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Buddies build online rental business

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Contributed photo's Melarka Williams (left) with team members Tamayo Brown (centre) and Sandra Skyers.
Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

House hunting is changing. In fact, so too is the search for anything you want to rent. Driven by their own bad house-hunting experiences, a group of university students has teamed up to do brisk business placing rentals online.

Now, offers cars, heavy equipment, tools, office and party supplies, professional services and wedding-service rentals at the click of a mouse.

Melarka Williams, the 26-year-old network engineer and mana-ging director of,believes his online rental site has the potential to become the largest local online market place for rentals of all kinds.

The site, launched in June last year, was created when Williams, who studied electrical engineering at the University of Technology (UTech) and graduated with a major in electrical engineering and a minor in communications and electronics in 2007, pooled talent with Tamoya Brown, a 2006 computing UTech graduate, andSandra Skyers, who provides administrative support.

Despite being employed to Digicel full time as a network engineer, Williams still found time to fulfil his dream of getting his own company off the ground.

"We designed and programmed the website ourselves," he told Sunday Business.

Coding was a bit of a challenge, the team admitted.

"But we started in February and were finished by June 2009."

Brown provided the graphics for the site and also builds logos and designs fliers for the fledgling business.

"We taught ourselves to construct and maintain the site, so that has given us some amount of leverage."

Start-up costs included $70,000 worth of computer parts which were used to build the server. There is also the static IP address at Williams' home - the 'office' - which requires a hosting payment of $5,000 monthly.

Transport, marketing, advertisements, fliers, business cards are among the other costs.

The three group members say they have been enjoying steady earnings of under $100,000 per month, enough they say, to cover their costs for now.

"We have not taken any loans. We are trying our best to survive from cash flow. We are scared of the Finsac scenario."

The idea of starting came about, William said, when while at the UTech, he noticed how difficult it was for university students coming from rural Jamaica to find accommodation for rent. He started contemplating a possible solution.

"Students had to travel from all over Jamaica to Kingston in order to find a place to rent because they had to do a physical examination of their potential home."

After graduating in 2007, Williams experienced the house-hunting ordeal all over again. He recalled spending an enormous amount of money and time driving around Kingston looking at the various rental properties. He called other house hunters to compare stories and discovered that they had the same problems.

"The problem got me thinking: in today's technologically savvy society, why not use the Internet?"

Williams and Brown proceeded to design the website, offering a virtual tour of real-estate listings. They later dedicated a portion of the website to university students searching for rental properties so they would not have to invest the money and time trekking around Kingston and St Andrew.

"They can now sit in the comfort of their living room wherever they are in Jamaica, or even the world, and get a virtual walk-through of their potential place of dwelling, courtesy of, "Williams stated.

The idea has been a "sell-off", he said, using the Jamaican jargon that is used to define an outstanding event or popular product.

"Jamaicans love to view pictures instead of going to locations physically, which might be inconvenient."

The online entrepreneurs started out with property listings.

Other rentals

Expansion came later when they realised that personswere also searching for other types of rentals that no medium seemed to list as comprehensively as real estate.

Now, in addition to renting homes, the website offers cars, heavy equipment and tools, office equipment and party equipment, professional services and wedding-service rentals. A one-stop shop offering from a pin to an anchor, one might say.

" is now not only in the business of marketing real-estate rentals, but we have diversified our business to suit our customers' needs," said Williams.

Under consideration are limousine services and water-sports equipment, and a wider range of vehicles, but expansion means just more than growing the products.

Williams is promising that within weeks, users of the website will be able to pay for the service using PayPal and Bill Express. Currently, they have to deposit money to the company's bank account.

For advertisers, the fee structure is dynamic. Advertisers can buy placement on the site for an entire year for a fee of $9,000. Monthly listings cost $1,500 each. For advertisers who wish more prominent placement, rotating banners are available for $90,000 for the year.

According to Williams, subscribing renters say they are doing better business listing on the site.

The young business buddies say they intend to drive business by offering a better quantity experience than their competitors, not higher prices.