Calvin Cooper is the co-founder and CEO of Rhove, a fintech company founded to turn every renter into an owner. Prior to founding Rhove, Calvin was a Director and Venture Partner at an early stage venture capital firm located in the Midwest. Calvin is active in community and entrepreneur support organizations. He serves on the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center YEx Advisory Board. In 2017, the Columbus City Council and the Create Columbus Commission recognized Calvin with the Visionary Award, and he was also listed in the 40 Under 40 Class of 2017 by Columbus Business First. Calvin earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Capital University in Financial Economics.

Discussion

  1. Why it is important for every member in a democracy to have an economic stake in their community?
  2. How the pandemic affected our decision to make our long term plan of launching Renterhsip our short term plan to launch it in 3 months?
  3. As an ex-VC, how are you viewing the explosion of Proptech and starting a company.
  4. For multifamily investors, what is the best thing they can do to help future-proof their properties?
  5. For RE developers considering co-living developments, what one thing should they be thinking about that isn’t obvious?
  6. What we learned from launching an MVP savings product before launching Rentership.
  7. Lightning round.
Links

Discussion

Blake Miller 0:01
Welcome back to the Future of Living podcast. I’m your host Blake Miller. Today we’ve got Calvin Cooper from Rhove on the podcast. We talked about social equity and his path towards rentership and what they’re doing it Rhove. It’s really cool. Check it out. Calvin, welcome to the Future of Living podcast man, how you been? How you living?

Calvin Cooper 0:23
I’m doing alright. I appreciate it. I’m so excited to dive in with you today.

Blake Miller 0:27
Man, I really am excited to talk about this, like what you’re doing is just so cool. And I’ve got egg on my face, we actually had recorded a combo and somehow did get out and Season Two. But as you’ve kind of filled me in and when I reached out, like what you’re doing is actually what you should have been doing the whole time as you’ve kind of said it. And I’m so excited to kind of learn about it. So why don’t you introduce kind of everybody with who you are, what you’ve been doing, and why you are building the future of living?

Calvin Cooper 0:55
Yes, so I’m the co-founder and CEO Rhove and our vision is really quite simple. We’re going to turn every renter to an owner. And that was really the idea that inspired the creation of the company. So I’m glad actually that we were able to circle back in and talk about Rentership now, because previously, we were just building the savings match product as a way to to get quickly in the market and pilot and learn and get all the technology we needed to build to accomplish this, but we’re so inspired by all the love and light coming in from across the world. And it’s pretty incredible to be a stakeholder in a property as a renter alongside neighbors. I’m a stakeholder.

Blake Miller 1:42
So what does this mean? Tell me about this. Like, I mean, this just sounds so revolutionary, but also sounds like so obvious, because it gives people you know, a stake in their own community.

Calvin Cooper 1:55
Yes, so it’s interesting that you mentioned that it’s obvious. It’s actually a really old idea, something that John Adams our second president talked about when he mentioned that to preserve equal liberty, or in society that we should make the ownership and division of land available to every member of society. And so this idea is something that I’ve been obsessed with for a long time. It’s so impactful land ownership is so impactful for income equality, and really is important to compel people to participate in the community, and government and it’s so many other things. And so, what this is is a way for every renter to be an owner. When you move into a property like I’m a resident at a property that offers Rentership, we created this experience really for myself and our neighbors. Where were you doing this at? Gravity in Columbus is our first project.

Blake Miller 2:57
That’s awesome. I mean, people would think this was happening, you know, somewhere, you know, in one of the big cities. I mean, I mean, this is doing we’re Midwest guys like this is happening right in the Midwest.

Calvin Cooper 3:07
Yeah, absolutely, man. I mean, I made the mistake of calculating how much rent I spent in the past 10 years. Amazing. I was a venture capitalist at the time. And I was struggling to save money to buy a home, in the neighborhood that I lived in,

Blake Miller 3:24
Before you go on, let me ask you about that. Because I agree. I mean, I’ve been a renter ever since I moved out of my parents house. And, you know, to go to college and do all that never went back and started kind of renting and, you know, if I would add up all of that, it’d be probably pretty, pretty heartburn and probably probably a lot of heartburn myself. But at the same time, I’ve always kind of had this mindset where, you know, I don’t want the burden of owning a home. I want the burden of doing those things and really focused on trying to try to build something and build my career like how do you how do you kind of weigh some of that?

