Agency Unfiltered - Heather Park from Rent Bridge

Building the PMOS

Heather Park, Managing Partner at Rent Bridge, joins the show to talk about the PMOS, or Property Management Operating System, the unified property management automation solution built entirely on HubSpot. Heather discusses the experiences that lead to the property management niche, the nuts and bolts of the PMOS, and the balance between templates and custom setup.

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Episode Transcript

Hi, everybody. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered. I'm your host, Kevin Dunn. And Agency Unfiltered is a biweekly web series and podcast that interviews agency owners from around the world about agency operations, growth, and scale. Episodes can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And you can find our videos and full transcripts on agencyunfiltered.com

Heather Park, managing partner at Rent Bridge, joins the show to talk about the PMOS, or Property Management Operating System, the unified property management automation solution built entirely on HubSpot. Heather discusses the experiences that led to the property management niche, the nuts and bolts of the PMOS, and how her team has balanced the templated setup with custom builds over time.

Are you automating your entire clients' operating systems? And if not, maybe you should keep listening because Agency Unfiltered starts right now.

KD: Hello, Heather. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered. Thanks for dialing in with us today.

HP: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

KD: Psyched to talk to you, for sure. Just give us a heads up, where are you dialing in from today?

HP: So technically the McKinney, Texas area. But we are actually in an off-site. Our quarterly off-site's today, tomorrow, and Wednesday. So I'm in the Sheraton hotel.

KD: Oh, very nice. Is it going to be a productive off-site?

HP: Yes. Very much so.

KD: Excited to talk to you, specifically about some unique service offerings. Now, I don't want to steal your thunder. I bet you can explain it more eloquently than I can. But it's this age-old adage that niches equal riches. And I think not only has Rent Bridge been able to identify a niche, it's a pretty unique service offering that caters to that niche. I don't want to butcher it here, so maybe the best place to start, why don't you just talk to me about the Property Management Operating System? What is it? How does it align with your niche? How did you come up with the idea? Just give me the rundown of the POMS.

HP: Sure. So it kind of started in a relatively jagged path. We definitely didn't start out knowing what we were doing at all, much less what we envisioned for down the line. There really wasn't a vision at all. We had just recently sold our property management company and weren't necessarily twiddling their thumbs to any degree but were still trying to feel our way through what the next steps looked like. So I was consulting. I had developed Rent Bridge as, honestly, a consulting firm for the property management industry. And my husband had gone into institutional property management, to help with hedge funds and larger institutions that owned their properties. So we worked through that phase of Rent Bridge for almost a year or so. But along the way, the clients that I was consulting for kept coming to me for marketing advice and questions about the how-- how do we implement the things that you're telling us to do, in our consulting progress? So just kind of digging through different automation options and different tracking mechanisms and things like that, we stumbled into HubSpot for ourselves but, in all honesty, felt very overwhelmed by it and didn't really know which way to go and how to use what and even how to get onboarded fully. So it was a little stressful early on. But then one of our clients came to us and asked us to implement HubSpot on their behalf. And I thought, well, I guess this is a great way to figure out how to do it for myself, too. So we started down that path. And right about that time my husband joined Rent Bridge as a full-time staff member of Rent Bridge. And he and I-- now we call ourselves co-founders. But at the time, we were just figuring it out.

So he came on full time. And, honestly, that was the game changer that we were looking for. He was able to dedicate all of his time toward creating processes and creating systems. And he was the one that discovered, through your service module, through the HubSpot service module, that we were able to truly take the operational components of a property management business and automate them through pipelines. It started out in ticket pipelines. And then we incorporated deal pipelines and then the back and forth automation there. And two years later, ta-da, there's PMOS, Property Management Operating System. And now it's morphed even from its beginnings, time and time again. Our integrations are different. Everything is proprietary now. It's a very different approach than what we started with in the beginning.

KD: That's awesome. I don't know if that—I can't tell if that's the traditional origination of an agency. Like oh, one day somebody was asking us for marketing services, and now we're in HubSpot or if it's a contrast to what the typical journey is. I think there's a little bit of both in there. But it sounds like a really interesting and relevant use case for both Service hub and Sales hub. So without giving too much of your secret sauce, like the nuts and bolts of it, what does it look like? How does it work for these property management companies?

HP: So we were able to take a little bit of both of our backgrounds, both analytically and operationally speaking. My husband was a real estate attorney. I studied rocks. I was literally a petroleum geologist, before I got into real estate of any kind.

KD: Slight pivot.

