As the global pandemic continues to develop across the United States, my several jobs (husband, father, CEO of Rhino, multifamily owner and developer) have forced me to think about the best ways to protect my family, employees, customers, partners, and investors…all at the same time. We’re three weeks into this domestic crisis and the next three weeks still feel completely unpredictable. I’m sure there will continue to be new things to deal with, but I wanted to stop and reflect on what we’ve learned so far. Our team is assessing various potential impacts to our business in real-time and we’ve already begun implementing several new risk mitigation strategies.
The last three weeks have mobilized our team in ways we never expected, and we’re learning what it’ll take to push forward. Here’s what we know so far:
Inbound emails were up 55% last week alone. The inboxes of our Customer Support and Partnerships teams have been flooded with messages from owners and renters dealing with uncertainty. They’re asking for help, they’re telling their stories, and they’re reminding us why what we do is so important. Renters need their cash more than ever because savings provide certainty. Leasing teams need to keep their units occupied and stay protected from the uncertainties that existed even before all of this. COVID-19 has motivated our team to do our best work because people depend on us, especially now.
We have strong insurance relationships and investment backers and can say with confidence that we stand 100% behind every Rhino policy. We maintain the ability to settle all valid claims and continue to write new policies without interruption. We’ve also worked hard to build investment capital that will allow us to fund company operations for years, even in the most extreme scenarios. On top of that, we’ve taken steps to reduce costs for the duration of this pandemic to further insulate ourselves from uncertainty.
We’re here for renters. Our team launched two new renter-facing programs in response to COVID-19 because stable and affordable housing is an important part of people’s ability to stay healthy.
Last week, we sent tens of thousands of Rhino renters a hardship letter template to help them open discussion with their property management team about flexible payment plans to avoid missing rent due to lost income. Most renters want to do what it takes to be a good resident, but sometimes they don’t feel confident enough to engage in proactive dialogue with their landlord. So far, we’ve had hundreds of renters reply and some of our landlord partners even reached out to thank us and shared that the template was being used within their networks.
Just before April rent was due, we piloted an emergency partial rent-relief program
to help Rhino renters who’ve been hit the hardest by this situation. We’re issuing our first batch of grants this week. We’re also in discussions with several national banks to scale this program to help even more renters.
It feels almost ridiculous to say in light of everything else, but March 2020 was the highest growth month in our company’s history. We onboarded over 118,000 new homes, signed up thousands of new renters, and have never been busier. We set high goals on March 1, exceeded them, then realized by the end of the month that they didn’t matter at all anymore. What matters now is making sure we continue to navigate the pandemic and support our renters, partners, and employees as best we can.
We’re an insurance business during an unprecedented global catastrophe that’s still unfolding in front of us. We’ve had to adjust to irregularities no one has seen before these past few weeks and anyone who says they’ve “modeled this scenario” isn’t telling the truth. Our team has been forced to dig in and work smart, reviewing data points as they come in and making decisions quickly. In just 10 days our risk team rebuilt our end-to-end review and monitoring program that prevents misuse of Rhino policies and keeps our partners supported at every step. We’re not going to let a few bad actors keep good work from happening.
We’ve been believers of remote work and distributed teams for a while. Our first website was built by our CTO in New York City and 6 developers spanning from Eastern Europe to Pakistan. Today we’re 54 full-time employees in 4 countries and 14 cities. We’ve been using Zoom for as long as we can remember. When social distancing forced us out of our office, we felt we were as well-prepared as anyone could be. Thankfully we didn’t miss a beat. The changes brought on by COVID-19 are accelerating the acceptance of distributed teams as a legitimate part of healthy work culture — a trend that’s been on the horizon for years now.
As I kick off my fourth week working from home, I’m settling into my new normal. My days start with NPR’s 5-minute news summary, a quick read of the New York Times “Live COVID-19 Updates,” and breakfast with the kids. After that I dive into my meetings for the day to assess, react, listen, lead and push forward.
Whatever the coming months will bring is anyone’s guess, but what’s given me comfort has been watching each and every member of our team step up and prioritize projects with an intensity that truly matches the situation we’re in. This isn’t our first challenge over the last four years and it certainly won’t be our last.
Wear a mask. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay at least six feet apart. And always provide help where you can. We’re certainly going to do our part.
CEO of Rhino