It’s rare that apartment seekers limit their searches to business hours.
But a New York startup, backed by two of the country’s biggest landlords, has built an AI-powered leasing assistant available to field queries 24/7.
MeetElise said Tuesday that it closed a $6.5 million Series A funding round led by Navitas Capital, with participation from AvalonBay Communities and Equity Residential, which have deployed the company’s digital assistant “Elise” throughout their portfolios.
Founded in 2017 by Tony Stoyanov and Minna Song, MeetElise uses machine learning to streamline the leasing process and claims its digital assistant “Elise” can convert 65 percent more leads than traditional leasing agents.
As machine learning proliferates the real estate industry, the relationship with AvalonBay and Equity (which also invested in MeetElise’s $1.9 million seed round last year) has played a key role: The real estate investment trusts, with some 180,000 apartment units combined, shared tens of thousands of anonymized conversations with apartment seekers to help “Elise” learn to respond to their queries using natural-sounding language.
It worked and then some, according to a selection of feedback shared with The Real Deal, in which tenants commented, “You’re a hard worker — I like your moxy [sic],” and “Do you ever sleep? You are like a super hero!”
Song said the idea for MeetElise grew out of her and Stoyanov’s desire to address inefficiencies in the housing market. They officially closed on the Series A in April, despite the shutdown sparked by the coronavirus.
In fact, Song said MeetElise saw a “surge” of inbound leads during the shutdown, with a 44 percent spike in business between March and mid-July as landlords turned to automation to keep their businesses running while employees complied with stay-home orders.
MeetElise currently has 20 employees, and plans to double the size of the team in the next 12 months. Elise is currently being used in 240,000 apartments across the U.S.
For Navitas, it’s the first deal led by Louis Schotsky, who joined the venture firm last year from Equity, where he worked in operations and investment. (He also met Song during that time.) “We all said, this could be huge so let’s give them some money… and [time] to develop the product,” he said.
Schotsky said MeetElise’s ability to automate the most redundant parts of leasing can save time and money — not just for big landlords. “The product, on a per unit basis, creates more value for smaller operations who have nobody on site,” he said.
For that reason, Song said the Series A will be used to beef up MeetElise’s national sales team and target additional clients, specifically the mom-and-pop operations that stand to benefit from a more streamlined process. “The really large owners represent less than 5 percent of the market,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of the market is the space we can break into.”