I recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of Mashvisor CEO & Co-Founder Peter Abualzolof to create this Q&A. For those who don’t know, Mashvisor is a startup that has been in business for four years, specializing in the real estate investment space.
Mashvisor helps investors discover investment properties while also providing them data to make cost-effective investment decisions on potential rental properties – all of which can be found online.
Read on to learn a little more about Mashvisor, how it got started, and how it’s helping investors build their property portfolios.
Starting Up Mashvisor
Q: What was your initial inspiration for starting Mashvisor?
A: There were two cases which inspired me to start Mashvisor. First, towards the end of the “great recession,” I was living in the Bay Area and working at a startup and had saved up enough for a reasonably priced investment. As you can imagine, the Bay Area real estate market was not reasonably priced and not ideal for investing with my budget.
Feeling confident about my real estate investing abilities (real estate investing is a family hobby), I started researching multiple markets. At this stage, the economy was recovering quickly, so opportunities were also being taken quickly. I lost all opportunities after 2-3 months of putting offers on properties in multiple markets. I realized that it was taking me much more time to research each market and property than it was taking more experienced investors, so there was no way for me to find a high performing property without accelerating my research process.
Then in November 2013, I entered an entrepreneurship competition called Startup Weekend. In three days, we were expected to produce an MVP of a business. At this point, Airbnb was still fairly new and was growing at a ridiculous rate. So we decided to build a simple online platform which would reliably identify the best markets for an Airbnb investment.
One year later, I decided to combine the two experiences to help investors in the US real estate market find the most profitable Airbnb as well as traditional investment properties.
Q: Were there any unique challenges while starting Mashvisor in the real estate investment space? What was your greatest challenge?
A: The biggest issue we have faced and continue to face is data coverage and accessibility. Our team has done an amazing job getting coverage for the majority of the country markets, but we still face challenges in achieving full coverage and getting all the needed data.
Some of the specific challenges in this regard are the different requirements and approval processes for local MLS data. Other challenges include collecting local government data as it is time consuming and not easily accessible. These are some of the many problems we face.
Q: What was the most valuable lesson you learned while starting Mashvisor? How did this influence the initial startup phase? How have these lessons shaped the way you do business?
A: The most valuable lesson has been that our user base are the ones who build our business. When we first started, I was the one doing the sales calls. We didn’t have much on our platform in terms of features, data, or market coverage, but I was still making calls and offering our users demos of our simple platform. We started to make sales, and the real value at this point was not the revenue that was being generated, but the feedback that was being given by users.
The majority of the features on our platform were added to our roadmap from the demo calls that I had with our users. Sometimes users were very direct and specific with their needs, while other times they would share a challenge they face with real estate investing. It was up to us to figure out how to solve it.
So the idea for features such as the heat map were conceived when users said, “It would be cool to see the performance of the areas on the map.” Similarly, adding the Property Finder was based on 80% of the users we spoke to saying, “Tell me where to invest. I don’t care about the location, I care about the return.”
Real Estate Investments Made Easier
Q: Are there any significant differences in facilitating investments in either traditional-type or Airbnb-type properties? Does one investment property offer unique challenges compared to the other?
A: There’s definitely a difference. Airbnb is more demanding, but the return has a much higher potential. Airbnb rental income is also dynamic. Depending on the market, you might not be able to replicate the previous month’s rental income. Moreover, investors have to keep an eye on changes in the legal and regulatory environment for short-term rentals in their market.
Even though Airbnb is more demanding (dealing with bookings, frequent cleaning, guests, damages, furnishing, etc.), there are companies that manage the A to Z and send you a check at the end of the month. For example, Vacasa handles listing the property, cleaning, managing, etc. Basically, you hand over the keys to them, and they send you a check each month.
Q: Are you able to tell me more about the users on Mashvisor? Do you see more experienced real estate investors versus first-time investors on the platform?
A: The greater majority of our users are first-time, amateur real estate investors. This was our initial target segment, so we focused on features to help first-time investors find properties like professional/experienced investors.
Recently, we’ve added new features that are focused on experienced real estate investors such as offering contact information of off-market property owners.
We’ve also seen that real estate agents are using Mashvisor to find properties for their investor clients. Agents are able to export a PDF property report with all the information they need to give to their clients. It makes their lives so much easier and helps them build more credibility with their clients.
Q: Are you able to elaborate on the investment data that is collected by Mashvisor as well as how you translate this data into usable information for an investor? How does it help investors make better decisions?
A: We have multiple data sources where data is being collected in many different formats. We get our data from patterns, data providers, MLS, local government data (formatted differently based on the county), etc.
The first step with Mashvisor was basically collecting all the data an investor would need to evaluate an investment and calculate the ROI and other key metrics. This allowed us to collect and analyze millions of properties instantly compared to the manual process of calculating each property’s metrics separately. This helped investors evaluate multiple properties in multiple markets in a few minutes.
The second step is our Property Finder feature. We’ve taken all of the data (such as historical sales, demographics of investors, property characteristics of historical investment property sales, and much more) to develop an algorithm that narrows down your search based on optimal investment properties in multiple markets. Basically, the Property Finder is telling investors: “Based on historical sales and investors that are similar to you, here is a list of the properties that are best for you.”
Q: The knowledge center looks like a great resource for investors to find answers. Aside from providing data & knowledge, how else is Mashvisor working with its clients to help them make sound investment decisions?
A: As I said before, the majority of our users are first-time investors with limited knowledge about real estate. So it is our goal to educate them on general real estate investing concepts, best practices, and tools in order to prepare them to become clients and to start analyzing and buying investment properties.
Since many of them don’t have an idea of where exactly they want to invest, we use the richness of our data to present up-to-date reports on the top markets for traditional as well as Airbnb rental properties. But our engagement with our clients doesn’t end there. Once they buy a property and become a landlord, we offer them articles on how to be more efficient in dealing with their rental and make more money from it.
Through our articles we are also helping agents find the best ways and sources to generate qualified leads among investors.
Co-Founders Peter Abualzolof and Mo Jebrini started Mashvisor in 2014 with the intent to streamline the real estate investment process. Today, Mashvisor has grown to offer an extensive repertoire of online tools to investors, making it easier with actionable knowledge and understandable data for both first-time and experienced investors who are looking into traditional and Airbnb investment opportunities.
About Peter Abualzolof
After graduating from the University of San Diego in 2010, Peter Abualzolof worked in several different roles leading up to the initial start of Mashvisor in 2014. Now Peter is the acting CEO of Mashvisor and continues to grow the company based in Ramallah, Palestine.