Feeling Home @ RadPad
Everyone needs a home. Whether the home is for a sweet residence to have a family together, a roof that protects from rain and snow, or a pseudo-office where you can live and work to put a ding in the universe, we all know that everyone needs a home.
But finding a home is not easy. If you happen to live in San Francisco or New York, you probably know how difficult it is more than anybody else. Is Los Angeles any better? It’s still tough. There are two dozens of unique neighborhoods in the range of 50 miles, and you have to ask a series of questions such as — “What neighborhood is pet-friendly?” “Where would I not need a car?” “Do they have good coffee and beer around?” The list goes on.
Frustrated by one of the most fundamental problems we all face at one point in our lives, there is about two dozens of people in Santa Monica who are tinkering with nuts and bolts to provide the society a solution; a technology that gives you the peace of mind and beautiful user experience. RadPad is a mobile marketplace app for millennial renters, where you can easily discover real-time listings, apply for the lease and rent , and pay the rent with a debit or credit card all in one app.
Born from the frustration of renting experience of themselves, Tyler and two other co-founders, Jon and Tim, started the company in 2013. After its launch in Los Angeles, it has now expanded its market to Chicago, Washington D.C, Houston, Miami and more.
Beyond the office door that has a wooden RadPad logo, a giant R, co-founder and creative director, Tyler from Canada, and senior software engineer, Justin from China, were waiting for me to share their stories of finding their another kind of home, home in the United States.
Q1. All Immigrants Have Their Stories. What Was Your Journey to the States?
I’m originally from China, and I came to the United States in 2012 to study Masters in Electrical Engineering at University of Southern California. Who wouldn’t come to study in Southern California with its beautiful weather? After finishing my education, I started working at GOOD Magazine under F-1 OPT*. Later, I applied for H-1B* visa with sponsorship from GOOD.
The process of H1-B was really tough. I was the first foreign employee to be hired by GOOD, so their legal team had no experience in sponsoring an H-1B employee before. We had to learn a lot of things on-the-go, but fortunately after few months, I was able to get my visa. Since then, I’ve been living and working here under the same status.
I’m originally from Toronto, Canada and I lived there until about 2 years ago. I met my co-founder Jon in 2011 because he hired me to do some freelance design work for a project of his. Fast-forward to 2012, and Jon emails me out of the blue. He had this idea about a photo-based apartment search app and he knew I was an avid renter. When he asked me to join as a co-founder I said yes. I knew first-hand how awful the process of finding a place to live was, and I believed we could do something about it. At the time, we had no funding and other co-founder Tim was living on the floor at Jon’s place on a twin air mattress. After few months, we finally got some angel investment, and in January we joined the Amplify.la accelerator. I packed my car with one suitcase full of clothes and $2,000 in cash and did a land-crossing into the U.S. with a visitor visa. When I arrived here in L.A., I couldn’t open my bank account or sign a lease, so I had to move 6 times in 6 months from Century City, to Marina del Rey, to Hollywood, and to Santa Monica. I couldn’t legally work, but I could officially attend important meetings and strategize.
The following summer, I applied for my O-1, but I got rejected straight up. What I learned later is that there are four processing centers in the Untied States, and California is the toughest one to go through, since a lot of tech companies submit to the California office for immigration visas. Luckily, we had a back-end engineer in North Carolina, so we set up an office there, and applied for an O-1 again but this time through the Vermont office. Thankfully it went through. From there, I could finally get my social security number, insurance and other basic life stuff that is important.
Q2. Different Countries and Companies — What Were the Differences You Faced Along the Journey?
I come from a banking family. My mother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, and brother all work in banking. So from very young age, I thought I would study business in college, and work as a financial advisor or investment banker, trading stocks. I took summer jobs in banking for six summers in a row since I was 15, while I was doing design on the side. One summer, when I was in college for business, I was hating my summer job. Andrew Wilkinson, the CEO of MetaLab, found my design work online, and told me banking sucks, so I should drop out of school, and work for him.I could work remotely from Toronto, though the company is based in British Columbia, and I would be getting a salary. In my entire life, I was told to go to college, study business, get a job in bank, and have a house and a family. He told me to think about it, and I did.
One day, my boss printed off 600 pages of spreadsheets, and told me I had to deal with it. That’s when I questioned myself if I wanted to keep doing this for rest of my life. The answer was obviously no, so I decided to drop out of school, and started working for MetaLab. If it wasn’t going to work out in 4 months, I was planning on going back to school; but it did work out well. I was getting a lot of job inquires and projects so that I decided to part away from MetaLab, and start my own business; and I ran it for three years. During those years, I saw some of my design projects becoming successful, raising millions of dollars. Then I wanted to become a part of something bigger, in a more significant way. So what’s why I decided to leave Toronto, and came here to join Jon, Tim and RadPad.
The American culture wasn’t much of a shock though, since America and Canada are very similar. But sometimes I get made fun of my accent and the way I spell certain words. I’m from a place that is negative degrees in Fahrenheit during the winter and over 100 degrees in the summer, so the weather here makes me not miss my home much.
