Interview With Frank DiZenzo
Describe your product or service:
“Ownwell helps property owners reduce the costs of owning real estate. Today, our software identifies properties that are ‘overassessed’ for property tax purposes and manages the end-to-end process of reducing the owner's property tax bill. We're also building additional services to help property owners find more ways to save.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“Mission: To make the costs of real estate ownership more clear and equitable. Vision: To empower people with the tools, resources, and information necessary to manage their real estate with confidence.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
Pre-seed: Wonder Ventures, Founder Collective, Long Journey Ventures, and The Fund.
Seed: First Round Capital, Wonder Ventures, Founder Collective, Long Journey Ventures, and The Fund.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“Ownwell was started by three co-founders. We currently have 18 FTEs [and] three to five freelancers seasonally.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“Our CEO and co-founder Colton Pace first realized homeowners and everyday real estate investors were not getting the same advantages as sophisticated investors during his prior career in asset management [and] decided to go to business school to build a team and start the company. [The] co-founders met on campus in graduate programs at UCLA (Colton and Frank at the business school, Joseph [was a] Computer Science Ph.D. student at the time, and has since completed his Ph.D.). We validated our business by standing up a website on Wix and doing all of the work to save people money on property taxes by hand initially.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“This is an interesting one — we recently rebranded from ‘realAppeal’ to ‘Ownwell.’ Over time, we increasingly found that ‘realAppeal’ presented some limitations as a name, namely that it felt [limited] to real estate tax appeals. As we've gotten to know our customers better, we've come to realize the issue is less that people are overpaying on property taxes and more that they sometimes lack the time, tools, and expertise to make the most optimal decisions about how they own and manage their real estate. Our new name, ‘Ownwell,’ is a better reflection of our mission to help people own real estate better.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“All three co-founders had previous solopreneur endeavors. They knew they wanted to have an outsized impact on the world around them, and build something that could make people's lives better. It likely helped that all three of our co-founders grew up in small business households. Lastly, each of the co-founders has strong convictions about solving the problems our users are facing. The more we’ve learned about the issues our customers face, the more we've wanted to make things better.”
Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“We officially launched the business in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. We worked from our individual apartments in the very beginning and didn't have an office to collaborate in until the middle of 2021. We did all of our initial experimentation with the business model while working remotely and while all three of us [were] in demanding graduate programs.
Today, we're running into roadblocks related to hiring in an increasingly challenging job market.
We also have countless stories about issues we've run into dealing with governments and bureaucracy as we try to make things better in our space.
What's your marketing strategy?
“Specific, targeted outbound through various channels. Some digital, some SEO.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“After launching, we sought out opportunities to speak about what we were building in front of relevant audiences. We went to pitch events, competitions, and spoke with several incubators. Every time we made an appearance, we’d see big spikes in signups.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Total value of all real estate signed up with our service, % savings we earn property owners, % of the time we earn a reduction.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“‘The Lean Startup’ [and] ‘Startup School’ by YC.”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“I honestly can't help but obsess over what we're building at Ownwell, and I think my co-founders would agree. We really believe in solving the problems we're after, and it's hard to shut down. We're always calling and messaging each other with ideas, even at odd hours. We look out for one another's sleep and try to make sure we're all eating enough. When someone's stressing, we try to give them the extra nudge to take care of themself.
I suppose the short answer is it's a team effort, but some of the occasional lack of balance is unavoidable because we're so committed.”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“During the hours the team is in the office, I like to be available to collaborate. I use the time before the team is in or after they leave to go heads-down on founder-specific stuff.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“As time goes on, success feels less and less like a destination, and more like the process of getting better every day as an individual, a team, and a company. For me personally, the most helpful habit I've developed has been trying to apply my time as exclusively as possible to ‘10x’ work or higher. Basically, what this means to me is whatever work I do, I should try to make sure it has roughly 10 times the impact of an individual contributor. Things like hiring, vendor procurement, strategic initiatives that will lead to hundreds, if not thousands of new users for us if completed proficiently.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“CPA in Audit at EY. It helped me see a lot of the ‘best practices’ across verticals at tech companies on a very granular level. It helped me understand how to prioritize activities that are actually moving the needle for the business since cash flows are so vital at this stage.”
More on ROYBI
Frank DiZenzo, founder of Proptech startup Ownwell, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.
We asked Frank DiZenzo, founder of Ownwell, to share the most impactful ways to support their startup, and this is what they had to say.