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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

The Alpaca Story: How an Apartment Rental Startup Navigated the COVID Tsunami

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Adrian Cabrera Alpaca

We talked to Adrian Cabrera of Alpaca about finding an apartment, and he had the following to say:-

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Adrian Cabrera: I’ve been lucky enough that all my family has been healthy throughout the pandemic. My grandmother has recently gotten the vaccine which is a huge relief for all of us. I know it hasn’t been this easy for many, and I’m very thankful for how lucky I’ve been.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Alpaca.

Adrian Cabrera: Change has been the only constant in my life. I have lived in five countries, ten cities, thirty homes, and attended ten different schools. I was born in Switzerland, raised in Bolivia, and lived in the U.S. during my teenage years. I later went back to Switzerland to attend university and began my professional career in France. Constantly changing neighborhoods, groups of friends, school systems, and languages has not been easy. Looking back, embracing change has been the best way to adapt and quickly integrate into new environments – a trait that has stayed with me throughout my life.

I co-founded Alpaca for two reasons. First, as you just heard, I have a lot of experience as a renter searching for a home 😉 and I can attest that it is a very painful process no matter where you live, whether you are looking for a home in New York City, Berlin, or La Paz. Second, I was lucky enough to meet Norman, Sebastian, and Nicolas (my co-founders), who are some of the brightest people I’ve ever met, and we shared a deep frustration with the existing experience of finding an apartment.

How does Alpaca innovate? 

Adrian Cabrera: We do our best at building an innovative culture by living our company values.

– Creating a positive office culture

– Celebrating failed experiments and encouraging everyone to make better mistakes tomorrow

– Encouraging everyone to take ownership by taking the initiative, bringing ideas forward, and proudly deliver on their work

– Finally, we believe diversity is crucial for the team to generate innovative ideas  

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Adrian Cabrera: The pandemic was very tough for Alpaca as it was for the whole Real Estate Industry. There has been a large exodus of people from the big cities such as New York City, Boston, and San Francisco Bay Area moving to lesser dense areas such as Denver, Austin, Miami, and Charlotte, where they could have more space or move back to their family homes to save on rent, and spend time with their loved ones.

Our chatbot, which helps people find apartments, was at the time only operational in Boston and New York City. Therefore, we saw a lower amount of new users during the core pandemic months. We also saw landlords reducing prices, offering COVID deals, providing incentives such as giving away free months for renters to sign new leases.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?

Adrian Cabrera: Unfortunately, we did have to cut costs. I was scared when we took the decision even though we knew it was the right one.

The biggest lesson was that I have been extremely positively surprised with the motivation and drive the team has kept throughout the whole pandemic. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I am constantly impressed and inspired by the team we have at Alpaca.

The speed at which new features are being built, their capability to think strategically and act tactically is very impressive, to say the least.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Adrian Cabrera: It has evolved quite a bit. I think one of the silver linings of the pandemic was that people have been more open to partner and supporting each other.

We are also very grateful for the vendors and suppliers that have supported us throughout this time. Many small acts of kindness have made a huge difference for the company overall.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Adrian Cabrera: You were lucky enough to get support and can only emphasize how crucial this has been to keep our company afloat.

Your final thoughts?

Adrian Cabrera: This pandemic was a huge tsunami to Alpaca and to the rest of the world. We were lucky enough to put down the sails, hunker down early on and allow for the storm to pass. We are now seeing early signs of blue sky, and our team has been getting ready for the past months, working hard at improving our chatbot, improving our processes, and building partnerships. 

We are already seeing people be very active with our chatbot, and we are happy with the great feedback we are getting from our customers.

We have been preparing and are ready to help thousands of people as they start moving back to New York City, Boston, and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Your website?

https://rentalpaca.com/

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