Calvin Cooper 3:57
Absolutely. So I mean, 10% sent the millennial generation and growing never expect to own a home. Two-thirds of us don’t you know two-thirds of us who do buy a home regretted mainly because they see their friends like me with great amenities, live-work-playing in the neighborhoods that they want to be in close to work close to all the amenities of the city. And they’re stuck fixing A/Cs in the middle of the summer. And so a lot of people regret buying a home because they have all the maintenance costs that they didn’t calculate when they bought the home. It’s really expensive. And and and it’s not that great of an investment. 50% of the millennial population don’t even see buying a home is a good investment. And so what we sought to accomplish with Rentership was the best of both worlds. This isn’t rent-to-own where you have your payment locked up and you have to buy that property that you lived in. We saw that as incremental change, what we wanted to do was enable people to have the low barriers to entry, the flexibility that many of these that come with renting, but then add on to that the ability to have an economic stake in the place that you live. So so that’s transformational. It’s a product that never exists existed before.

Blake Miller 5:22
Yeah. So how does, can you explain this how this works? Because, you know, I’ve seen obviously kind of an explosion of like syndication when in terms of investors getting a lot of different investors to kind of buy a building and you obviously get a third-party management and all this, like, how does the ownership stake come in? Just give me give me the 1-2-3 or four or five or six or?

Calvin Cooper 5:44
Well, yeah, yeah, the most important thing to focus on first is the experience as a renter. This is how the world should be every resident should be a stakeholder. As by default, that’s a very simple vision and for instance, at Gravity, every resident is a stakeholder by default just for living there, you can claim a stake in the property. So you download our app, and you claim your stake at Gravity. That’s $50. And so, I have a $50 economic interest in this property. And it’s a contract, right? It’s not technically debt or equity. We wanted to create a new arrangement that maintain the flexibility that renters have without the headaches and barriers to entry that a security interest would would create. But having a $50 stake gives you certain value and right so one, you’re getting a 5% rent return on that every year, plus the your stake participates in the sale value of the property. So as an example, I’m moving to Gravity. I’m a resident, I get a $50 stake. I claim that in the rover And let’s say I choose to buy more on my own terms. And you can buy more in single dollar increments. So let’s say I accumulated $1,000 stake over the course of a year and then I just stopped purchasing. Yeah, I’ll have $1,000 renter ship stake in the apartment building that I live in, I’m going to receive $50 a year just for holding on to my stake $50 a year in cap. If I want to sell my stake, I could sell.

Blake Miller 7:28
How do you get that just through the Rhove app?

Calvin Cooper 7:30
Through the Rhove app. If I want to, if I want to sell my stake, I could sell it any time and receive my thousand dollars back. So if that was over the course of a year, I would have received $50 and if I sold out or received 1000, so I got thousand 5% rent return. If I hold on to that state, the value of it appreciates with the sale value of the property. So the property were to sell in a few years. Let’s say it appreciated by 10% Then my my mentorship stake would be retired, it would be redeemed for $1,000 plus that 10% appreciation in that example. So let’s say I was a resident at $1,000 stake, I received $50 a year for holding on to that. That Rentership stake, and the property sold or was refinanced and the owners bought my pool back, then I would have received 1100 dollars at that time. So really, I’ve gotten the value that I would have gotten as an owner, but I’ve maintained my options, my flexibility, the amenities, the the experience of renting, I don’t have to fix leaky faucets or air conditioning units, and I don’t have any of those liabilities associated with ownership.

Blake Miller 8:50
Yeah, I mean, and this is just kind of another, another wave growing that kind of investor mentality. So talk to me why I mean, this is so obvious. And great for a as a renter, why would a why is the property gonna want to do something like this?

Calvin Cooper 9:04
Man, I’ve been so inspired to see all the owners reaching out from across the country, heck in other countries. The reason that people reached out to us and are interested in offering this is because it just should happen. That’s the first reason

Blake Miller 9:20
I love that, man. Thank you. Right? Like, here’s logic in the world.

Calvin Cooper 9:29
Right? I can’t. I’ve been so inspired by the number of owners who reached out said, Man, I’ve been thinking about this and thought that it would be wonderful, but I never thought it could happen. And tell me how it works. You guys figured it out? One guy I talked to he was like, No, explain to me how it works. And we started to talk to him about the details and he said, God bless America.

Blake Miller 9:54
Beautiful and but you know, it’s so capitalistic, though. Right? Like Yeah, so much sense and it’s like conscious capitalism. Yeah. So how how’s it working? I mean, you guys sounds like Gravity is the first building.

Calvin Cooper 10:08
Yeah, yeah. But before diving into there, I was gonna continue to answer your previous question.

Blake Miller 10:13
Please.

