What started out as a side project for a Notre Dame apartment rental company in South Bend, IN, has become a thriving national business. Rent Like A Champion is the go-to platform for small market college town vacation rentals.
Led by CEO Mike Doyle, who joined the company when he was a student at Notre Dame, RLAC provides college football fans with high quality, affordable housing during football weekends. By connecting home owners with out-of-town alumni and fans, RLAC solves the problem of massive lodging shortages during game weekends.
Since expanding beyond South Bend in 2011, RLAC is currently in 20 markets around the country and they are not slowing down any time soon. In 2014, Mike was the sole employee - now they are a team of 5. RLAC moved into Catapult in March and Mike was featured on Bootstrapping in America in May.
Just in time for the start of the college football season, we sat down with Mike to get the Rent Like A Champion game plan, find out about life as the RLAC head coach, and why you need to "celebrate the victories" (puns intended).
1. Tell us a about where RLAC is right now? What has your team been working on recently?
We launched a totally revamped website, which we're incredibly excited about. We're spending the summer expanding our business to new college towns. We have trips over the next few months to Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida State, Clemson, and several other big college football towns.
2. What differentiates RLAC from the competition?
We operate in non-traditional vacation rental markets, towns where there really aren't options for short-term rentals. While there is an education process that goes into launching a new market, we find that organic growth sets in once we establish a stronghold in a new town. We offer an extremely high-touch, concierge level of service, which helps our homeowners get comfortable with the idea of renting out their homes.
3. How has your idea evolved since its inception?
We have a really cool founding story, as our business is one of those that was stumbled upon by accident. Our company started as a student housing company, purchasing homes near Notre Dame and renting them out for 12 months to students. When we had a vacancy, we threw the home on eBay for a weekend rental and quickly found that there was a ton of demand from football fans. We quickly built a platform to allow other homeowners to list with us, and then started spreading to other colleges around the country. From there, we never looked back!
4. Where do you see your company in the next 2-3 years?
There are 40 college markets where our model works, and we're currently in 20 of them. Within the next 12-18 months, we will establish a presence in the remaining 20 towns. From there, we will start to expand into other large events that take place regularly in small towns - college football is just the beginning!
5. What is something the average person wouldn't know about your company and/or your team?
As I'm typing this, we're hosting our first-ever bring your child to work day. Only one of our team members is a parent, and her 6 year-old has been entertaining us all morning.
We're selling an experience, so we have some great customer stories:
There's a retired couple from New Jersey who had it on their bucket list to spend an entire football season in South Bend, going to every Notre Dame game. We helped set them up with a rental for the entire Fall. Another guest was an Auburn alum, and planned to propose to his girlfriend at the 50 yard-line after the game. He rented a home from us where they held an engagement party after the game. We have lots of these stories, and they make our job an absolute blast!
6. What have been your biggest business/entrepreneurial challenges? What have been your biggest triumphs?
Proving that our business worked outside of our initial market (South Bend), was my biggest challenge. Prior to hiring out a team, I wanted to be sure that the model wasn't unique to Notre Dame. I drove around the country to college towns, knocking on doors, and talking to people about what we did. Once we started to get some traction elsewhere, it was time to build out a team - which leads me to Rent Like A Champion's biggest triumph. I am extremely fortunate to have an incredible team, people who have TONS of options when it comes to what they do and who they work with. We absolutely would not be where we are today without each and every one of them.
7. What is the best and worst part of being your own boss?
The best part is that I get to decide what I want to work on - we are selling a fun experience, and as such we've been able to run some really cool, non-traditional marketing campaigns and partnerships. To the less fun part, you really always have to be on call. If something goes wrong, or there's an emergency, I really can't pass the buck to anyone else. All in all, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love what I'm doing, and the pluses far outweigh any negatives that there may be.
8. What advice would you give a first time entrepreneur?
Don't forget to celebrate the victories, even if they're small! There is always going to be more to do, another problem that needs to be solved. When you and your team gets a win, celebrate it, and reward the hard work that you all are putting in to the business!
9. What does your team do to bond/relax?
We try to get out of the office for something fun every month - even if it's small! We recently played WhirlyBall together, which I would highly recommend. It got a bit heated, but we're all still friends. We're heading to a Cubs game later this summer, and we did 'Trapped in a Room With a Zombie' a few months ago, a really fun team-building puzzle. It's tough sometimes, but we try to keep work talk to a minimum at these sort of events. It's a great time to get everyone to relax and just have fun!
10. What is most beneficial about sharing a space with multiple entrepreneurs? What is the best part of Catapult?
There is a ton of value in being surrounded by other like-minded companies. After leaving 1871, we decided we were ready for our own space. I rented a condo, filled it with desks, and thought we had it figured out. Within a few months, it became obvious that we were missing the community aspect that a coworking space provided, and we quickly found Catapult. It has been a great fit for us, as we're in an environment that encourages bouncing ideas and problems off other entrepreneurs.