Launched: StableRenters tracks NYC landlords

Ben Sacks was a 2011 winner of the We Media PitchIt Challenge for a startup idea to help renters learn more about landlords. In addition to $25,000 in seed capital to help them get going, PitchIt winners gain access to a network of We Media Mentors – and they agree to “pay it forward” by sharing their experiences to help other founders who follow in their footsteps. The 2012 PitchIt Challenge is now open for entries. The submission deadline is March 13, 2012.

This past week, reached a huge milestone and launched its first beta version with information on 133,000 addresses in New York City.

The site is still limited to two huge datasets available from the city government, but it details the open complaints made to the city by tenants at each address and lists the humans behind the shell corporations and LLC’s that own the buildings. Also, each of these names is hyperlinked so any user can see what else these landlords own. That’s a huge value for any real estate researcher or tenant advocate, and something no website has done yet.

Because this all uses public data from New York City, I decided to enter it into the NYC BigApps Challenge, the city-run competition that encourages innovation with city data to improve New Yorkers’ lives. With a grand prize of $10k, a bunch of press, and a stamp of approval from the city, the competition is a huge opportunity for StableRenters.

So please cast your vote before March 8 and forever change the nature of renting a home.

Unlike the We Media Pitchit Challenge though, which asked contestants to solicit one vote from each person they could, the BigApps Challenge allows each voter to cast their vote every day. So thank you in advance for all the help you’re able to lend, but this rule is a bit much. The point of voting in contests like these is to raise public awareness about them virally (i.e. turning your contestants into your best marketers), and to force contestants to go all out and tell everyone they know about their project in what is oftentimes their first formidable PR exercise. That’s what I did last year, and it was great.

But I’m skeptical about the benefit of this every-day rule. More tweets will go out, more Facebook posts and emails, but all will reach the same people. The assumption seems to be that it exhibits a greater level of dedication on the part of voters. This may be true, but so what? Just like elections for high school class president, getting more votes doesn’t mean it’s better. In fact, a friend of mine culled through the 30 top-voted apps and found at least five that are completely non-functional or don’t exist at all (some said, “iPhone app coming soon,” for example), and many more that are exact replicas from years past. Some of these have more than 1,000 votes without a product. So let’s stick to “one person, one vote” and quit having to annoy our friends and family with the same request every day for a month.

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