Calvin Cooper 10:14
Yeah, so they so they’re reaching out because not every property owner is looking just to squeeze every dollar of rent out of residents. Some people view it as their art, their contribution community, and they see holistically how investing in your customer creates more value for you. Right. So that’s the first part. The second part is

Blake Miller 10:41
Funny how that works, provide a great experience.

Calvin Cooper 10:43
Right. The second part? Yeah. The second part is that when renters when the average American doesn’t have $400 saved in their account and short term savings, they can’t afford to pay rent if they have even a minor emergency. So this also helps derisk their properties by giving people the ability to to save and accumulate accumulate value. Another reason is, most property owners have concessions, and they have marketing expenses associated with acquiring and retaining residents. And oftentimes, those those concessions are Visa gift cards, their other they’ll have lasting value and are easily forgotten. And then lastly, when they’re marketing the properties, they’re spinning thousands of dollars on Apartments.com apartments live ultimately all those companies are competing on Google. For for eyeballs and all that ad spending should be going to renters. So this is a way to pay renters more directly to acquire and retain, to residents. So so it’s not just the it’s not just about conscious capitalism over, although that’s the main driver why people initially reach out. There’s also a business a value proposition too, this is really a triple bottom line project.

Blake Miller 12:23
I love that. I love that. You know, when we were kind of prepping for this, one of the things that you said I thought it was just so great. I mean, obviously 2020 has been 2020 for everybody. There’s been a pandemic, there’s your social equity is the first and the foremost, one of the things that the way you said, this was just it really resonated to me is just the importance of every member in a democracy to have an economic stake in the community. You kind of started to touch on this just in how Rhove works. It’s just like you guys, you emanate this but talk to me about this about what this means you

Calvin Cooper 13:00
Absolutely I love political science and economics. In fact, I studied classical economics and philosophy and undergrad. I’m a researcher by nature, I love getting access to data, exploring what that what that means drawing conclusions, but then thinking beyond that, like what are the implications for society? So something that a lot of people may not realize is that when Thomas Jefferson wrote, the Declaration of Independence, that people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that he was paraphrasing or expanding upon other ideas that came before him. So like John Locke wrote about life, liberty, health, and I darland see a body. And so what that means is, is that they were thinking our founding fathers and the flow For those that came before, from John Lott to James Harrington to Aristotle, they contemplated how to create a strong society. And part of that strategy was to have a society that was bought in that had a stake in it. And so, life, liberty and happiness would the word happiness replace the word estate that John Locke wrote about. And when you read the the letters of some of the other founding fathers of our nation like John Adams, you’ll see them expand on that idea a little bit more. He talks about the importance of property ownership in society and how it’s so important to maintain the balance of society in a constitutional republic. You see Thomas Jefferson in correspondence talking about similar ideas. How property rights have gone to an unnatural balance and I’m paraphrasing here, but when you have people who are homeless, and these are things that people that has largely been forgotten in our political discourse. And so what it means to me is, you know what it means to society. It’s, it’s that if we’re going to have a strong democracy, everybody needs to have a stake in the fruits of this country. Yeah. And what it means to me personally is, you know, I cried when we released this app, because this was what inspired us to start the company. But, but why ownership matters to me is 110 years ago, I didn’t have a bed to call my own. I was basically homeless in Atlanta, dropped out of school started a company failed miserably learned so much got back into school finished after that, but in 2010 was a rough place, man, I didn’t know anything. And ownership matters to me. My mom lost her home and lost last recession, I saw, I saw the gaps of our financial system play out in my own life. And so this, to me is an opportunity to change the way our system is built, and create more options for people to have a stake in the place that they live in a home is more than a place where you keep your stuff. It’s also a place where you accumulate value we give life to these neighborhoods and why why shouldn’t we get value as the neighborhood’s develop?

Blake Miller 16:35
Man, so eloquently put, like, you know, it’s interesting, you brought up like founding fathers and all this, I really spent a lot of time in quarantine of just really learning, like taking the time to educate myself on a lot of different things. And one of the things that I think is just so fascinating that we don’t realize maybe we people inherently do, but the founding fathers weren’t fathers, right. They were young people that were trying to like, you’re bringing a revolution and a change. And I think that it’s so apt to what’s happening now you look around and there’s young people trying to make a change. And it’s just interesting to see the dynamic of, of different generations that are at, you know, feels like almost at war, but it’s not it’s just people trying to bring a change.

Calvin Cooper 17:20
Mm hmm. Absolutely. That’s what makes our our country so great that, that throughout time we’ve, we’ve constantly sought to improve it. And when we’re in those moments, it’s really uncomfortable. But looking back, these moments are so important.

