You’re never in it alone. The people and investors who support you from the beginning are always there to fall back on — to ask for advice, or can be great sounding boards against which you can privately vent and complain. They want you to win just as much as you do.
In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable” we are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.
As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Reichen Kuhl.
After being denied housing in New York City because he did not earn the requisite 80x the monthly rent to live at a certain property, Reichen Kuhl set out to solve this problem to help people at all rent levels ease the expensive move-in experience while still providing the financial protection apartment owners need. He joined Mucker Capital accelerator program in 2014 where he met Derek Merrill, who had been working with a small engineering and data science team on insurtech and LeaseLock was founded. Reichen is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a nine year Air Force veteran, a graduate of Loyola Law School, and a member of the State Bar of California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
LeaseLock was not part of my career path when it was inevitably born in my mind. I planned on focusing my life as an aviation accident litigator. I spent nine years in the United States Air Force and graduated from Loyola Law School which is where I decided to combine the two things I love — aviation and litigation. However, after an unpleasant experience while attempting to rent an apartment, my career pivoted to founding LeaseLock.
Back in 2011, I found myself in the market for a new apartment in New York City and was surprised to know I did not pass the screening criteria for the apartment. The management company required new tenants to earn 80x the monthly rent as an annual salary, as proven by my federal and state tax return documents for the year prior. By this measure, I would have needed to earn over 240,000 dollars a year in order to afford a 3,000 dollars apartment. Ultimately, I had to have a friend cosign for me and secured a lease to the apartment, but was left with the thought that there has to be a better solution.
While unpacking my NYC rental experience, I realized and understood that the management company was looking to protect itself from unpaid rent and/or damage to the unit. Out of natural curiosity, I began researching the risk instruments that were being used by multifamily operators and found that they were all sub-par respectively to both protecting property interests, and in renter satisfaction. In my research, I found the ultimate pain point for both renters and property managers — security deposits. Renters hate paying security deposits in any amount, and properties hate collecting them, storing them under burdensome rules and regulations, and redistributing them at the lease-end. It was at this point I decided that it was time to replace all of these failed instruments and practices once and for all. Thus, I started LeaseLock with my co-founder to disrupt the space.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I started to see the biggest success in my career when I made the bold decision to quit my law firm job and solely focus on LeaseLock. My first initiative was to focus my efforts on raising enough money from investors, by making them see my vision for the future of the company. In doing so, the funds would support my co-founder and I along with a few employees to get Leaselock off the ground.
It was a risky move, but I figured we would never grow as a company if we were not fully dedicated to our business goals. Sometimes you have to rip off the band-aids holding your life together, feel some pain, and that will motivate you to start something new.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
LeaseLock’s initial investors were friends and loved ones, followed by the incubator Mucker Capital in Santa Monica who provided our first sizable funding. Mucker Capital was the first company to believe in LeaseLock, which grew confidence in our business development. In the early days of starting a company, the goal is to secure enough investment funds to keep the lights on. With initial investors, I felt it was very important to bootstrap the company for them and I never spent more than I had to. I always kept our investors informed of my progress in detailed, regular monthly reports, and I know they appreciated that immensely.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Yes, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield is a book that a friend of mine suggested I read while in college in The U.S. Air Force Academy. The book ultimately teaches you to trust your gut and follow certain points of light that will appear in your life, and how to know when following it is the right thing to do. I still live by the rules of that book every day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the quote, “The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get” by Thomas Jefferson, which I’ve heard throughout my lifetime. I will say this: I have worked tirelessly on building and establishing my startup. I have put in more hours per day (12–14 on average) than I have on anything else that I have tried to tackle in my life. I stopped believing in “get rich quick” schemes a long time ago, and after working in Hollywood for some time, realized that people who do get rich quick don’t find any sort of real happiness for any prolonged period of time. I have found that true happiness has come from a steady and tough set of efforts, with incremental wins along the way.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
Not to be too simplistic, but the building of affordable, adequate, up-to-date housing has not kept up with demand. The population is growing rapidly, and the problem will only worsen unless we do something constructive about it, and on multiple fronts. Scientists with whom I agree predict that the resources of the earth itself will not be able to sustain a human population of more than 10B. While this is a scary thought by itself, it points to many problems worsening with an ever-growing population. I have always wanted to do something, even small, that can ameliorate burdens that are often felt by those with less, along the way.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?
