How Leesy is shifting the goalposts so homeownership is no longer the goal for the next generation of renters

Holly Brooks
April 17, 2023
Leesy team

If you haven’t personally experienced the horrors of renting, chances are you know someone who has. Renting is a painful experience further exasperated by the fact that a whole generation of renters have been excluded from the prospects of homeownership. 

But don’t despair. Leesy’s vision is to make renters love renting. 

Founders Michael Watson, Eddie Dostine and Nick Ruzhnikov are leading this mission, launching Leesy (previously known as Nook) in early 2022. 

“We are trying to make renting the preferred lifestyle. In today’s market, homeownership is not only unrealistic, it is unfavourable. A 30 + year mortgage is both crippling and limiting. Circumstances change, people grow, lifestyles evolve. Sitting in the same house for 30 years is not the way to live your life.” 


“To start, we’re eliminating frustrating open houses and repetitive application processes so that finding and securing a rental home is as easy as reserving an AirBnB.”

The Origin Story

In 2017, Michael moved to San Francisco (SF) with a great rental history, decent bank balance, and a tech job in Silicon Valley that would have most real estate agents pouncing at his application. 

After countless unsuccessful applications and several missed inspections (owing to his laser-focus work ethic), he settled for an apartment in the infamous ‘Tenderloin’ of SF (think King's Cross in its hay day but wayyyy worse). 

“I was waking up in the middle of the night to crack addicts fighting and walking to work with syringes all over the place. Every day in that apartment was a grind”

As soon as his 1-year lease was up, Michael quickly searched for other options and when the right property came online, he ditched work, convinced the property manager to open up out of hours, and offered $6000 cash to secure the property on the spot.

If you read the news today, there is no shortage of grim rental stories like Michaels taking place every day in Australia and throughout the world. 

“Moving out of the tenderloin into my new rental home helped me blossom as a person. I attribute it to my success in becoming a great product manager and ultimately landing a job at Google.”

This was his light bulb moment. 

Where you call “home” has a huge impact on who you are and how you interact with other areas of your life. So in 2021, he hopped on a plane back to Australia ready to transform the rental market. 

Friends who bonded over their rental trauma  

After deciding to embark on this journey, Michael knew pretty quickly he wasn't going to be able to tackle a problem of this size on his own.

Michael reached out to Nick, an old friend and co-worker who had recently relocated to Washington DC and was feeling the pain of renting for a family of four. 

Nick heralds from the US and has been a world leading design director for over 15 years. Ex-Lumosity turned Leesy founder, Nick understands the power of design and advertising.

Next, he contacted Eddie, an old friend from uni who had just moved back to Sydney from dreamland Byron Bay. Eddie was baffled by the time and effort it took to find and secure a lease.

At uni, Eddie went the growth and operations route, landing him some cracker roles at big name unicorns during their glory days. Ex-Deliveroo, Ex-Uber, Ex-Airtasker… let’s just say, his startup experience is impressive.

Since joining forces, the trio have gone from strength to strength.

“We have a great dynamic. None of our skills overlap.”

As a result, the Leesy founders tackle their problems from three different lenses of expertise but ultimately their ‘foundationship’ works because they each hold a deep and mutual respect for one another. 

Experimenting playfully 

Michael, Nick and Eddie approach their growth strategies with a sense of play. They have been creative and experimental in the different ways they are growing Leesy.

“We spent the first few months at open homes. Every Saturday we would get all dressed up and pitch to renters and agents. That was great to get our first 100 customers.”

“Now we are focusing on social media and digital marketing. We have seen rapid improvements in our signups and referrals.”

For validation purposes, Leesy chose to launch their platform early, targeting a small geographical area known for its rental challenges - Sydney’s eastern suburbs. As they expand to other suburbs throughout Sydney and later Australia, they plan to become the platform of choice for renters. And then? Global domination. 

“Each month we are growing our activated users. We’re already leasing close to 1 in 10 properties (on the platform) which is impressive given our scale relative to that of our competitors.” 

Their growth to date is proof that the rental market is in dire need of innovation. Leesy is primed to disrupt.

When reflecting on their journey so far, Michael, Nick and Eddie agree that the key to their success has been the incredible Leesy team that they have established. 

“You create a great team and they build a great product. If you build a great product, you’ll get users. If you get users, you get investment. It all starts with the team.”

Equal to their playful team spirit is a drive to constantly seek out humbling advice. The founders regularly meet with advisors who tell them they should cut their losses and quit. 

“We want to understand why, so we can think through their logic.”

This may seem counterintuitive but the trio strongly believe that it is crucial as a founder to put yourself in a room full of critics from time to time. 

“Don’t close yourself off to external rationale. Have confidence that you know your business better than anyone, but always be willing to listen to other people.”

As easy as reserving an Airbnb

Looking to the future, Leesy has some bold ambitions. Among them, transforming the rental process so that securing a lease is as simple as reserving an Airbnb; creating a win-win for renters and agencies. 

“We’ve looked at it from the ground up. What is the ideal experience for both sides of the market?”

“At the moment, renting is time consuming and stressful but the process is just as painful for real estate agents and self-managed landlords.”

“We are eliminating inefficiencies at all levels to make renting frictionless and enjoyable for everyone involved.”

In the pipeline are other shiny features that target key areas such as services to help make moving frictionless and enjoyable, financial products that help reduce the stress of rental payments, and finally, partnerships with build-to-rent developers and councils to ensure the next generation of rental properties are fit for purpose and accessible for future renters. 

They have left no stone unturned. 

With only 2 weeks left to go of the Accelerator Program, the Leesy founders are building a ruthless momentum. They are poised for expansion and primed to become a world-leading rental platform. 

Renters, rejoice! The future looks bright.

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