An Ohio Boy in the ’80s Harnesses Latest Technologies for Family Properties
Dave Hegemann, like most kids his age, was simply looking for more time to spend with his friends outdoors during the summer.
“My dad had manufactured housing parks and campgrounds, and other properties that he rented,” Hegemann, founder of Rent Manager and President and CEO of London Computer Systems, recalls. “He used to do the books by hand, and I used to help him once I got old enough. It was my weekend thing. I couldn’t go out and play basketball or anything else until I was done.”
Someone had to collect readings, record usage, and calculate the proper charge. Utility billing was on a ledger, and required checks and re-checks. The rapid-fire keystrokes of the adding machine held off even calculators in office spaces and storefronts everywhere.
But by the mid- to late-80s, Hegemann had access to an Apple II, and had his eye on what a little company in Washington was doing with its software.
Hegemann hard-coded the first version of Rent Manager specifically for his father’s operation, but later received requests to rewrite the program for a larger property owner from London, Ohio. That initial bit of work inspired the name of Rent Manager’s parent company, London Computer Systems (LCS).
“I wrote the program for him, and about five other manufactured housing communities. I got into it, and it was a lot of fun. I basically wrote it in a summer,” Hegemann said. “That worked so well we thought we should bring it down to the Louisville home show.”
An Entry to the Industry in Louisville
Hegemann set up his computer at the Louisville Show in 1988. No one knew what property management software was. But they’d heard of the new desktop computers.
“Basically you were competing against doing the books by hand. There were no other solutions,” Hegemann said. “A lot of times people would come to the booth just to see the computer. Customers may have heard of a personal computer at that point, but hadn’t actually seen one.”
Hegemann said he felt the show would be a success for him if he could sell a single program. If he could find one customer, he’d keep course.
“I sold one program to the first guy I talked with… he spent about four hours with me, went away and kept coming back asking questions,” Hegemann said. “Eventually I just said, ‘Look you’re going to have to buy this thing’.”
Then there was the next hurdle: “I couldn’t process a credit card,” Hegemann said.
How Rent Manager Became a Business
Eventually, the card was run and the sale was made, but the divide between tech work and building a business was evident.
“I’d known how to write code, but I didn’t know how to sell it,” Hegemann said. “Because there was no internet, I just jumped on a plane and went to shows all over the place, talking to people directly. If someone bought the program and if something didn’t suit them, I’d hear about it at the next show, and I was able to make the product a lot better that way. It was a lot of fun.”
Much of the momentum with the product and the business happened prior to the advent of the web. The world was just figuring out software, how you should price it, and how it’s maintained.
Before most of the world knew Bill Gates, Hegemann was paying attention.
“I saw what Microsoft was doing, how they were writing software and how they would sell it over and over again, and that may seem obvious now, but it was novel in its time and that’s what I wanted to do.”
“With Dave’s leadership and imagination, Rent Manager has consistently added feature after feature and ehanced overall user experience… Dave and his team have embraced an open architecture of the product, which allows partner companies to use Rent Manager’s API to intergrate their applications.”– Mike Cirillo, President of Star Management
One of the distinguishing factors about Rent Manager’s offering that may be rare in the marketplace is that the offering is built on a single code base, similar in nature to the way Microsoft was rolled out. The program starts out basic, and then you can turn on components as you go and become more sophisticated.
“We do this also because our product is used by all different property types, and you need to be able to service all of those needs,” Hegemann said. “When we’re working with a customer, we build up from the base offering with added features that address specific needs within an operation.”
Hegemann’s degree is in systems analysis, and he understood early on that he was “all in” with the software industry. The chance that his application of technology supports real estate was a matter of his surroundings, but it also became a preferred destination when the wide array of needs in the space became clear.
LCS Chief Operating Officer Brittany Christerson has been at Hegemann’s side for 12 years and has seen firsthand how his early industry experience impacts his leadership outlook.
“Because he grew up in the property management business, Dave is quick to remind us there is an urgency to our work,” she said. “He challenges us to look for ways to make the lives of property managers easier, and that in part comes from his early years working with his dad. We are constantly working to improve the quality and execution of our offerings because we know they have a real impact on our users.”
After building the program, Hegemann said he realized something important about his role.
“There was only so much that I could do by myself… it was about motivating people,” Hegemann said. “The most exciting thing to me became building a company and it took a long, long time to interview, ask good questions, recruit people and keep people.”
“You have to give people a feeling of ownership, with some latitude to have success on their own,” he said. “I learned that if your team is happy, they’re going to make your customers happy.”
Today, LCS products include the Rent Manager property management software, rmVoIP telephone systems and enterprise-level hosting solutions via the company’s Sentry Data Center. The Cincinnati-based company also provides complete network design, implementation, and support services. They even offer custom website development through its IT Services and Web Design Services divisions.
“Dave makes it a point to meet every new hire and regularly visits with all our teams because he wants employees to know that he truly cares about their experience,” Christerson said. “He has created a culture where we work hard, and we are proud of our work, but we also have a lot of fun.”
Rent Manager Integrated Technology Partners
One of the many ways Rent Manager has continued to grow with advancements in technology is through the creation of its Integrations Program. Users have freedom to seamlessly integrate any number of property management providers into their Rent Manager database. More than 100 technologies—ranging from utility management resources to digital payment processors — have joined the Integrations Program.
Manufactured housing providers include AmRent, AvidXchange, Metron, NetVendor, Purchasing Platform, and Zego. Visit RentManager.com/Integrations for a complete list of included technologies and services.
How to Work with Emerging Technologies
One of the primary tasks that engrosses his employees is early adoption and experimentation with new platforms and programs. Rent Manager, Hegemann said, has always been one of the first—if not the first—property management solutions made available in the “next” technology format, whether it’s Apple, DOS, Windows, the internet or mobile apps.
“That’s one of the things that I love so much—technology changes a lot and you really have to work to keep up with emerging platforms and to make your product all it can be in any of these environments,” Hegemann said. “Rent Manager has always been backward-compatible, from day one.”
Rent Manager’s customers are brought up to speed on all the changes, advancements and added options each year at the company’s user conference, which alternates cities every fall. This year’s Rent Manager Users Conference takes place Nov. 9-12 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The event has become a product of its own for Rent Manager.
“Oftentimes, the conference is the first place we meet with our customers face-to-face. It’s when you learn how enthused and appreciative people are,” Hegemann said. “It’s a great morale thing for us, it creates a lot of energy, and we essentially plan the event year-round.”
There will be 71 user sessions at RMUC.21, presented by Rent Manager staff and industry authorities. Hegemann said he attends at least a portion of each session.
“I want to know that we’re on track and providing value for our customers,” he said.