Blake Miller 17:37
It really is. So I want to I want to dig in a little bit more on you know, you mentioned your your previous failures and some of those things. You spent some time in kind of the VC world and learning some of that was on that side of the business, or that business but it kind of industry like what we’re then starting rove again. And some of the challenges and everything that you’ve learned, starting the NDP savings product that you guys did and then getting to Rentorship because you kind of mentioned like it was so emotional getting it out.

Calvin Cooper 18:11
Yeah, great question, man. It’s been a I’ve been really fortunate. It’s been a fun journey. I love being in venture meet with entrepreneurs. I spent 10 years across multiple fields, just helping entrepreneurs grow their business. And I didn’t really have a desire to start a tech company, I was having fun. And like I said, I love research and data, what better way to turn a research background into reality to then to be able to invest in companies. So and and so as I saw the transition here, I really took many of the things I learned watching other firms execute better than the firm’s that that I was working with. Execute and some of those things were market first. Like, like one pick a market that’s new and exciting. And that’s going to be important and amazing and early. And to team is so important. Find the best team in the world and and do it for the love. You know, I don’t believe in just hopping out here trying to start a company to start a company. I didn’t even want to start a company did it because nobody else was doing this. And the real estate developer who owns a common development Brett Kaufman, when I met him, I was researching this model and he’s like, you know, I’ll co-invest with you guys and launch it and everything but you got to quit your job and do it. I was like, dang. I was just making partner in the venture firm.

Blake Miller 19:49
But I mean, as a VC, you got to know that’s coming right like…

Calvin Cooper 19:53
Yeah, anybody knows how venture works. If you raise the fund and your partner you lock in fees for 10 years I mean that’s it’s pretty great so pretty good deal ventures really hard business but there’s some downside risk protection and and I quit that to have three months runway and ran out of money at one point like we couldn’t pay make payroll. Now we raise money and we’ve got a 14 person team and things are going well, but the journey the entrepreneurial journey is really tough. And so you know, one its market it’s do something that you love with people who you love working with. But the third thing on execution is get a product out any product out as quickly as possible. People have one you know, I was talking to one advisor about this. How long will it take you to get Rentership out and I was like a year and the but we can get a pilot out now and he’s like no, no full products. I’m like okay, he’s like, so what can you get out in three months, and that was the product we released.

Blake Miller 21:05
Yeah.

Calvin Cooper 21:07
And it was so important you learn so much. And you just test and iterate, you become you’re fixated on the problem you’re trying to solve from a first principles perspective. And then your idea how you execute needs to be pliable and needs to just iterate instead of the inverse.

Blake Miller 21:25
Yeah, if I’ve learned anything, it’s like, you’ve got to get that you’ve got to figure out ways to shorten that feedback loop. And it’s obviously a lot harder. And these types of kind of real world type apps that I would call them, you know, I mean, prop tech, real estate, kind of all these things, you’re really dealing, you know, in the real world situations versus some of these other types of apps that you can, you know, iterate really, really quickly gain users really fast and everything so you got to figure out how to get it out. As a as a founder now, team of 14, you said, what has been some of the biggest challenges for you kind of with all this quarantine and trying to figure out how to manage from home, I’m sure you guys probably have a flexible type of environment as we do. What’s that been like, though, for you just kind of managing all this?

