July 24, 2008

New online real estate marketplace experiences growth in challenging market, has strong Case Western Reserve connections


www. iRentToOwn.com, an online marketplace co-founded by a Case Western Reserve alumnus, is flourishing in today's challenging real estate environment. John Kobs, who earned his undergraduate degree from the university in 2003, said some of the success is a result of strong employees who hail from his alma mater.

Most people on campus can cite an example of an alumnus staying connected to the university due to a vested interest in the institution's continued success, strong sentimental or family ties, or abundant resources they'd like to remain connected with. In Kobs' case, he serves as vice president of the Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University, his father and sister are both graduates of the university, and several people connected with the school have joined his team to help grow his new company.

"I credit Case Western Reserve for putting me in touch with some of the key players who will be a part of the company's success," said Kobs, who earned a bachelor's degree in business. Those key players include Steve Young, a finance management major scheduled to graduate next May, and Devon Zoller, who also graduated from the university in 2003. Zoller is the company's chief operating officer in charge of sales and marketing efforts, and Young handles customer service.

Kobs said he and Young initially met when he participated in a panel discussion attended by several Case Western Reserve students on a finance field trip to New York. He had an opportunity to touch base with Young again when the Spartan basketball team -- which Young is part of -- played a game in New York.

"We chatted after the game, and I told him I was interested in a summer internship," Young said. "He told me he was starting his own company and asked me to join." He initially started out as vice president of sales, but due to a demanding academic schedule he changed his focus to customer service. The opportunity to wear several different hats within the company has paid off for him. "You don't get to stand up in class and learn how to connect with customers," Young said of his experiences. As he was preparing to line up a summer internship this year, he added that employers were impressed with his academic background coupled with his work experience at www.iRentToOwn.com. "I have a consulting internship lined up for the summer, but I still plan to be a part of the company."

Kobs's ties with Zoller go back to their undergraduate days. "Case Western Reserve has a rather intimate undergraduate environment and I got to know him over the years," said Zoller, who earned a bachelor's degree in economics. "I have covered all aspects of the business: Contacting home owners, conference calls with regional brokers, hiring ancillary staff in Sales and IT, and drafting language on the Web site. Whatever situation arises, I either work on the solution or find the appropriate person/and or people who can."

Company touts flexibility both for users, employees

www.iRentToOwn.com launched in November 2007. The site is designed to connect potential home buyers with available housing throughout the United States. "We provide the largest rent to own audience nationwide. We have dozens of marketing channels on the Internet, and we get over 5,000 hits a day to the Web site," Kobs said. Due to the high volume of traffic, "they [Young and Zoller] both consummate transactions I would otherwise be unable to do."

Kobs got the idea for the company because of his own experience as a Cleveland property owner in the current market. "I was trying to look at the best avenues for selling property. People who can't sell their homes traditionally are looking at other avenues." Also, this was a way to help people get into homes and improve their credit. A rent to own doesn't just work with this economic downturn; it's also a transaction that should be seriously considered regardless of economic environment."

Kobs said a perk of an online business is the flexibility. "People can work remotely," he explained. Young took advantage of that while juggling school, athletics and his job responsibilities.

The company announced it had exceeded one and half million page views as of May 2008. As it continues to grow, Kobs said he'd welcome the opportunity to once again reach out to a familiar place for additional help. "I would like to add more people from Case Western Reserve University."

For more information contact Kimyette Finley, 216.368.0521.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, July 24, 2008 10:20 AM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, Students, Weatherhead School of Management, features

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