Welcome back to our Founder Spotlight Series interviews, where we share insights, experiences, and advice from some of our client founders. In this interview, we sat down with Sheryl Song and KD Dao, the founders of Ryna, a co-living and apartment rental platform that leverages technology to make renting easier and safer for women, BIPOC communities, and other inclusive minded allies.
Moving to a new city can be exciting and, at times, a little frightening. You’re making new routines, discovering the fastest ways to get from A to B, and finding your new favourite coffee spot to do some work in.
But before any of that can happen, you need to find a place to call home. For many people in their 20s and 30s, finding an apartment or other home can be challenging— from choosing a roommate to making sure the place you’ve found is in a safe neighbourhood.
Those decisions and challenges come before the big one—finding a perfect place for you that meets your budget.
Addressing these challenges is the mission of Ryna and its founders, Sheryl Song and KD Dao. Before starting Ryna, Song and Dao both worked in commercial real estate and had met each other at industry events in Toronto and the GTA. The pair were quick friends and found a shared interest in creating communities. They started a networking group called The Future of Real Estate to help people new to commercial real estate connect with senior leaders in the space.
Song’s purchase of an investment property got the pair thinking about the challenges people face in finding places to rent and purchase. Dao was looking for housing at the time, and their conversations started seeding the idea of what would become Ryna.
“All my friends were either living with roommates or moved in on their own and I was looking for a new place to live and I asked Sheryl if she had a room for rent. Sheryl’s property was fully tenanted at the time, but she said we could work together on something, and that’s when we ended up taking over a friend’s investment property as a side project. After a month or two, we realized that this might be something bigger than just a side project,” Dao said.
Seeing the demand for what they were offering inspired Dao and Song to start crafting the initial ideas for what would become Ryna. While other marketplaces offer rental property search functionality, Ryna focuses on the rental journey. Dao said that new graduates looking for their first rental often need a roommate to cover rent and expenses—but finding a roommate usually means using open marketplaces with little to no vetting.
“Finding a roommate is very non-standardized right now. It usually happens through marketplaces like Facebook, Kijiji, or Craigslist. But you’re opening yourself up to all these variables. You’re either talking to someone for 15 minutes before deciding to sign a 12-month lease with them or you’re touring a stranger’s home or unit and you’re compromising your safety just to look for somewhere to live,” Dao said.
Ryna’s platform solves the problems of finding a roommate and a great place to rent that’s affordable and safe. First, they developed a roommate matching algorithm that connects compatible people together to live in two and three-bedroom apartments. Next, they partnered with select institutional landlords for their rental unit inventory. Dao said that the platform provides tenants with a safer and more standardized rental experience.
Since its inception, the company has run as a bootstrapped startup and is already generating revenue to help them scale. Song said they are looking to raise capital to help them move into new markets, but finding the best way to position themselves has been challenging.
“We are using technology to enable people to have a better experience when it comes to renting. But we don’t look like their traditional startup type. We are two minority women who are non-technical. I’m an immigrant from China. Then we’re trying to solve this very complex problem in a market that is worth trillions. Our challenge is just getting them over the hurdle of seeing the potential of it—it is a huge market waiting to be disrupted,” Song said.
Our team at the Accelerator Centre saw the potential in Ryna when they applied to the AC JumpStart program in 2020. Song and Dao had participated in other startup programs, but Song said they found something different at the Accelerator Centre.
“The Accelerator Centre is very much like if you have a question, and there are people and resources to help. My experience was that it is basically the essence of Canadians—very helpful. They’re here to teach you the basics and build a solid foundation,” Song added.
Another difference Song saw was in how the Accelerator Centre looks at growth.
“Other accelerators out there are more about hockey stick growth. Everybody likes hockey stick growth, but I think entrepreneurship is fundamentally about building a sustainable business that can uplift a community, that can employ people, and then make an impact to our economy,” Song said.
Song and Dao want to build Ryna to scale and last. She and Dao both said that overnight success isn’t really overnight—it takes years of preparation and work.
“The current messaging to young entrepreneurs glorifies the overnight success, but not actually putting the groundwork into building a solid foundation,” Song said. “The Accelerator Centre mentors work with you to build that solid foundation.”
One of those mentors is Kevin Hood, our B2B sales mentor. Song said Hood helped them refine their concept of how to build a sales process.
“Kevin taught us sales methodology. Before the Accelerator Centre, I thought I was a pretty convincing salesperson, but I realized I’m good at the initial pitch and getting people’s attention. The following up with a prospect piece is what I’m not good at,” Song said. “He taught us that sales is very much a process. If you don’t get the desired results right away. it’s not personal, it’s part of the process.”
Song said Hood was also instrumental in helping Ryna land their first major enterprise real estate partner.
“We went from one landlord partner last year and now have close to 15. That is really critical for us,” Song added.
Song and Dao are excited to scale Ryna beyond their Toronto launch market. Today, they have properties in Ottawa and Montreal and are looking at a more extensive national expansion.
“Our partners are across Canada and they’ve been asking us to expand to Vancouver and Halifax. We’re ramping up operations to start in those cities in the next couple of months,” Dao said.
Visit theryna.com to learn more about their innovative real estate tech platform.