Calvin Cooper 22:09
So few questions there. So, so the biggest challenge, and then how is it been managing it? So the biggest challenge I’ll say, I think it’s been what, deciding what not to do. And it’s been a challenge. I mean, we released that the MVP, and vendors loved it. Owners loved it. We went from one one building doing it to like, a bunch, almost 10% of the urban core, Columbus, wow, reaching out from Detroit, Indianapolis, where we just turned down a couple thousand units for the savings product. And it’s viable, is it’s just not as important and it’s not as compelling. And so we need to focus on Rentorship and that that was it. I think a tough conversation and discussion and you’ve got to have conviction to really make the tough calls like that thing. It’s I think that that’s a lesson learned. It’s something that I think it’s important and so oftentimes in our as we do our strategic planning, it’s a recurring theme. It’s you get scope creep, you get it, you release a feature and people want it and that’s that was just put out there to learn. You got constantly narrow your roadmap and and only build what the most important things are so that you can really run on tight sprints one to two week pushes and and if it’s a whole product, get that out in less than three months. You got to make a lot of tough costs. So that’s challenging, fun work. We we’ve got a great team been doing a good job of it with the pandemic. Similarly, it’s it’s first, first things first is you gotta just batten down the hatches and, and really slim things down and narrow focus. It’s challenging, everybody’s scared. I mean, if you think about Mark back back in March, February, we didn’t know anything about this, this and the impact on health in society. So so you know, as an entrepreneur, it’s, it’s probably how parents think. You’re not just thinking about yourself, you’re thinking about your team, thinking about. You’ve got to get educated on what’s going on. You’ve got to be calm, but stern, you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to over communicate. And so that was, I think, challenging, but we did a good job. I think we, we had regular updates, we made decisions. We were decisive. We were empathetic. And so the that that was that was one one thing that I would talk about as an entrepreneur is that navigating crisis like that. We were fortunate that we had a lot of processes in place for our team to execute through any situation. I mean, we, we we have OKRs, objectives and key results. We have regular strategic planning every quarter, everybody’s involved on the team, so everybody knows why we’re working, what we’re working on. And they self-create their OKRs and in JIRA tickets, and so, we work on weekly sprints, we’re an agile shop, so all those things are important. A lot of times people in startups overlook the importance of strategic planning and all those processes. But I found that it’s extremely helpful, especially in an uncertain environment.

Blake Miller 26:00
Calvin so agree, man, we’re running out of time. But I always love to hit a few lightning round questions right at the end. And my favorite question for dads everybody to start is what business or service is blockbuster over the next 10 years? In other words, who’s going to be completely obsolete?

Calvin Cooper 26:18
That’s a good one. Um, the 30-year mortgage.

Blake Miller 26:22
Yeah. Talk to me. I gotta, I gotta ask a follow up on that. We’re 30 years does it because it increases it lower. What does it become more to housing-as-service?

Calvin Cooper 26:33
I think there’s gonna be a diversity of solutions and financial services that meet people where they are their lifestyle. So the word mortgage hold French means death pledge. So…

Blake Miller 26:49
That’s something I should probably know. But today I learned something and that it’s terrifying.

Calvin Cooper 26:54
Google it. But I mean, who is going to live in a home for 30 years like people don’t even they don’t you? You get a starter home you have kids, you upsize downsize our financial system isn’t it wasn’t… Yeah, it doesn’t meet people where that so, Rhove Returnship is a first step to closing the economic gap between renting and owning. And we’re gonna keep pushing that envelope and other people’s are people are working on similar things like we’re doing this in the multifamily space for the only one doing this in the multifamily space. But there are people in the single family space doing some really cool things. I would be shocked if in 20 years, people are like, by default getting 30-year mortgages. That’s crazy.

Blake Miller 27:44
Love it. Hey, we’ve been talking about a lot of different technology and kind of how you’re innovating here in the kind of the real estate space. What’s a specific device that you’ve actually acquired post-COVID that’s kind of major quarantine a little bit better.

Calvin Cooper 28:00
Device post-COVID has made my quarantine better? I’d say, I’ll just take an app, but using Headspace for meditating. That’s been very helpful.

Blake Miller 28:12
Love it. Hey, we’ve been talking a lot about technology and all these things are changing everything. What’s something you think technology is not going to change the future?

Calvin Cooper 28:22
Something that technology isn’t going to change in the future. I don’t believe there’s there’s many things that tech that I would be surprised if there is a space that technology doesn’t change. Even philosophy is gonna change over the next 10 years. As we integrate technology deeper into our lives, our bodies, our spaces, our minds. And so I would be shocked that technology doesn’t impact on pretty much every aspect of human life, what we eat every day.

Blake Miller 29:01
Calvin, you’re a visionary. You’re an inspiration. Absolutely love this conversation. Let everybody know how they can find you online.

Calvin Cooper 29:06
You can find us at Rhove.com.

Blake Miller 29:10
Awesome. I’ll make sure all this is in the show notes.

Calvin Cooper 29:13
R-h-o-v-e.com. Thanks. I appreciate it like man. Thanks for sharing our story and having us today.

The Future of Living Podcast is produced by Media Club. Learn more at https://mediaclub.co.

 

Future of Living is run by Homebase. Homebase brings the smart apartment experience to new build and retrofit multifamily with trusted technology that delivers intuitive building access control with smart locks, automation of property management, new revenue with property-wide WiFi, and IoT technology amenities residents enjoy. All completely installed and managed for the multifamily innovation leaders of this decade.

Blake Miller

Blake Miller

Blake Miller is the Founder and CEO of Homebase.ai a connected building solution for multi-family housing and the Host of The Future of Living Podcast.

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