Changing the way Canadians pay rent—Liza Akhvledziani | Founder Files E4
Have you ever wondered what is it like to be a tech startup founder and bring an idea to life?
Founder Files is a series of conversations with founders in the earliest days of their entrepreneurial journey hosted by Antler Canada. Guests are founders of our portfolio companies and founders in residence, currently building the next big ventures. Learn about their experiences of finding a co-founder, idea validation and product-market fit.
In the fourth episode of Founder Files, Elif Hiz interviews Liza Akhvledziani, the CEO and co-founder of Chexy, a platform designed to help tenants pay rent online while earning rewards and building credit. As one of the first entrepreneurs that Antler Canada invested in, Liza highlights her experiences, struggles, and triumphs as a founder, and discusses her future ambitions.
Liza Akhvledziani comes from a finance background, having worked in various roles for companies such as Mobify, Deloitte, and Square. A CFA by trade, it was actually her relocation from Vancouver to Toronto for a job that inspired her to create Chexy. Her mission is to simplify finding housing under rent for all tenants, and to make renting an easier and more accessible process for everyone.
Identifying The Issue
Liza recounts her initial experience with rent, when she relocated from Vancouver to Toronto for a financing strategy role during the pandemic. Her experiences of having to commit to a rental house without being able to do a showing, where she was expected to adhere to the traditional rental model of “12 post-dated cheques to pay rent”. She recognized the outdated nature of this model, and reasoned that there would be an opportunity with digital payments in the rental space.
“Rent, which is my biggest expense, and the biggest expense for so many other people, is still being paid in this hundred year old method. And it gets me absolutely nothing.”
She further expands on her experiences as an international student initially coming to Canada, and mentions how the struggles as a tenant began as early as those days, where commonplace aspects of renting such as credit scores and credit history were difficult for her to provide, and proved to be a hindrance.
The Start Of A Journey
Liza had never imagined herself as an entrepreneur prior to founding Chexy, and attributes this to her family’s own business in Eastern Europe. Having seen her father manage his own business in unstable macro environments gave her an early understanding of the enormity of risks undertaken by entrepreneurs. She also speaks to the role that outside factors–over which a founder has no control–such as the state of the economy, or political climates, can play in the health of a company of any size at all. She highlights that these factors often cannot be prepared for, and that they might cause some significant ups and downs.
“The amount of risk you take on as an entrepreneur is like nothing else that you can compare to.”
Her initial inclination was to “grind up the corporate ladder” and was quite happy with her work at companies like Square, and entirely satisfied with her earnings and team as well. Ultimately, however, she attributed the change in mentality and decision to embark on an entrepreneurial journey on her own personality.
“I came across this problem multiple times. I came across it during Covid and it wouldn’t leave my head. It struck me, “Why is this so difficult?” It seems so trivial.”
Now having the push and experiences needed to dedicate herself to problem solving, Liza talks about the various stages of brainstorming she went through with her co-founder, and the different types of thought they tried to apply to this rent problem. They chose to take a multifaceted approach to their idea development, analyzing both micro and macro trends to see the forces at play, and then conducting some early research by speaking directly to tenants and landlords to collect primary data. Eventually they focused on the payment aspect–it seemed to be the area where the rental industry encountered the most hurdles.
“It's a question to you personally. Are you willing to take on all that risk and really try knowing that there’s a 99% chance that you’ll fail or not? Is it the right time for you? It just so happened that for me personally, it was the right time.”
Liza introspectively adds that there were other aspects of her life to consider, such as if she had dependents, or if she had any savings, both of which she factored into her decision to pursue founding a startup. She highlights the value of the lessons she has learned over the course of the founding process, and admits that she doesn’t believe that she could return to the corporate ladder after having experiences as rewarding and fulfilling as working on Chexy.
An Entrepreneurial Lifestyle
Liza offers some insight into her current lifestyle as a co-founder, which has come with significant changes. She talks about the amount of time she works, which is far greater now than it used to be when working corporate. Her previous role at Square, which was fairly senior, enabled her flexibility in determining her schedule, whereas working with Chexy is a lot more high-involvement and can often require sacrifice.
“You're missing your appointments, you're missing your flights, because the onus is now on you and you are personally responsible for making sure that your clients and your users are happy with your service, and also that your service is functioning properly.”
Discovering and Experiencing Antler
Liza talks about the “archaic” model of rent, which is full of inefficiencies and inconsistencies. With both tenants and landlords having different qualification criteria for each other, Chexy allowed individuals to pre-screen profiles to see if there was compatibility in criteria, though there was a significant problem; landlords were in short supply. Liza describes this as a hurdle in the road for her and her co-founder. Around this time, she discovered Antler through LinkedIn, and saw value in the cohort system for early stage startups, like Chexy was at that time. Deciding that the timing was right for her, Liza and her co-founder joined.
“I just really like the idea of it being a startup school.”
She further expands on his experience at Antler as being valuable, and as the place where she initially began to consider new ways of thinking about her business, and learning new approaches to her startup. Being a covid cohort gave her the opportunity to engage online, though she particularly enjoyed in-person interactions. Ultimately, she was able to raise funding for her company by the end of the 10 week period, which largely goes towards product development.
“It was very good in terms of giving you the tools and asking the right questions of making sure that you know the path that you're pursuing is actually a viable path, not just for a business, but also a venture scalable business.”
As someone who admits to not knowing where to start once upon a time, Liza discusses how tricky and overwhelming it can be to navigate decisive action, since there are so many possible tasks an entrepreneur could be completing at any given point in time. She goes on to discuss money, revealing that even after earning some, the troubles can potentially get worse as she did not know what the “right” way to spend it was, or if she should be spending it at all. She cites one of the hardest things she experienced as a first time entrepreneur being accounting for varied opinions.
“But I think there also comes a point where you’re talking to so many people. And there are as many opinions as there are people. You also need to have conviction in what you are pursuing and how you’re gonna pursue that.”
Despite this, however, Liza advises having a team with varied skill sets and personalities, so that within a team, everyone can work together harmoniously without worrying about their own individual weaknesses, since those will be someone else’s strength. She also compares the first-time entrepreneur experience to that of being a first time parent, with the both of them sharing similar perils and triumphs.
What Makes A Great Founder?
Liza considers persistence and optimism to be among the most important traits an entrepreneur can possibly possess. She draws upon her knowledge of how a founder's image may be glamorized, and reminds everyone that there is a lot of sacrifice or struggle along the path as well.
“Grit, determination, the ability to handle ups and downs psychologically. Sometimes you’ll have three really, really bad days in a row, but maybe they’re followed by three really good days in a row, and you just need to believe that you’ll get out of it.”
Moreover, she talks about an unexpected trait; stubbornness. The unequivocal ability of someone to continue believing in their cause despite the odds being stacked against them is very much a crucial frame of mind to have when founding a business, and that might require a little stubborn streak of defiance from time to time. This is also helpful in situations where negative feedback is provided, or a startup idea is dismissed–if you believe in it, then fight for it.
To end the interview, Liza advises all entrepreneurs to get to the validation stage as quickly as they can possibly manage, as that is the best way to collect practical information and data about the right people. She also leaves a reminder to always stay learning from people as much as possible, and to collect any nuggets of information that you can.
Watch the full interview on YouTube.
If you want to become a startup founder, find the perfect co-founder and create impactful companies to shape the future, apply now and begin your Antler journey.
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