VOL. 132 | NO. 13 | Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Rent Like a Champion Eyes Memphis PGA Event
By K. DENISE JENNINGS
"Shark Tank" alumni home-rental platform Rent Like A Champion is looking to move into the Memphis market just in time to sign up homeowners and provide private housing for the FedEx St. Jude Classic golf tournament in June.
The company is a vacation platform that caters to big sporting events, said Rent Like a Champion CEO Mike Doyle, who secured an investment to expand in 2015 from "Shark Tank" star Mark Cuban and Silicon Valley investor Chris Sacca, who has also invested in companies like Kickstarter, Uber and Twitter.
Rent Like a Champion started out signing up homeowners in small college towns where there were not enough hotels to accommodate the influx of college football fans wanting to stay near the games. The company did direct advertising and signed up homeowners free of charge on their platform, then took over the logistics and communication involved in the short term-rental process. Now, it’s branching out to other sporting events.
The experience on the television show Shark Tank helped take the company to another level, said Doyle.
It took nearly a year from when Rent Like a Champion reached out to the show to get on air in June 2015. Filming took place over 10 days during which time Doyle and his colleagues had the opportunity to meet and network with dozens of other entrepreneurs that were also going through the process.
“It was a very cool experience,” Doyle said. “It was like an entrepreneur summer camp, and we met some really interesting people from all over our country.”
Cuban and Sacca split a $200,000 investment for 10 percent of Doyle’s company and remain the only investors. The deal resulted in Rent Like a Champion handing over a lot of the back-office work and expenses. Sacca was also able to make some strategic introductions to help grown the business.
“They really pushed us to think where else does our business model work,” Doyle said.
Since the Shark Tank partnerships, houses registered on the site have doubled and revenue has grown over 70 percent per year since 2012 when the company was founded.
The first venture outside of the college football market was NASCAR, followed by the PGA Tour. Rent Like a Champion currently has partnerships with 10 PGA tournaments and has made contact with officials at the St. Jude Classic to possibly forge a partnership there, Doyle said.
The PGA was a good fit for Rent Like a Champion because PGA tournaments typically have a small staff are not really set up to handle all the hospitality needs of players, vendors and spectators. Many times tournament staff members are a player’s only contact in the market, and they end up handling housing, which takes up valuable time.
“When a golfer or caddy or sponsor want to rent a home, the tournaments don’t really have a source for that and it’s a headache for the tournament director,” Doyle said. “We want to take it all off their plate.”
Mitzi Bledsoe, office manager for the St. Jude Classic PGA tournament in Memphis, said putting on such an event “is a huge endeavor.”
“We don’t have a host hotel like a lot of tournaments do because there aren’t any large, full-service hotels near the course, so I secure housing at several hotels and private homes in the area and manage that from booking through their stay,” Bledsoe said. “I would love to have a company do that for me.”
Doyle feels good about forging future PGA tournament partnerships.
“It’s a pretty small world as far as PGA tournament directors go,” he said. “There are about 40 in the country, and once we did a good job a lot of doors opened.”
One of those partnerships is with the John Deere Classic in Silvus, Illinois, which partnered with Rent Like a Champion for the first time in the summer of 2016.
Silvus is a small town, and the course for the John Deere Classic does not have surrounding housing, said Andrew Lehman, assistant director of the tournament.
“We were basically trying to find housing for 156 players, many of whom are traveling with their families in the summer,” Lehman said. “We have an eight-person staff, so that takes up a lot of man hours.”
Rent Like a Champion was able to come into the market, sign up homeowners and do all the legwork involved with communicating between the renters and the homeowners. With the partnership, any player, vendor, sponsor or spectator interested in private home accommodations for the tournament visits the PGA website and clicks on a housing info link connected to a tournament. Rent Like a Champion handles everything and reports back to the tournament with specifics.
“It makes life a lot easier to have these guys do it,” Lehman said. “Most PGA Tour events are nonprofit events with small staffs working on a big event that takes place one week out of the year. It’s nice to partner with a company who does this 365 days a year as a job. It takes a big stress off the staff.”