Local entrepreneur turns problem into business model
When Marcus Medley set out to launch Apace Forms, a company that provides easy-to-use templates for real estate contracts, he knew it all started with the answer to a very simple question: What is a problem I face that needs to be solved?
A real estate broker himself, Medley came upon the answer last fall when he was doing trim work on his house and received news that a client needed to submit a timely offer. He rushed home and completed the tedious paperwork just in time, but only barely. It took 45 minutes.
“I knew that was unacceptable, that I needed to be able to submit it much faster and know it was 100% accurate. I knew I needed to automate the process,” he said.
He began brainstorming with his wife and eventual co-founder, Jayleese Le Blanc. “I really value her feedback,” Medley explained. “She’s great at analyzing how people think and feel, and she brings that to Apace.”
The one person Medley’s team was lacking was a software developer. So he called on Steven May to implement his and his wife’s visions for the Apace software and interface, then launched the company in January of this year.
And then, of course, COVID-19 broke out and everything came to a halt. The real estate market slowed down, and then with summer came the national Black Lives Matter protests.
“It didn’t feel like the right time to launch a company,” Medley said.
It was in early July, when he went to an open house in Roxbury and saw that the line snaked out the door, that he knew it was time to launch. Not long after, he was working with a young couple who were number 30 in the offer line on a property.
“I realized, that’s 30 people who could’ve used Apace,” he said.
He started with a minimal viable product (MVP), which he sent to his network of agents and investors throughout the city. So far, the feedback has been promising.
“The biggest compliment is how simple it is,” Medley said. “And the fact that you can use it on your phone.” Medley plans to launch a mobile app in the future, if user feedback supports it. “The one thing users want the platform to have is the ability to e-sign, so we’re working on that as we speak.”
Next, Apace rolled out the product for the public. The membership is month-to-month, and users can choose between the Simple and Seasoned plans, which are $6.99 and $9.99 respectively. The Seasoned Plan has unlimited templates, while the Simple Plan has five. Both provide 24/7 email support, secure backups and PDF sharing. Users also get a free 30-day trial upon signup, which is why Medley hasn’t yet been able to gauge usage beyond the initial testing group of 15 users. He estimates that 30 or so users have signed up for membership in total.
If Medley sounds like a studied entrepreneur, that’s because he is — in a sense. He moved from Boston to Los Angeles seven years ago and began working at Silicon Valley Bank, which largely lends to startups. So at 23 years old, Medley was exposed to now-booming companies right at their inception — companies like FitBit and Baobab Studios. He learned what makes a successful startup, and knew he wanted to one day be an entrepreneur that Silicon Valley Bank lent to.
“I spent the last five years looking for a problem that needed to be solved,” Medley said. Apace is not his first startup — he left Silicon Valley Bank to launch NapHub, a company that sold 4×6-foot napping pods for nooks in public spaces like airports and universities, which passersby could rent out by the hour. He had interest from South Station and Logan Airport, but realized he wasn’t ready to be a CEO.
“I found I was going about it the wrong way, and then I realized maybe I needed to solve a problem I face,” Medley said.
With more experience under his belt, Medley built his second business strategically. He decided to self-fund in favor of more autonomy, rather than appealing to investors and possibly compromising his vision. He put aside money from his 9-to-5 job at a local bank and from his real estate broker work — making Apace his third job — and was able to launch the company only a year-and-a-half after its first conception.
Looking forward, Medley is cautiously planning the growth of his company.
“One of the ways startups fail is by growing too fast and not being able to keep up,” he said.
Thankfully, the nature of his business necessitates a slower expansion.
“With real estate, every state has different disclosures. For example, in Massachusetts if a house was built before 1978, the buyer needs to confirm they received lead certification.”
These unique disclosures require careful state-by-state expansion. For the first year, Apace is focused on Massachusetts, which is a good housing market with lots of work for real estate brokers and agents — who, in turn, could use a software like Apace. Medley then plans to expand to neighboring states — Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and eventually across the country to California.
For now, Medley is waiting to see how Apace does in this first quarter and using the software to streamline his own real estate work. “I told my wife, even if Apace Forms doesn’t work out, I’m still going to use it,” Medley said.