LeaseLock provides an instant solution through its AI-powered marquee product, Zero Deposit lease insurance. LeaseLock’s security deposit eliminating technology is a fresh take on today’s broken rental transaction. While LeaseLock is a B2B model , its consumer — or renter — experience builds trust in this disruptive approach. LeaseLock Zero Deposit properties have a 92% adoption rate and ultimately help renters save those “rainy day” funds — money that would elsewhere be spent on exorbitant security deposits.
Zero Deposit lease insurance aims to forge pathways for renters at all financial levels, but it more obviously helps those living paycheck to paycheck, giving underserved renter’s the opportunity to secure a home. LeaseLock’s dedication to disrupting the antiquated system will continue to ease the renting process with hopes of extinguishing the security deposit for good.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
The first LeaseLock insurance product we ever sold was to a woman who wrote us a long letter after she was able to move into her apartment and get settled. She explained that she had been denied an apartment at multiple locations and had been living in her car with her two kids. Without LeaseLock backing her new lease, she said that she would have had to spend an indefinite amount of time in this horrible situation. I love that no matter how big LeaseLock gets, we still help people more easily get into adequate, safe, long-term housing.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?
- The rental housing industry can now look outside of the old instruments of security deposits, surety bonds, and co-signers to take advantage of lease insurance which truly puts an aggregate of small contributions of renter funds to work for the good of all renters. Eliminating and replacing security deposits makes renting and moving-in more affordable for everyone.
- Society can continue to invest in the conservation of truly renewable resources and energy to make housing and rent rates more affordable.
- As a society we will realize that lifting everyone up to a new and modern minimum standard of living is good for everyone. This includes safe premises free from crime and theft, reliable internet access, modern and reliable appliances and utilities, and access to hygienic care and practices in the home.
If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws that you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
- Yes, laws that codify lease insurance itself will set housing affordability ahead by decades. Lease insurance is “new” and has never before been contemplated by laws which regulate security deposits or fees charged in multifamily housing. New laws should be carved out to open the pathways to this and other new forms of financial protection for landlords that lead to housing affordability for renters.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Every entrepreneur encounters small failures and colossal ones. The bigger our companies get the more challenges we solve. After a while, I have learned to accept this reality and continue finding new solutions.
- You’re never in it alone. The people and investors who support you from the beginning are always there to fall back on — to ask for advice, or can be great sounding boards against which you can privately vent and complain. They want you to win just as much as you do.
- Hire people more experienced than you are in every problem you have to solve, and hire them early. Problems always get solved faster this way.
- This will be a “family affair.” Prepare your loved ones for your road ahead so that they will expect and understand the long hours and often emotional roller coasters that leading a startup will throw at you.
- You can’t do it all at once! TAKE BREAKS. I am finally learning that I am actually more productive on a daily basis if I have taken the day before off. The novel concept…don’t hurt your productivity by trying to fit too much into a day.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Personally I consider myself to be an “empath” when it comes to people and animals, and I believe that we are very much animals ourselves. All animals have certain needs in common. We all want to feel like our needs are being met, that we are valued as part of the world in which we live, and that we are safe from physical harm and mental betrayal, especially by those we decide to trust. The more I ask myself if I am making any other being with whom I interact feel like I am part of meeting those basic needs and commonalities, the better my relationships get, the more I learn, and the better I feel.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA who has inspired me to think compassionately about our planet and everyone on it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Keep up with the latest on our blog, LeaseLock Insights to see all that we are doing.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.