Last week, Cozy attended the National Apartment Association (NAA) Education Conference and Exposition in San Francisco. With more than 425 exhibitors and 9,000 attendees, the NAA Expo is the largest apartment conference in the country, and one of the biggest events of the year for the multifamily housing industry.

It was our first time attending, so we were excited to find ourselves alongside much larger, well-established companies as well as newer startups like Cozy that are dramatically changing the renting landscape. Our experience reinforced that our focus on independent rental owners and smaller property management companies is by far the larger opportunity.

Getting Personal

Many giant property management companies from around the country attended the conference, so we ended up meeting people who worked for companies managing 10,000, 50,000, and even 400,000 units.

Managers working with that many units don’t land in Cozy’s sweet-spot. Since we launched, we’ve focused on tailoring our services to independent rental owners and smaller property managers. We’ve always strived to build a simpler, more focused, and more cost-effective product compared to what’s been around for the past 15 years.

We were delighted to meet these folks in person and show them something radically different from what they’re used to.

Along with the big property management companies came the big property management software companies. Yardi, MRI, Entrata, On-Site, and RealPage had lavish, lounge-like booths, vacation giveaways, and full teams of salespeople. Less gargantuan (but still big) companies like Appfolio and Buildium were also there with smaller, more human-scale booths.

Most of the managers who came to Cozy’s booth used one of these larger software companies (mostly Yardi). When we asked them about their experiences, we almost always got the same answer: “It’s okay. It does what I need it to, but it’s painful to use.”

It became clear that people weren’t being put first—something we strive to do at Cozy with everything we build.

The Power of Free

As we delivered our Cozy pitch to people who stopped by our booth, we noticed a theme: they were genuinely shocked that our services for managers are completely free. Our conversations went something like this:

Cozy: “We provide payments, applications, screening, and listings. For free.”

Property manager: (skeptical eyebrow raise) “You’re free? What’s the catch?”

Cozy: “There’s no catch. We charge residents for screening reports only if they run them, or if they pay their rent with a card. We’re always free for managers.”

That’s when the “A-ha!” moment would happen. People lit up a little. They became more engaged and wanted to know more. How big were we? What did the product look like? How come they’d never heard of us?

In an industry tailored to big fish, with property management software that costs anywhere from $100 to $1,000 a month for managers with 100 units or less, people were intrigued by the fact that not only are our services free, but we might deliver a pleasant experience to our customers.

We’ve always believed in leveling the playing field. That’s something Lucas Hall, Chief Landlordologist at Cozy, talked about during a presentation at the conference about all kinds of free services for managers. (For a great list of free and paid services for property managers, check out Landlordology’s Services & Resources Directory.)

What We Learned

We’re not for everyone, and that’s okay. We’re not interested in being a product with 1,000 features, when only 5 of them are useful.

We want to keep building a meaningful service that gives managers more time and makes their jobs easier (for the low cost of $0). Maybe they’ll feel more efficient because of Cozy. Or less frustrated. We like thinking about those moments.

Cozy will be back at the next NAA Expo. And who knows? Maybe we’ll have a huge fancy booth and give away a jet ski, but if all goes well, probably not. Either way, you should stop by and say hi. We’ll shake your hand and explain how we can help you.