HP: Slight pivot encouraged your trajectory, potentially. Yep—like I said, jagged path. But we took our skill sets and kind of combined them to try to figure out how can we automate? How can we systemize? And how can we efficiently roll out these processes that we struggled with personally, in our own property management company? We used what we jokingly called the poor man's sales force at the time. We used Zoho. And I think it was called Zoho Desk at the time. And my husband came up with this term, CAT, C-A-T, CAT-- Create A Ticket. And so any time-- when we were managing properties-- any time one of our staff would start asking us a question or yell down the hallway about something or the phone would ring and they would start to talk, he'd say CAT, CAT, CAT, CAT. I'm never going to remember this. I can't keep up with this. You've got to create a ticket for me. So it all started with tickets. And from there, we were able to kind of branch out into, all right, here's a larger, higher level process that touches multiple departments. OK, maybe that shouldn't be a ticket. Maybe that should be a deal. And then from that deal we can spin off tasks and tickets and kind of everything in between.And so we started with the deal pipelines. And then we incorporated the sub-processes as tickets. And then those little sticky note-type events, those things that don't necessarily involve a department but maybe just something you don't want to forget, those come as tasks. So that's how the different pieces kind of work together. And then dashboards coming out of your ears, looking at the whole business from more of an ecosystem approach, it gives you a really-- just a very holistic concept and overview of your business as a whole. And for a lot of property managers it's the first time, once they see all the pipelines developed, which takes a little while, it's the first time that they really see the entirety of their business all in one place in a numeric format. Those metrics finally mean something to them. So it's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work on both parts, on the part of Rent Bridge, getting them fully implemented, but also on the client, absorbing all of this and truly transitioning every aspect of their business, including marketing, including all the operational processes, their CRM. I mean, every aspect of what they do is different by the time we're done.

KD: I can imagine that this PMOS has—it probably looks different in 2021 than it did when you probably originally built it. Today, how much of this is templated, like rinse and repeat setup, versus how custom is it to each particular client or use case? I can imagine that customization would require more work. But I don't want to assume one way or the other. But again, what's that contrast between template versus unique or custom build?

HP: So that's a great question. And you're right. 2021 looks dramatically different than 2017 did. 2017 looked like, quite literally, uploading spreadsheets every single day to get the data from the property management software into HubSpot. Thankfully, that is a thing of the past. Now we have a custom integration, that we call the bridge. And it ports data from whatever property management software you're in, be it AppFolio, Buildium, Rent Manager, Propertyware, and pretty much everything in between. It ports that data from your software into HubSpot. And then that kicks off all of your processes every day. So for now, it's mostly templated, to the extent of maybe about 75%. We try very hard, for expediency sake, to get the vast majority of these checklist items, or typical processes that are best practices in the property management industry, to be so systematic that, essentially, our clients can walk in and make choices. They can say, I want to start my renewals 60 days ahead of the lease expiration date, or 90 days, or 120 days. And so that's really just a quick questionnaire that they're able to walk through. And then we take all of those questionnaires from every pipeline and roll out their quasi-custom implementation, with them not having to have made all that many decisions along the way. So that's kind of Scenario A.

Then you have Scenario B, where it's either a larger company or it's a company that does property management and real estate, and they have a construction company, and they're a new home builder, and, and, and, and. And they have all of these different customization features and different pipelines they're going to need. That is a situation where we try to start them with the components of property management that can be duplicated or replicated for them, customize the fringe areas that they have to have. And then, for everything else, it's a custom from scratch build. But even with those custom builds, we try to get them started with tickets first and get their entire team utilizing the ticket platform so that they're learning HubSpot, they're learning the ins and outs of how the system works and what it looks like. Because a ticket record looks like a deal record looks like a contact rec—it just gets them more familiar. So even with completely custom builds, we try to start in the same way.

KD: That makes a ton of sense. What does the training process look like? So it's a perfect system implemented and everything's ready to go. But, obviously, user adoption, I can imagine, is the name of the game from there. So what does that tend to look like for the Rent Bridge team?

