The rising number of luxury apartment buildings is putting property managers under increasing pressure to entice new tenants — and to convince current ones to stay when their lease is up. 

When round-the-clock doormen, a state-of-the-art fitness center and a residential lounge are seen as standard, how can property managers set their building apart?

Jude Chiy founded resident engagement platform Flamingo to offer a solution. Not only can residents use it to do useful things like pay rent and make maintenance requests, Flamingo also allows property managers to easily offer concierge-style services like dog-walking, cleaning and personal training sessions. 

To keep everything streamlined, the app is white labeled so it matches the property’s own branding and is listed under the property’s name in the app store.

Flamingo’s real value is that it offers tools that foster a sense of community among residents.

“There are a lot of different studies that have shown that if you know three to five people in your building, you’re 50 percent more likely to renew your lease,” Jude explains. 

In his interview at the WGN Studios, he expanded on the importance of community, the winding road he took to Flamingo, and where exactly that name came from.

The flamingo among the pigeons

Scott: Why did you call it Flamingo?

Jude Chiy, CEO, Flamingo (Sam Fiske/Technori)

Jude: From four months of talking with a ton of property managers, the one thing that always came up — their biggest challenge — is how do they stand out. They say, I have this property, and I have this competitor that’s literally four feet away: how do I stand out from that when I’m offering exactly the same amenities? We have the pool, we have the fitness center, we have a resident lounge, but my competitors all have the same things. 

Thinking about how we wanted to position ourselves, our whole mission was helping them stand out. So the name Flamingo was just natural: we help you stand out like a flamingo in a flock of pigeons. 

Scott: What does Flamingo do?

Jude: Flamingo is a resident engagement platform. We make it super easy for property managers to attract and engage their residents. They can log on to our website and book resident events, whether it’s fitness classes or bringing a chef to the building to do a sushi-making class. And the residents get an app that’s completely branded to the property which they can use for pretty much anything, from rent payment to booking a maid. We are really an all-in-one engagement platform. 

Scott: I would love to know what the conversation with property managers looks like: how do you identify specifically what they’re looking for?

Jude: We usually focus on events, because we know for most property managers that’s one of the biggest pain points. They have a budget to do resident events, but as a property manager you have a long task-list of things you have to do every single day, every single week and every single month, and events fall on the back end of that. So at the end of the month, you might have done all the things you need to do, but then you’re like, oh crap, I have to book events for next month. 

Scott: What is the value that they’re trying to create through events?

Jude: It’s a couple of things. It’s the comradery, it’s community-building. There are a lot of different studies that have shown that if you know three to five people in your building, you’re 50 percent more likely to renew your lease. 

Right now, we don’t have enough data to actually prove that, and that’s one of the things that we are actively tracking over the next two or three years, to see how the different groups function. 

So if someone is attending XYZ number of events, how does that change how long they stay in the building? We don’t have quantitative data at the moment, but we have residents that have said, I renewed my lease because of X, Y or Z. We had one resident email us that the reason why she is renewing her lease is because she really loved the yoga classes. 

The long road to the right idea

Scott: What is your background, and how did you identify this as an opportunity and start chasing it?

Jude: It evolved a lot! I was pre-med in college: I always wanted to go to med school, and then towards the end of my senior year, I realized that there’s a lot more to do on the business and operations side of healthcare. So I decided that it made sense to go into healthcare management.  

After being in healthcare management for a few years, I realized that there’s a big opportunity on the prevention side of healthcare, so I decided to leave my old employer and start my own company. The first iteration of this company was called Hello Healthy. When I reached out to you, that’s when we were making the pivot to Flamingo, and trying to figure out what we should call it and what makes sense. 

We went into providing fitness classes and other things to apartment buildings, offices, and senior centers. Initially we focused on office buildings. The whole goal was, how do you get people healthy? My theory was it’s much easier to bring it to where they are — bring fitness classes and other things to offices. Tried that, it didn’t quite work. Turns out people hate working out in the middle of the day! The challenge for a lot of people at the office is some of the smaller logistics, like I have to undress, I have this meeting and I don’t know when it’s going to start or if it’s going to end late. So it was just more of a challenge for commercial properties —  we’ve figured it out since then. 

After trying that, we pivoted to working with senior centers, trying to bring fitness and other things. And the theory behind that was there is a hugely growing aging population, so it was looking for ways to keep them entertained, keep them healthy, and provide a variety of services. We tried that, and that also didn’t quite work. And then finally we decided to move on to apartment buildings. The initial goal was just providing fitness classes to the buildings, but then we spent about four months just walking from high rise to high rise all over Chicago, to really understand the needs, talking with the property managers, the front desk, with residents.

Future-proofing with tech and tracking

Scott: What do you need to do next? What are the most important things for you to get right for this to work?

Jude: A couple of things. It’s onboarding new properties that we have, really focusing on customer success. We get into a lot of buildings, and the whole goal now is how do we actually make those buildings successful? So how do we plan for two, three years from now when they are asking, OK, we’ve done a hundred different events, how has that actually impacted our ride? So we are future-proofing for that. We track pretty much everything residents do, track who’s attending what event and what the feedback is from those events, and then tracking those individuals over time. 

The second one is we are continuing to build out the technology. We are really an all-in-one platform, and part of that is integrating with the systems that they currently use. Pretty much every building has a resident portal residents use to pay rent or request maintenance. We are integrating with all those different portals to make it even easier for them to request those services directly through the app.