Friday, August 7, 2015
HowLoud: Making Your Next Apartment A Less Noisy One
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
If you've ever rented an apartment, you will be very familiar with the experience of moving into a new place, thinking it will be great--but then, it ends up being unbearable because you didn't notice the bar around the corner that always lets out at 2am. What if there was a way to figure out how noisy that place would be--before you even think about renting it? Los Angeles-based Howloud (www.howloud.net) has figured out how to apply computer algorithms--combined with data on roads, airports, and businesses--to figure out a complete map of noise around real estate. We talked with founder Brendan Farrell about the startup.
What's the story behind Howloud?
Brendan Farrell: It's simple. I had rented a couple of apartments that all had a little bit of a noise problem, so when it was time to look for a new place, I went online to look for any information on noise, and found it didn't exist. Pretty quickly after that, I decided to start a company to fix that problem. I thought it was a great idea, and after asking ten other people all in a row who told me I had to go do it, I decided to start the company. It's a very simple question we're trying to address, which is before you drive across town to look at an apartment, or rent something on Airbnb or VRBO, we want to let you see if it's far away from the highway and if you will have a quiet back porch.
How do you figure out how noisy a location is without going to every address?
Brendan Farrell: Currently, all cities do noise studies. Every city has to do studies to figure out where their noise is, by using models they've developed over decades. Those models determine traffic flow and speed, and use physics to propagate that noise. However, that's never been done with an end user in mind, not for the every day user. We've adapted a lot of that existing stuff, which was intended for use in highway studies for cities, to build a large scale map, which can deliver straightforward, useful noise information to everyday folks.
How did you figure out there were already ways to model noise in a city?
Brendan Farrell: We actually found out about the modeling over time. My background is applied math and electrical engineering, and this field is something related to things I've done in the past. That said, we have largely worked from scratch. We're not bringing in existing studies, and instead we've done everything from scratch to create our own, large scale map and model.
Is this where the data from Factual you are using fits into the puzzle?
Brendan Farrell: Our product includes three sources of noise. One, is regular vehicle traffic, the other is airport traffic, and local point sources like bars, restaurants, and supermarkets. Those last point sources come from Factual, which we use to figure out the commercial noise value for a local area.
Have you checked how well your algorithm does against real life?
Brendan Farrell: Yes. We've done a ton of testing. The test that we, as a team, have subjected this to is we've taken lots and lots of friends, and asked them to take what we have and check them against five addresses they know very well, and tell us if what we figured out agrees with what they have found. That's the test we expect that people will subject our service to, before they trust us.
This looks like a useful service, but what's the revenue model behind it?
Brendan Farrell: This site is free, the way any number of sites now are free. However, for apartment listing and home listing owners, they can pay to include our widget. For example, we have an agreement with West Side Rentals to include our product in their rental listings. Their rentals now have a sound score on them, and people that pay for Westside Rentals membership and review a map on their site and see the sound scores in the listing.
What's your geographic coverage, and when will this roll out nationwide?
Brendan Farrell: We currently do Los Angeles and Orange County, and we are well underway for geographic expansion. That will be developing unevenly, but we soon expect to have most of the pieces of the puzzle to cover the whole United States by the end of the year.
As an entrepreneur, what's the toughest thing you've had to figure out so far?
Brendan Farrell: The toughest thing that I've found so far, is that when you talk to companies, it's hard to get them to move. When you talk with larger companies, especially when you're new and unproven, and people aren't familiar with you, you might have a strong meeting or a few strong calls, but it's still hard to get the customer to move and do something. It's tough to get them to reach an agreement or even just put you in touch with their technical team. I'm sure that's something that many young companies have experienced.
Thanks, and good luck!