Researching successful tech startups can reveal a couple of important trends, particularly those that can serve as lessons for other startups. First and foremost, a brand should solve a problem, identifying an issue and then becoming the product or service that resolves it. Sounds simple and obvious, but I personally took a number of business classes that flailed in their attempts to drive this point home. Professors focused on fluff that had no place in the teaching of business practices, which is partly why I don’t believe in the importance of studying business in a classroom, but I’ll save that for another time.
Kariithi Kilemi, founder and CEO of ComVibe, a Pittsburgh-based real estate services firm, adds another imperative, though somewhat unexpected, piece of advice to the mantra: the entrepreneur must test the “sales funnel” early in the startup process to ensure the consumer is ready to pay for the product or service. Imaginably, that’s the tougher component to address, but Kilemi is a seasoned entrepreneur at this point, and he may be onto something with ComVibe. Before launching his brand, he made sure people would pay by conducting industry and market research from over 30 property managers. It was from evaluating the difficulties faced by managers in their operations and the impact these difficulties had on their residents that ComVibe was able to come up with the solution.
ComVibe seeks to bridge the gap between tenants and property managers by “creatively leveraging technology to address unmet customer needs,” according to the company’s website. Its target market is property managers with 300 to 2,000 residents, and if possible, managers with an average tenant demographic under 30-years-old. The company differentiates itself by “focusing on the intersection between maintenance management and resident satisfaction,” Kilemi said. “Our team is constantly thinking of ways through which we can design our product to ensure that the maintenance team (i.e. plumbers and electricians) can interact with our platform and, in turn, get feedback regarding their work from the residents.” Expectantly, ComVibe has received great feedback from tenants, which helps managers evaluate resident satisfaction. The maintenance team is also very excited and is using the software.
Kilemi is not your average business owner, though, coming from a unique background. He was born in San Francisco, lived in Kenya until he was thirteen, then moved to Germany. His round trip landed him back in the US to complete his undergraduate studies at Wake Forest, which he followed with an MBA at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. This is where he began work on ComVibe, still Pittsburgh-based with plans to enter New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia by January, 2012. Despite a natural fit for entrepreneurialism, Kilemi said spearheading ComVibe was still an eye-opening experience, one that taught him that “entrepreneurship is very much about the team and ensuring that the people around you are smart and curious about the market you wish to change.”