After my first year at USC, I decided to go back to China to see my family and friends, while interning over the summer. I took a job at a big consulting firm that has more than 50 floors in their building. Their meetings would frequently talk about millions of dollars of acquisitions, and you’d see people in suits everyday. At first, I was excited to wear suits everyday, but after couple days, it was just a horrible experience in the summer, especially in the subway. At there, I was mostly doing PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets, and thought to myself, I’m an engineering major, and I shouldn’t be doing this for my job.
In my second year, I decided to find a job in the tech industry, and started interning at GOOD Magazine in the last semester. So right after I graduated, they offered me a full-time position, and I didn’t have to worry about job hunting. GOOD is a media company, so everyone is chill, outgoing and energetic. I thought the culture there was really great, and liked how everyone was treated equally. I felt like I was a part of the family, and was able to make a lot of great friends over two years, who are still in touch. After trying out few technical side projects with my friends, I decided to try something new, and join a successful startup. One day, a recruiter contacted me about RadPad, and I downloaded their app. I was so impressed by the app, all designed and built by Tyler and Tim, I visited the office for an interview. I was shocked, since they just moved into their new Santa Monica office, and it only had two tables with plastic chairs. In the end, I decided to take the job, and here I am to help building RadPad.
Q3. If You Have to Pick One Advantage and One Disadvantage in Your Journey, What Would They Be?
I will start with my disadvantage. My biggest disadvantage was that I never graduated from school. I dropped out of a business school, but passion was design. If I had gone to an art school, I could have just gone to the border office with few immigration papers, and apply for a TN*. So I had to apply for an O-1, which took me 9 months and thousands of dollars. I had to seek out for letters of recommendation from friends and investors, and it was just a huge obstacle for me.
One advantage I had though is how RadPad has been so patient and successful, and how everyone has been so supportive of me in this process, though my odds were stacking against me. Without their support, I would have had a tougher time, but I’m really grateful how everyone has been really supportive of me.
My disadvantage is probably the language barrier, as English is not my first language. I’m not perfect at English, so it takes extra time to learn how to express something better and properly. It sometimes creates unnecessary miscommunication, so I wish I could make a lot of things clearer in communication.
My advantage though is my personality, I think. I like to make friends and be polite and respectful to everybody, so I find it easy to make new friends anywhere. Wherever I go, I’m grateful to have people I can trust and people who trust me.
Q4. With All the Things Have Happened, What Has Surprised You the Most?
The workflow at RadPad has definitely surprised me the most. At GOOD, I was used to work in a more chill environment, less packed schedule and celebrating culture with a lot of people. Since I started working at RadPad, the environment has completely changed, in a good way. There is a lot of pressure at a startup, since there are not many people to take care of the work. Sometimes you have to learn new things you’ve never done before, and have willingness to commit extra work. But I feel really lucky to join RadPad, and actually wish I joined it earlier. I love how the work now challenges me with a lot of new problems, and constantly pushes me to become better at doing things.
I’m surprised by how quickly everything has happened in last three years. I remember the day I visited Jon’s place to work together as if it was yesterday; Jon was emailing venture capitalists to raise money for the company, and Tim was coding the iOS app. Now days, we have a weekly town hall meetings for the team across the nation, and it’s crazy to hear the latest metrics of these days, compared to the ones from the beginning. It just surprises me a lot how quickly the time has gone by, and how successful RadPad has been along the journey.
Q5. A Long Way Ahead, Lots to be Done — What Is Next in Your Journey?
My O-1 came with three years, and I have two years to go. Justin and I are both in process of obtaining the Green Card* which will be a long and expensive process. For me, I would have to prove in next few years that I have even more extraordinary abilities than I proved before, so I would have to make public speakings, and contribute to the designer community. Justin’s case is little different, since he’s on H-1B, but Team RadPad is lucky to have a brilliant engineer like Justin, and is more than happy to support and sponsor through the process. It’s sad to see talented and educated people like Justin having a difficult time staying in the United States, and sometimes even giving up, and going back to where they were from.
For me, it’s gonna be a really long process, since China and India have different quota than other countries. There is a long que for the Green Card based on H-1B, and it would probably take me 5 years or more. I’m not worried too much though, since RadPad has been really great, and everyone has been really supportive of me; so I’d like to focus on helping RadPad grow.
The incredible journey for Team RadPad has just begun, and I can only imagine to hear bigger and better news from them. Tyler and Justin may be working to help other people find their home, but at the end of the day, I found Tyler and Justin home at RadPad, and could not imagine a better one.
“American Dream is not dead yet.”
Millions of people around the world are still eager to sacrifice everything they have, and bring their family to the United States, get the most prestigious education in the world, and contribute to the workforce and economy. Guy Kawasaki wants to create a brain drain that sucks all the talents around the world, Paul Graham wants to let the other 95% programmers in the world into the United States, and Mark Zuckerberg wants to influence and reform the immigration policy with the leading technology, while thousands of highly skilled and talented immigrants are struggling everyday like this and this due to the outdated laws with technicality, not to mention the gridlock in the Congress. Finding home is not easy. But there should be brilliant ways to make it easier just like what RadPad is doing to the real estate.