Talking Small Biz: Soft-launching a software for landlords

Posted: January 31, 2013

J OHN NJOKU, 31, of Southwest Center City, is co-founder and chief executive of Kwelia. The start-up has developed software for property managers to price their apartments using real-time market data. Njoku, who has practiced law in New York and worked in real estate in New York and Connecticut, works with co-founder Chris Connell and "data guy" Greg Phillips from an office on Walnut Street near 17th.

Q: What does Kwelia do?

A: Kwelia is a data-analytics platform for residential real estate. We collect data from various sources and also have an automated valuation model where we can price apartments based on different attributes.

Q: What's the problem you're trying to solve?

A: The property manager has to market properties, call around for pricing, physically let people into units, screen tenants and collect money. Technology has aided only a few pieces of that chain. There's no central benchmark for apartment pricing, and that's our focus.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: We're actually beta-testing now among some landlords here who collectively have tens of thousands of apartments.

Q: When did Kwelia start developing its software?

A: We started the project when we did DreamIt Ventures' [startup development] program in 2011.

Q: So DreamIt Ventures is an investor. Anybody else?

A: After DreamIt, instead of actually raising money, we decided to bootstrap and build the platform before revisiting the capital markets. We're reaching out to more investors now.

Q: You're still pre-revenue?

A: No recurring revenues yet.

Q: What's the backstory with the name?

A: I was living and working in Uganda and Tanzania for much of 2011 before moving back here. The word kweli in Swahili means "truth." We want to bring transparency to the rental markets, so we decided to add "a" at the end, because Kweli had already been taken.

Q: What's the biggest challenge in trying to grow Kwelia?

A: One is communicating appropriately to investors about what we're doing. Our product is made for real-estate professionals, yet it's software. So a lot of the traditional software investors haven't seen or experienced the pain that we're mitigating for our customers. So the conversations are not as fluid as, say, one involving a social-media app would be.

Q: So how will Kwelia's business model generate revenue?

A: The software will be sold as a subscription service based on the number of units in a portfolio. You log in via the Web and get access to our information.

Q: When are you going live?

A: Probably in the next six months. We want to tweak some things and add some front-end design to it.


Email: hinkelm@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2656

On Twitter: @MHinkelman

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