Turning Lockdown into an Opportunity to Build a Side Hustle

By Alexandra Cain

Lion’s David Brennan’s own experience in the rental market was the catalyst for him to establish his proptech – or property technology – venture, TenantTales. The site allows tenants to review landlords and rental properties around Australia.

David Brennan

“I rent a property in Melbourne and it got me thinking that while landlords are able to reference check tenants, there’s nothing similar in reverse,” he explains. 

TenantTales’ purpose isn’t to name and shame landlords. Rather, it’s about tenants being able to give future renters real information about a property. For instance, tenants may note a property is in a great location and on good transport links. But they may also point out one of the rooms faces north and in summer gets very hot without an air conditioner. This information helps prospective tenants make decisions about the right property for their needs.

It’s the perfect moment to launch a service like this given the balance of power has swung from landlords to renters during the pandemic as a result of the federal government’s moratorium on evictions.

Additionally, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures, over the past decade the proportion of renters among Australian households has risen from 27 per cent to 32 per cent. The growing number of renters in the market should help support TenantTales’ future success.    

Best of both worlds

Melbourne-based Brennan, who has used the lockdown period to work on his new venture, is fortunate Lion encourages its staff to start side hustles if they don’t interfere with their regular job. In fact, moving into a new role working on a large digital transformation project at the food and beverage group opened Brennan’s eyes to what’s possible with technology and encouraged him to flex his muscle outside his day job.

A work mate’s experience setting up a tech company while also working at Lion further buoyed his resolve. “One of my colleagues set up a company building web sites with the help of tech talent based in India. His experience encouraged me to set up my own prop tech venture.” Brennan’s colleague provided practical support building TenantTales.  

Brennan was able to draw on his experience at Lion when establishing his new venture. “It’s a similar process building a web site versus a large project. The steps you take around user acceptance testing are alike.”

Technology such as Slack made it easy for him to communicate with the development team in India and Auckland during the two-month period when the site was being built. 

Brennan’s advice to other senior finance executives keen to set up a start-up is to find the right technology partners with which to work. “That’s the key,” he advises.

He also says it’s important to be cognisant of the differences between working for a big company and a fledgling one. “You need to be able to multitask and work across all areas of the business.”

Keeping things simple in the early days and for the site’s first version was important. For instance, while the TenantTales’ web site is live, the team is still working on an app. “We’ve had to make some hard decisions and what we have now is far from the finished product.”

Brennan, who vets each review before it’s posted on TenantTales, ran a successful marketing campaign through June and July across Google and Facebook to encourage users to the site. He will continue to invest in digital marketing and social media campaigns to attract new users. 

At the moment, he’s looking to build relationships with potential sponsors such as utilities and telcos, as well as investors, to take TenantTales to the next level. He’s also in the process of exploring adjacencies such as offering rental properties through the site. 

Over time, Brennan has international ambitions, with plans to expand to New Zealand and the UK.