HP: So the Rent Bridge team, up until January of 2021-- i.e. last week-- looked very arduous and quite tedious. There was a five-week process in place for us, where we took the clients an hour at a time for five weeks and walked them through the fundamentals of what we needed them to understand in order to fully utilize the HubSpot portal. Because, bear in mind, our clients come in and they're using a marketing platform to run their operations. So that in and of itself is the first hurdle that we have to mentally get them over. They're looking at it and they're seeing campaigns. And they're seeing service tickets. And they're seeing sales pipelines. And they're seeing all these different sales-related or marketing-related concepts. And they're looking at it like, you told me this was going to run my operations. OK, so step one, we're going to define the dictionary of HubSpot with respect to property management. And then we walk through admin. And we walk through onboarding your team. And we walk through how to use different pipelines and everything in between. So that was a face-to-face, hand-holding, time intensive concept until very, very recently. Now we've built our own LMS, our own learning platform, where they can log in any time. And they watch videos. And they watch other clients that have utilized certain features in a certain way. And they're able to actually go in and make some of their selections live in these trainings.

And we get the reporting at the end. And we can follow up with them. So instead of having a meeting all about your renewals pipeline or all about your collections pipeline, we can have a meeting that says, hey, here's all of the choices that you've selected for these first three pipelines. Am I understanding it correctly? Is this really what you wanted? Here's a caveat over here that we want to make you aware of. Is that really what you meant, so different concepts like that. So instead of a six-month onboarding timeline, now they're in a 60-day timeline or a 90-day timeline or even less than that in some scenarios. And so we're really, really excited about that. That's going to take our capacity of onboarding from 10 to 12 clients at a time to the sky's the limit. So we're very excited. And we have a lot more metrics behind it. We have a lot more ability to dive in further and deeper because we have more time with every client individually, without having to train them by hand, every step of the way. So that's what the onboarding looks like today. It didn't always look like that at all. Very recently, it didn't look like that.

KD: Well listen, you're preaching to the choir here about self-paced on-demand education as a means of supporting onboarding. So yeah, I feel like that's a model I can get by, for sure. Now, I think it's fair to say that everyone that checks in on this conversation or listens in, that not every one of them is going to be serving property management companies as their client base. Do you find that this sort of use case or this sort of operating system for your relevant niche, is this something that's replicable? Or is it only unique for the clients that Rent Bridge serves?

HP: No. We absolutely believe it to be replicable. In fact, we branched out, in 2020, to service the real estate industry as a whole. We have a handful of, like I said, institutional clients. We have a handful of sales brokerages, construction companies, new home builders. We're in the REIT business now. So for those that don't know what that is, REIT, Real Estate Investment Trust. So it's applicable across the board. Granted, those are all real estate-related industries. But you can take this to any business that has a lack of an operating system. Every business owner that I've ever run into wants to know pretty much the same things—how profitable am I? What are my employees doing on a regular basis, particularly in the time of COVID, when everyone's at home? What are people actually doing every day? You don't have to ask that question when you have a system like this. And you can create that sense of transparency and that sense of accountability utilizing all these different ticket and tasks and deal pipelines and know exactly what's going on in your business on a day-to-day basis. But yeah, that's absolutely not limited to property management or real estate.

KD: And then, just—again, I don't want to be assumptive—but if you're a client or a prospect of Rent Bridge, you can't take advantage of this operating system without the full HubSpot platform, correct? So the baseline is marketing, sales, and service hubs.

HP: Actually, even more than that. So our PMOS clients have marketing, sales, service, and the advanced reporting feature. Very soon our clients will have the-- they all have the professional level right now-- but very soon our clients will be upgrading to sales enterprise because we're coming out with a custom object specifically for properties. That's already out in our data, but it's going to take a while to roll out to everybody. It's a lot.

KD: I was going to say, that was-- you read my mind, with my next question. So yeah, custom objects feels like it's at play for it.

HP: We're very excited. Yes, we've been itching for this for years now. So super excited about that. And then, on our marketing side, most of our clients have the full professional growth suite and the CMS. We don't handle websites that are not on the CMS, unless it's a franchise. And that's a very small exception. So yeah, it's a little bit varied between the two product offerings but very, very little.

KD: That's great. Because Rent Bridge is obviously so closely aligned with an industry, or your niche, property management-- obviously, you're expanding-- but I have two bonus questions for you, that I just like to ask folks that do decide to niche. And so the first one is for team building. So do you look for and hire folks that have property management experience? Are you looking for marketing technologists or inbound strategists, HubSpot experience, or is it somewhere in the middle? Do you hire for your niche or not?

