Company: Renters Warehouse
Year Founded: 2007
Annual Revenue (2013): $48.3 million
Category: Emerging Entrepreneur
What It Does: A professional landlord service that helps property owners and real estate investors rent and manage their residential real estate.
Brenton Hayden was fired from his first job as a real estate agent for being what his boss called “too entrepreneurial.” It turned out his boss was right. About seven years later, Hayden bought the man’s business from him.
That purchase became part of Renters Warehouse, which Hayden founded to handle a problem that he continually had as a real estate agent: finding experts who could help property-owner clients enforce leases, handle evictions and coordinate maintenance.
“Residential property owners had no help in managing their rent, other than real estate agents,” Hayden recalls. “And I knew as an agent that we were ill-equipped to do that—we just weren’t trained for it. There were a few companies doing this, maybe five in Minnesota, but nobody was in a big way . . . . . So I saw it as just blue ocean.”
Since Renters Warehouse’s inception, the number of local competitors has grown from five to around 300. Nationwide, the industry has grown to a $69 billion business. But Hayden jumped in early. Renters Warehouse is now the country’s second-biggest company offering residential real estate management services. It expects to generate more than $14 million in revenue this year, an increase of more than 40 percent over 2013. And it’s adding between 250 and 300 units per month.
One of Hayden’s biggest challenges, as well as one of his proudest achievements, is hiring. In the company’s seven years, he says, zero employees have quit. “While we are constantly in hiring mode, it’s a highly selective process,” Hayden says. “We’re going to ask some peculiar questions to find out who the applicants really are. Instead of asking for someone’s strengths, I like to ask them about a time they really screwed up at work or to tell me something funny about themselves that not everyone knows.”
One disadvantage of the company’s growing headcount—finding space. “Last year, I signed a 10-year lease on a 16,000-square-foot space and I thought that would last me a while,” Hayden says. “Now I’m less than a year into the space and it’s already full and I’m looking to get another 16,000-square-foot space.”
Tracy Call, owner and founder of Minneapolis-based Media Bridge Advertising, has witnessed the company’s growth from acorn to oak tree. “When I first met Brenton, I walked into his office thinking, ‘There’s no way I have time for a small-time client like this,’ ” Call remembers. “Then I walked out an hour later thinking, ‘Wow, was that guy impressive. He’s going somewhere and I have to take this one on.’ ” Renters Warehouse is now Media Bridge’s largest client.
According to Call, Hayden’s success comes from a variety of sources: “His fearlessness to make bold moves in marketing, his audacity to follow his gut instincts and his knack for finding really talented people and aggressively going after them.” Plus, she adds, “he has this massively intense work ethic.’”
Hayden says that work ethic was the price he knew he had to pay to reach a goal he had set for himself: an early retirement. Last October, he passed the CEO reins to his second-in-command at Renters Warehouse so that he could work just two days a week as company chairman.
True, it wasn’t exactly a retirement. Hayden is now spending most of his “free” time on RW USA, the franchising division of his business. There are 11 Renters Warehouse franchises in nine different states, with four more in development and plans to sell 25 more by the end of the year.
In addition to his work with Renters Warehouse’s franchising division, Hayden is an angel investor in two software firms based in San Francisco and a rental property marketing business in Delaware. And if that’s enough to keep his work ethic in fighting trim, he’s also eyeing a local boxing promotions company called Seconds Out as his next potential investment.
“Honestly, once Renters Warehouse got traction and the wheels were all spinning in the right direction, that’s when I got bored and needed to look for something new,” Hayden says. “That’s why I see my future in angel investing. I want to be the guy that gives a company their first $100,000, helps them build a viable business and then sells them off to a big equity group that will give them their first million once they’ve made a name for themselves.”