are Broncos.
The seeds for Onerent were planted when its entrepreneurial founders—Hattemer, Toschi, and Mok—became friends at Santa Clara University, joining the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi and the campus entrepreneurial club SCEO.
In early 2014, nine students, including Toschi and Hattemer, tried to rent a house together off campus. The process was like The Hunger Games, they recall: A property manager sent an out-of-the-blue text one day saying anyone wanting to rent for the following year had one hour to bring a cashier’s check and a completed application, and be ready to sign a lease. Toschi and Hattemer missed the window, leaving them in a maddening housing limbo.
Sensing an opportunity, the friends, along with Mok’s high school friend Evan Huang, created an online platform that would automate the most tedious parts of the application process—credit checks, applications, payments, etc.
For a while, it seemed like a promising platform, but “then we realized the problem wasn’t necessarily the process. It was the people behind it,” said Hattemer, now Onerent's chief marketing officer.
“We realized that the only way to really create the experience we envisioned was to own it, to run the whole thing,” said Toschi, Onerent's CEO. In other words, they needed to become property managers, advertise properties, show them to prospective tenants, accept applications, write up leases, make repairs, and do everything else involved in the rental market.
Started in a Garage (of course)
As they figured out how to pivot from an online product to property management, the team set up an office—in typical Silicon Valley style—in the garage of an off-campus house. The rent? They paid the students who were leasing the house a keg of beer per month.
“Probably the cheapest rent that Onerent will ever have,” joked Mok, now chief operating officer.
The Bronco Network in Action
The founders credit a long string of Santa Clara University-affiliated mentors and advisors with helping them leapfrog over hurdles, maintain momentum in the face of obstacles, and pick the right path at key moments. That Bronco network is also responsible for helping them raise investments of $6 million and counting.
“Santa Clara’s network is really the biggest thing that has provided us with so many great people and great contacts,” said Hattemer.
Among the Broncos who helped propel Onerent over the past several years:
- Matt Murphy ’02, creator of Appsurdity. He spoke at a CIE event in Feb. 2014 and met the founders. His examples of plowing ahead with Appsurdity, even when some problems seemed insurmountable, gave the founders the kick they needed to keep going at a time when they had decided to call it quits.
Murphy wasn’t impressed with Onerent at first, but 18 months later, as international lead for the Chinese firm Renren (“the Facebook of China”), he facilitated a $4 million Series A investment for the company.
- Management professor Elizabeth Powers, who reviewed Onerent’s investor deck before a key pitch. She was so impressed with the team, she introduced them to real estate law legend Ted Biagini ’62, J.D. ’64, who helped validate Onerent’s plans to become a full-service property management company.
- Matt Faustman ‘09, founder of UpCounsel, who spoke at a CIE event and encouraged the team that they had a good thing going.
- Dean Ku, Career Center assistant director and former operations consultant for Starbucks and marketing VP for Guitar Hero. He provided pivotal counsel to Rico Mok when Mok was worried about turning down post-graduation job offers. Ku later became a seed investor with alumnus Michael Zee, former director of legal for Google in the Asia-Pacific region, and others.
- Andrea Zurek, MBA ’99, a founding partner with XG Ventures, composed of former Google employees and a member of the CIE Advisory Board. She helped the team pitch to XG Ventures, which led to mid-round financing.
- Chris Cabrera, MBA ‘97, CEO and founder of Xactly and a CIE advisory board member. He advised them during a CIE event to "put a stake in the ground and just go after it," rather than waiting to fix every problem.
- Professor John Toppel, who, in exchange for helping pack up his house prior to a move, gave their original sales team a crash course in sales techniques gleaned from his 30 years at HP.
The Company Now
Onerent currently manages more than $700 million worth of properties for nearly 1,000 real estate and property owners in San Francisco and Seattle. The company processes nearly $3 million in rent every month and is using its combined $6 million in venture funding to expand into cities including Boston, Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, and Washington D.C.
They now have more than 50 employees, roughly half of whom are Santa Clara alums.
They keep finding their best interns from Santa Clara, including one eager freshman who had learned about them on Facebook and kept showing up, bringing little more than an eager desire to learn and to be an entrepreneur.
“That’s what we look for as a primary qualifier for new employees,” said Toschi. “That drive and mentality of just wanting to get something done.”
The company is still learning in some areas, like Enterprise Resource Management and the intricacies of real estate law, but they know they can tap SCU’s network anytime.
“The Santa Clara advantage doesn’t end after you leave,” said Mok. “We still get to meet all kinds of amazing people, all the amazing professors who continue to mentor us. In a way, it’s like being at a lifelong university, with free tuition.”