Monday, January 9, 2006
Interview with August Kleimo, RentSlicer.com
My interview this morning is with August Kleimo, one of the creators of RentSlicer.com (www.rentslicer.com), a Los Angeles-based web site project that is a Web 2.0 "mashup" of CraigsList rental data and Google Maps.
BK: For those who aren't familiar with RentSlicer, what does it do?
AK: RentSlicer is a web site where landlords and tenants can view average prices for rental units in different areas that meet very specific criteria. We import rental listings into a database and use a parsing engine to scan the listings for keywords. We categorize units by price, unit type, bedrooms, bathrooms, and 18 other amenities (such as laundry, parking, etc). Visitors to the site can view statistics and reports on different neighborhood/areas and plot rental properties with desired criteria on a Google Map.
RentSlicer acts as a 'Blue Book' for rentals and helps landlords price their units at fair market value. Tenants use the site to find units meeting their exact specs. Visitors to the site can subscribe to alerts that notify them when new properties matching certain criteria are available.
BK: How did you come up with RentSlicer, and what made you decide to combine CraigsList rental information with the Google Maps API?
AK: I bought a rental property last year and couldn't find an accurate way to price it. I didn't want to play a guessing game and learn its fair price through trial and error. When I was browsing CraigsList looking a comparable properties I got the idea to import these listings into a database and run statistical analysis. It started out very simple as just an import script that dumped into a database table. Then I got the idea to create a parsing engine that scans the listings and categorizes them in a more granular way. With the data sitting in a database I thought why not put it on the web.
When it comes to real estate location is the most important factor so combining the listing data with the Google Maps API was a natural extension. Viewing the listings graphically on a map makes it easier for users to digest the information.
BK: How long did it take to put the project together?
AK: The project was rolled out in phases. The first was creating the parsing engine and database. The second was creating the queries and reports for the initial site. The third was learning how to convert addresses into Latitude/Longitude coordinates and integrating the Google Maps API. We are currently working on creating admin tools to automate the process of adding new cities (we just launched RentSlicer San Francisco). We are also writing spiders and parsers to collect data from other sources besides just CraigsList. We built the site on a part time basis over the past several months.
BK: What are your plans for the site -- I see you're starting to expand to other areas of the country?
AK: We were surprised by all the interest. We've been contacted by real estate people, a few venture capitalists, and lots of bloggers. As a result we decided to dedicate resources to RentSlicer. I know from experience that we can finance further development from ad revenue generated from the traffic. Our plan for now is to keep adding new features and expanding to more cities.
BK: Where did everyone hear about RentSlicer in the first place?
AK: A friend of mine who is a real estate broker (Brock Harris) has an email newsletter that goes out to a few thousand subscribers. He really liked the site and mentioned it several times in his weekly emails. His audience was perfect for the site and it caught on from there.
BK: What is your background, and who else is working on the project with you?
AK: I studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington and moved to Los Angeles in 1998 for a job at Hewlett Packard. in 2000 I quit and went to work for several dot coms doing web development and data mining. In 2002 I co-founded Infomercial.TV, Inc. (www.infomercial.tv) which provides web development, e-commerce, and CRM solutions to the direct response television industry.
I always dedicate at portion of my time to R&D projects because it's fun and might result in a commercial application. RentSlicer was one of those projects that took on a life of its own. At first it was something I spent my nights and weekends on. When we realized it had potential we scheduled about 1 day a week for our programmer at the office to work on it. It's currently being developed by just 2 people (myself and our programmer Jahnis Wish).
BK: Have you had any issues from CraigsList from pulling the data from their web site?
AK: I haven't had any complaints or issues from CraigsList. They seem pretty open with their data. However, I would like to get their official blessing before we go too much further in our development.
BK: Thanks, and good luck with the site!