HP: So that's a really, really interesting question and something that we've kind of struggled with along the way. In the beginning, we were very intent on hiring people within the industry. We went back and forth. Do I want to train someone HubSpot? Or do I want to train someone on property management, which is easier? In our opinion, at the time, it was going to be easier to train them on HubSpot. Well, as we grew and as we kind of morphed into a very different company, where we're almost exclusively automation based, it became more and more important that they know HubSpot as soon as they walk in the door. So then we kind of shifted gears. And we said, no, we're only going to hire people with HubSpot experience. Frankly, my best employees today had neither. They came in with no property management experience, no HubSpot experience. But they had industry-specific experience with marketing or processes or they were a COO somewhere or something along those lines. So we took-- actually, in 2020-- we took a very different approach to how we hired. We stopped trying to get bottom dollar employees for as little as humanly possible, to try to hire more. Instead, we just said, forget it. Whatever they need is what they need. I'm hiring the best of the best, regardless of where they come from and what their salary scale is. So sometimes that means that instead of hiring two people I can only hire one. But I'm getting someone that can likely do the work of two or three people because they're so dedicated, so determined, and so skilled in certain areas that we're able to expand on that significantly more. So it's been a hybrid model along the way. Now we don't look at experience level at all, with respect to HubSpot or property management. We go after the skill sets that we're looking for.

KD: Nope. That's great. That makes a boatload of sense. Second niche bonus question for you: I'm always curious about content marketing, as it relates to a niche. If you're creating content for a lot of the same types of companies, or companies within the same industry, how do you handle that volume of content? So how do you continue to have unique perspectives and unique topics to write about on behalf of your clients?

HP: So funny enough, this is a question that I get from my clients, or from my prospects, almost every time. They want to know, if you're servicing someone in my market-- and that's kind of what they're looking at, is they're worried about their competitors-- but they want to know, how do you keep the content unique? How do you keep it fresh? How do you make it applicable to my business? The way that we approach it is, frankly, we're a content machine. I look at other agencies and wonder, how do you service so many industries with content effectively? It seems crazy to me. But we take the approach of, first and foremost, we have an original content guarantee. So right out of the gate, we're assuring our clients, you will never receive duplicate content, not only from anybody in your market and your industry, but anybody on the internet. You will never have duplicate content. So that's our first step. But the way that we go about accomplishing that is, we have a large pool of writers. And first, we would never allow the same writer to write on the same topic for two different clients. The tone is going to be too similar. The feel is going to be too-- it's just too difficult to differentiate there. So we segment by topic. We segment by market. That's the first step. The second step is, we have a set of campaigns that we'll deploy for a given property manager based on their need. If you're a brand new property manager, we know, OK, these first three campaigns are the ones that you need to tackle because you've got to establish your presence. If you have 300 doors and a ton of staff and you're really just looking for more leads, OK, we'll get those three fundamentals out of the way, and then we'll start on your next sequence of campaigns that we know to work at your stage. So the campaigns and the bones of the structure are geared to accomplish the same thing. So within that, that means I can have blog briefs and I can have content offer briefs that are accomplishing the same goal with entirely different content. So we're able to use the same briefs over and over again and require the differentiation on behalf of the writer to come from their ability to give us a new reference links, new meta, new titles, new everything, based on the same end result. So that's kind of how we go about it, to keep it fresh and unique and not ever duplicate anything.

KD: That's great. Yeah. No, it seems like a well-defined process. That's great. Heather, I think we're just about out of time. But I do have one final question for you. We try and wrap every episode with this. It's, what is the weirdest part of agency life?

HP: Oh my gosh, the weirdest part of agency life, I think, is that if I look at my life today versus looking at my life in 2016, 2017, I would have never fathomed that every decision that we make, everything that we do is so heavily geared toward how can we advance our relationship with HubSpot? How can we advance our relationship with our clients? And how can we utilize the platform that we're paying for that much better? So every idea that comes across the table is viewed through the lens of, can we incorporate this into HubSpot? And how can we automate it further, using either our bridge or HubSpot? Everything revolves around how to improve what we're already servicing. Whereas before this, we were, of course, focused on the end result for the client and getting them the success that they need. But in focusing on the end result for the industry, we're able to service so many more clients so much more effectively and get them the same amazing results that we're able to get if we were just focused on one through always looking at it as, how can this improve with HubSpot?

KD: So it sounds like one of the weirdest parts is the fact that HubSpot is just being regularly thrown around at the dinner table or other places, brainstorming sessions, off-sites at the Sheraton.

HP: Our children know about HubSpot.

KD: That's a good answer. Well Heather, seriously, thanks again for joining us. It's been a pleasure having you on. So thanks for sharing your knowledge and your insights.

HP: Of course. Thanks so much. I appreciate everything.

KD: You bet. All right, folks. Thanks for tuning in. This has been another episode of Agency Unfiltered.

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