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Happy Birthday, Trulia Rentals

Amidst the mortgage crisis, Trulia took a gamble and launched Trulia Rentals. Here’s a look back at how it all came to be.

Time sure flies when you’re having fun. Last week, Trulia Rentals celebrated its sixth birthday (!), which prompted me to take a walk down memory lane to late 2009/early 2010, to the launch of Trulia Rentals.

For those who might not clearly remember all the way back to 2009 – or who’ve just opted to block it out – I suggest you watch the “Big Short.” The core industry in which Trulia operated (real estate) could only be described as grim, at best. The mortgage industry imploded and huge banks like Bear Stearns went completely under. It’s against that backdrop in the fall of 2009 that Trulia had some hard thinking to do about what our next big investment would be.

Enter rentals. The idea of posting rental listings wasn’t exactly a major creative leap for us – nearly everyone in the company, including our two cofounders, rented. (One of our cofounders, in fact, permanently rented a car because he didn’t believe in owning much of anything, but that’s a story for another day.) Because we were all renters, adding rentals to Trulia was an idea we could pretty much all get behind. How cool is it if your startup produces something that you can actually use yourself? Answer: Very cool.

Of course, there were other factors to consider beyond just creating a product our employees could use. After all, if that was the only necessary justification of product development effort, we would have long since launched apps to order beef jerky on demand, or to take over people’s music libraries and replace all songs with Rick Astley or David Hasselhoff. No, we also needed to look at the real business opportunity. Rentals passed this test, too. Our users told us they wanted rentals. We were even already getting a few rental listings from some of our feed providers. And we knew the general “finding a place” user experience would include a lot of overlap with our existing product features, including maps, search alerts, etc.

So, we called the shot and declared rentals to be Trulia’s number one focus. We rallied all employees — probably 50 at the time — in the basement of our San Francisco headquarters and spent a full day kicking around ideas. From there, we chartered a formal Trulia Rentals team that would lead the charge, but also made it very clear that virtually every other team in the company would help as well, and forged on.

This effort impacted everyone. Our feeds team needed to start accepting rentals feeds. Our search team needed to make rentals available to search. We had to geocode all listings to make them visible on maps. Our email systems had to be updated to alert users of new listings that matched their rental searches. Our customer support teams needed to know what we were doing. It was a LOT of work, but it was fun because it was a project that cut across pretty much every team within Trulia. It was one of those projects that pulls a company together because they all shared the same goal. It was exciting.

Getting Trulia Rentals out the door was not without its hiccups. About four hours post-launch, we had the worst hardware failure we’ve ever experienced, and still ever experienced to this day. This event, later dubbed “Truliapocalypse,” resulted in a large chunk of our tech team staying up for 36 hours straight to bring Trulia (and its new rentals content) back to life. While stressful, these all-nighter launches bonded our team together in ways that paid dividends down the road.

Trulia Rentals at launch and today.

Trulia Rentals at launch and today.

Today, I couldn’t be more proud of what the team has accomplished together. Trulia Rentals now has twice the traffic that all of Trulia had six years ago. Our Trulia Rental apps for iOS and Android have been at or near the top of their peer set for virtually their entire existence, and we continue to roll out cool features to delight renters everywhere – more on that later.

I can’t wait to see what the next six years will bring!