Spencer Burleigh: Founder of Rent the Backyard – Ep. 67

Highlights Video:

About Spencer Burleigh:

Spencer Burleigh is the founder and president of Rent the Backyard, a Y Combinator-backed startup that’s aiming to solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond.

His innovative approach involves building pre-fabricated ADUs (or additional dwelling units) in the backyard of people who have them. The result? Affordable housing for the people living in the backyard, greater population density, less wasted space, and extra income for homeowners. It’s a really cool win/win/win that’s taking off, and it just might be coming to an area near you soon. Let’s learn how this man saw a big problem and came up with a solution, getting the attention of Silicon Valley’s top brass. 

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03:34 – “I’ve always really been a big urban planning nerd, so thinking about the built environment and how we can build cities for people and not for cars.”

7:44 – “California passed all these different laws that make it really easy to build like a house in your backyard. And I was tracking those really closely, because I like the idea of like adding density and also keeping money in a community.”

9:13 – “The very first business model was one where we pay for the house upfront and then kind of let people split the rental income with them. So that’s a lot more reminiscent of the type of thing you’d see in the solar industry.”

11:50 – “…we got into the laws and actually figured out… what is allowed? How many backyards could this actually serve? So it was a lot of just market qualification and understanding what’s possible here. From there it was just reading a lot of books, actually.”

16:57 – “We ended up applying to do Y Combinator, which is one of the better known [accelerators]. They found companies like Airbnb and DoorDash, and we were fortunate enough to get accepted.”

19:44 – “We are always surprised by like, what stuff is easy and what stuff is hard. So like anything in the physical environment… generally will take twice as long as you expect it to.”

22:23 – “I really hate inefficiency, and housing is probably the most inefficient part of society right now. So there have been a couple of different studies that have said, if you relax zoning restrictions in San Francisco, San Jose, and New York City, U.S. GDP would be four percent higher.”

24:22 – “It certainly felt risky compared to what my peers were doing.”

25:32 – “Progress can be measured in a few different ways, so you get the the short term like kind of high that comes with a successful fundraise. But it’s not actually very real in a lot of senses. So I think like the thing that really motivates me a day is like actual sales and customers that are willing to pay us several hundred thousand dollars to build one of these things for them and to hear their stories of how this is going to change their life and how like an extra couple thousand dollars in their pocket every single month is really going to make a difference.”

26:54 – “If you can’t afford to live in the neighborhood you grew up and you need to find somewhere else to live, and that’s just really sad.”

31:20 – “I think in general it’s nice to have someone (a co-founder) that you can be up against the world with. That’s really valuable, right? You can kind of you help each other out. …ideally some someone with complementary skills and you just have someone to be on the entire journey with in a way that you can’t necessarily get from your friends or significant others.”

33:45 – “Brian and I have built businesses before, which is probably advice that I would give to people when they’re thinking about starting a company.” “I think you go faster and I think you can go further with a co-founder in general.”

41:55 – “Automation is super important in the factory. …if there were like five steps to building one hundred houses in a year, we’re probably in like step three.”

Book rec: Seven Eves by Neil Stevenson

46:09 – “I generally really like sci-fi just because I love the idea of dreaming about what the future is like.”

50:47 – “So I think a lot of people, especially the early days, could could use more of the smooth curve (of bootstrapping), so that they get that experience of building something and putting in the work and all of that.”

52:06 – ” I think one of the most important things you can do is try to sell the thing and see if someone buys it, even if like the thing doesn’t exist yet.”

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