Anyone can be successful, Just ask Nathan Miller
I first met Nathan Miller, Founder, President of Rentec Direct (rentecdirect.com), a Grants Pass based Software as a Service(SAAS) company in the landlord/property manager space, when he was the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) for a company in Grants Pass that was a SAAS for Internet Service providers, VISP.
I was a new customer of VISP and toured the facility one day and met Nathan, who was responsible for keeping all the servers up and secure. He proudly showed off his server room and how many racks it took to support ISPs all over the world. Todd, the owner of VISP, was talking about moving the company to the Philippines for many reasons and I asked Nathan if we were going to go with him.
I recall him telling me that he was going to stay in Southern Oregon and continue working on this side hustle of software for landlords and property managers. He was excited to move the servers into this new thing called the cloud.
I kept tabs on Nathan over the next 15 years, running into him at different times and each time he said in his quiet unassuming way that it was going ok.
In 2019 Rentec Direct was selected by SOREDI (Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc) to host the Rogue Tech Tour event at their office and I was invited to be a part of it. I remember walking into a magnificent mansion converted into offices in downtown Grants Pass and being blown away at how cool it was. After everyone left, I found Nathan playing ping pong with one of his employees. They were not messing around. I could tell that they both took ping pong very seriously and I found myself smiling as I watched them battle. I think his opponent beat him after several long volleys and she was even pregnant at the time.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit with Nathan (via Zoom) and discuss what his journey has been like and where Rentec Direct is now. He made it clear that he wasn’t looking for a story about him or the business but he was interested in inspiring future entrepreneurs by using his success with Rentec Direct as an example. He honestly believes that anyone can teach themselves all the skills required to run a successful business. He wants everyone to know that you don’t need investors and you don’t need bank loans to be as successful as he is.
How successful is he? Rentec Direct has grown to 16 employees, boasting 25,000 clients with 10,000 of those being active monthly recurring revenue ones managing 300,000 properties, and last year they hit the $10,000,000 in annual revenue milestone. Because of their 30% Year over Year (YOY) growth they have been on the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies, six years in a row.
My hour with him left me inspired and excited to implement some of his philosophy into each of my small businesses. My head is swimming with ideas for new business ventures, even as I put the finishing touches on this story together. He has a quiet and strong demeanor that inspires and instills confidence that you can do anything, as he shares his own story.
I felt like I could do what he did, because he truly believes that if he can do it, then anyone can.
Find a niche.
While he was a network engineer for another Grants Pass company he started buying rental properties on the side and needed a software tool to help him manage them. He couldn’t find one that met his needs so he decided to write his own. He didn’t do it because he thought he would start a company. He did it to help himself, and other landlords like him, be a better landlord. To save time.
He needed to teach himself programming in PHP to accomplish this goal. He didn’t set out to start a company. He set out to write a program to help him be a better property manager and landlord. He didn’t know how to program so he had to learn and taught himself programming. When he realized he needed to start a company he taught himself how to do that. When he realized he needed skills to successfully run a company he taught himself how to do that.
Wake up early.
Already a morning person, but with a full-time job, he woke up at 3 and 4 am every day, drank coffee, and spent up to 4 hours a day learning how to code and discovering the joy of seeing his software come alive in a web browser. He woke up excited to see what he could learn and accomplish that day.
Bootstrap the company.
After building the software for himself, he shared it online for free and it grew to a couple hundred users in a short amount of time. They came after him for feature requests and tech support so he knew he needed to start a company and have some revenue in order to hire someone. He started charging ten cents a unit per month and that helped pay for the employee. The entire startup capital to begin Rentec Direct was the $140 he took from his wallet to purchase an old, used, slow server to launch the company with.
Save your customers time.
Nathan takes a lot of pride in how he loves to spend 8 hours on a problem that will save his 10,000 customers 15 minutes each and how that equates to 150,000 minutes of savings. That’s a huge impact on humanity and the lives of his customers. 15 minutes may not seem like much, but at that scale, it adds up to a significant amount of time saved.
Rentec automates many if not most of the work required to be a successful landlord. Nathan brings that same mindset to his own company. By automating all the minutia in your business it frees you up to focus on innovation and growing your business. Nathan loves to compare his operation at Rentec Direct with their nearest competitors because Rentec Direct is as or more successful than competitors who have hundreds of employees, primarily because of the efficiencies and automation they have built.
Find the niche within the niche.
His competition focuses on large property managers that handle thousands of properties and Nathan’s team focuses on the small landlord and owner of a small number of properties. The big companies can’t compete in this small space and Nathan’s small agile team thrives in it.
Work 40-hour weeks.
He is proud of the fact that he and his team are only asked to work 40 hours a week. He maintains a healthy balance of work, family, and personal time and he expects his employees to do the same.
Educate and Lead your industry.
They used to have to buy customers with AdWords but since focusing on an industry blog they launched in 2014 that educates customers and potential customers he is getting nearly 50% of his new customers from the blog. He still spends $25,000 a month on ads but he knows he would have to spend a lot more if it weren’t for his blog. He believes that part of his job is to make the industry stronger. When the industry is doing better, his company does better.
Enjoy what you do every day.
Ok, Most days. Focus on solving the problem and then move on. Get back to doing what you enjoy doing. Learning. Solving problems. Finding ways to save customers time.
Build a platform that others build on top of. Landlords are business people. When you build a platform that business people use every day to run an efficient business it empowers them to do more. They depend on it and trust it to help them be better business people.
Reinvest in your company constantly.
Nathan is proud of the fact that he has never taken out a loan for the company. He has taken out loans for real estate transactions he has done personally, but he hasn’t had to take out a loan or ask for investment from any 3rd party.
When his business hit $3M in recurring annual revenue the businesses looking to buy businesses started reaching out. When Rentec Direct hit the $10M recurring annual revenue, the potential buyers flooded him daily, somehow some wannabe buyers even have his personal cell number, with requests to buy his company. He has been told that his company is now worth $100,000,000 but he asks himself, “What would I do with $100,000,000 that is different from what I do today? Not much, so why sell?” Nathan is also proud of the fact that every dollar that isn’t reinvested back into the company is invested in Oregon. He strongly believes that people sell their businesses when they have outside investors because the investor wants to cash out. It’s not always best for the business or the customers, but it’s best for investors and that is why they sell.
Owning 100% of the business allows you to run the business you love and not be forced to sell it to the highest bidder.
By Jim Teece
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