Startup Spotlight: Renno
All Things Venture #042
Hey Everyone! Dez here from All Things Venture. Been a busy week on my end, but I am super excited to share this week’s Startup Spotlight. Last week I was riffing about a concept with a friend that I like to call “building while climbing.” Essentially what I mean by that is the idea that while you climb your respective ladders of success in your career, you can also build on ramps that make it easier for the next person to do the same thing as you. I meet a ton of founders every week, and when I first met today’s founder, Khalief Brown, I got the feeling that he was someone who was building while he was climbing. I was lucky enough to spend some more time with Khalief this past week as well, and chat about his entrepreneurial journey, some of the traits that have contributed to his success as a founder, and his vision to reinvent the home renovation industry. With that being said, let’s dive right in.
Khalief, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, so I am Khalief Brown Co-Founder and CEO of Renno, Renno is a home design platform that streamlines the renovation process for homeowners and contractors. I’m originally from the East Coast, I grew up partially in Queens, New York and also in Newport, Virginia. I did middle school and high school in Virginia, and then I went to Atlanta to attend the Art Institute of Atlanta for audio engineering. I attended for all of about 9 months before my financial aid ran out, and from there I jumped knee deep into the music industry. I became a legal assistant for a mentor, now father figure of mine, so I was doing music and music led me to this journey to come to LA. I’ve always had this passion underneath to do something in real estate. It started as me being an agent, and then pushed me into other avenues of real estate, and eventually led me to this journey of being a founder.
What was the founding moment for Renno, when you took it from an idea, to saying “oh shit” I can actually do this?
One of the last things I did before starting Renno was working at Proptech startup called OpenListings. OpenListings was a platform for homebuyers, and we were just solving some of the less ideal parts of the homebuying experience, like making an offer, booking a showing, getting connected with an agent, all of those parts that are kind of like still stuck in the past. We digitized them there and made it a really delightful experience. That experience really inspired me to build Renno, and I felt [at the time] like I had the right experience. I had worked in new construction for a little while, I had worked at a real estate investment firm, I started out in the acquisitions team, and then was on the project management team. I got to learn a ton about the renovation process, so I felt like I had the tools in my tool bag to do it. And I think it was a gradual path for me. I don’t think I had a lightbulb moment. It was just a path of, I was working with real estate clients, I was helping people buy and sell homes, and I had a bunch of clients who were having nightmare experiences. It kind of started with me connecting people offline. People would come to me with referrals of asking for a contractor, on where to get materials, on how to make the process a bit better. So it went from me just referring people out, to managing the experience for them, to thinking that there is some value to people here.
When you think about when you were younger, did you always want to be a founder, did you want to do something entrepreneurial?
My mom’s a hairstylist and she jokes that when I was six or seven years old, and next to one of her hair salons in New York there was a pizza shop. Back then I would just wander over to the pizza shop next door and just ask the guy if I could work a little bit for some money. Funnily enough, the guy gave me a job folding pizza boxes, and I remember that to this day. I was like seven, and I think from there it sparked a thing in me where I could be entrepreneurial. I always interested in it. I would write business plans when I was in middle school, just for random businesses, from skating rinks to hair salons, all types of things. But I always had this unknown passion for real estate. I thought I wanted to be an architect for the longest time. Even throughout high school, I thought I wanted to be an architect. It wasn’t till about the 11th grade where I wanted to take the path as a music producer. But I always kind of had that underlying passion and interest in real estate.
As you’re going through this entrepreneurial journey, what do you think are some of the key traits of your success?
I think one thing that has been valuable for me is my ability to network, and just put myself out there. A lot of people think I am an extrovert, I’m really not. I just think a lot of people think that the idea of networking, and putting yourself out there and telling people what you do is scary. It’s scary for me too, but I’ve realized that you have to do it. You have to put yourself out there to make relationships and expand your netowrk. I’m not trying to toot my own horn but I think just my personality and my ability to connect with people has been my super power. To add on something else, I think my grit has played a huge role as well in my success as well. I’ve been told no a lot. I think that building a company in general is really tough, you’re going to deal with a lot of no’s from investors from customers, from potential partners. I think it takes a lot of grit to build a company and I think those are my two superpowers. No matter who says no - I’m going to build this company, and I know what I’m building.
Yeah amazing. So when you think about the development of Renno, where are you at today and where do you want to be 12 months from now?
Hmm, yeah that’s a great question. I actually had my team, as a team exercise, write out what they thought the big vision was for Renno. To see if we were on the same trajectory. Today, Renno focuses on kitchens and bathrooms and we need to build a lot of muscle in that space before we expand to addressing other parts of the home. But yeah, in 12 months our goal is to be in 30 markets and to have a vast contractor network, and we definitely have specific targets on contractors, revenue, etc. But I think what I want is to just have a really awesome team built around us, people who are working in different functions of the company, and people who are really talented at what they’re doing and have a passion for it. I want people that enjoy helping build Renno.
What’s the long term vision of Renno?
The long term vision for Renno is that at some point every person will start their home renovation project on Renno. I’m not sure if everyone will finish their project on Renno, or if we’ll be contracting for everyone’s project. Today, people use Pinterest as a vision board for a house and they’re like “hey this is what I want my space to be like in the future.” I think that Renno becomes that place where people not only conceptualize and visualize what they’re space looks like, but also as the platform where people take actionable steps to make that a reality.
Last question, what is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Really take the time and energy to understand your space deeply. I’ve been in real estate since 2013. There’s a lot of people who jump into a business and don’t have a background in it. You don’t always need to have a crazy deep background, but I can’t say I see myself building anything outside of proptech. I’ve been immersed in this industry for the past, almost 9 years. I feel confident in this space, and I feel comfortable talking to people about what I’m doing because I know the problem deeply. I know the stakeholders deeply and intimately. I know how to solve the problem and speak intelligently to people when they ask me particular questions because I know the space and I know our business. I think sometimes people get enamored by the thought of being an entrepreneur, because it sounds cool. I think its’ definitely awesome to build something, to be your own boss, to build things. But what I think is even more exciting is when you really know the space. It will influence the decisions you make just having industry knowledge and expertise. I would encourage people to just build something where they have deep knowledge, but even if you don’t - I think it’s really important to do your due diligence in the space. Who has come before you? Who has tried to do this? Who are the people that failed? Who are the people that succeeded? Study them, understand what they’re doing, what backgrounds they have and find your unfair advantage, because it’s so needed.
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