10 Questions for Alex Cooper, CEO of Englewood Startup Rezzcard

Photo: Alex Cooper, CEO of Rezzcard Photo Credit: Courtesy Alex Cooper

Alex Cooper, CEO of Rezzcard | Courtesy Alex Cooper

Most young people today write out paper checks for one purpose only: to pay the rent. What if you could pay the landlord with just a swipe or a click? Digital payments have taken over virtually every niche, except this one.

However, a Bergen County-based startup called Rezzcard has jumped in to fill this need for digital rent payment, having already done deals with some of the biggest public housing authorities in the Northeast.

As it turns out, paying rent digitally offers far more than just convenience, especially for the underbanked population of America. It offers another avenue to improving one’s credit score and to getting on a more positive financial path.

Basic Info:

Company name: Rezzcard

When did you launch the company? 2010

Product name: Rezzcard

CEO: Alex Cooper

New Jersey location: Englewood

Team:

Sterling Brown, CTO

Eric Eversgerd, SVP Sales

Neil Dees, VP Operations

Any employees yet? Yes, five total (all of the above plus a programmer)

Funding:

Rezzcard has raised a total of $375,000 in seed capital. We are actively raising funds for a Series A from venture capital and private angel investors.

Market you are serving:

With over 30 million affordable housing units, there are 400 million rent payments annually. And 73 percent of all multifamily housing units are rented by households with incomes less than $50,0000 per year, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council’s tabulations of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. 

Online payment services just don’t work for affordable housing, where more than 50 percent of tenants pay with cash or money orders. Because of this, our initial go-to-market strategy is to sign up property managers of affordable housing and public housing authorities.

We work with some of the largest public housing authorities in the U.S., including those in Philadelphia, Newark, and Yonkers. We also serve a number of leading private property managers/owners in the same markets. Currently, Rezzcard is available to over 30,000 apartment units and is processing over 5,000 payments a month. To date, we have processed more than $30 million in rent payments.

Because we offer our service through trusted entities, residents engage quickly. Our adoption rate in the buildings that we serve is over 25 percent and our retention rate is over 80 percent. This is proof of both the need and value of our service. It also demonstrates the incremental approach to changing the behaviors of the underbanked market. Consumers can still get the benefit of Rezzcard simply by paying their rent bills in cash at their current check casher.

Over time, the other financial services and credit offerings provided by Rezzcard will help them move closer towards improved practices that will promote financial health.

1.            What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?

I have lived in New Jersey since 1985. I raised my family here and love everything about it, from the beaches to Bruce.

2.            What problem are you solving?

Today, one out of every five U.S. households is considered unbanked or underbanked, according to a study conducted by the FDIC. This population of over 34 million households often has to resort to alternative financial service (AFS) providers, which do little to improve their financial health or stability.

According to the study, a household with net income of $20,000 may spend as much as $1,200 annually on AFS fees, such as those for money orders for expenses or to cash payroll checks. Rezzcard can reduce this cost by more than 50 percent. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of those services do little or nothing to improve the credit scores of the underbanked consumers using those products, locking them into a cycle of high-fee financial services.

The challenge is how to provide underbanked consumers with access to lower-cost financial services and access to more mainstream financial products.

3.            Why can you address this problem better than anyone else?

Recent surveys have shown that underbanked populations in the U.S. have just as a high a usage of mobile phones and smartphones, and in fact are more likely to use their phone for internet and mobile banking than the general population. The use of brick-and-mortar providers is declining as online and prepaid card-based transactions are increasing. This creates a dramatic opportunity for Rezzcard to drive rent and other bill-payment transactions through our mobile platform, with the prepaid card as the supporting store of value.  

In addition, I am a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of innovation in payments technology in the underbanked marketplace. This is my third New Jersey-based startup company in the underbanked space. I have dedicated myself to creating a self-sustaining business that can drive financial empowerment and inclusion for the underbanked because many in this cohort are immigrants.

As a first-generation American myself, I believe that the greatness of this country is based on the opportunity afforded each and every new American.  The defining aspect of Rezzcard’s approach comes from my know-how, expertise and passion to do more for underbanked citizens. Rent was the perfect engagement point as the gateway to starting an electronic payment relationship through a mobile platform.

4.            How did you come up with your startup name?

My daughter’s first-year college dorm was called “New-Rez” (short for “new resident”), and our goal has always been to get a card-based electronic payment solution into the hands of the underbanked … hence the name “Rezzcard.”

5.            What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and what did you learn from it?

With every other company I started before Rezzcard, I had cofounders/partners. However, this one I started alone. There is power in people and collaboration. I have now built a strong team, but there are advantages to having a cofounder in the beginning stages.

6.            When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?

I never think about going back to corporate life. I am an entrepreneur; I think about doing something different every day. Why? I’m always thinking of the next idea and the next business. You must always look at your current business and compare it with all the other options.

If your business is not the best option for your own personal time and money, you should change the business so it is, or get out.

7.            If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

I would be a rock guitar player in the E-Street Band.

8.            What’s the best place to find founders to network with?

The New York City area is a great place for meetups and industry events, especially for FinTech entrepreneurs. However, I find that smaller, more local events are even better for meeting people working in startups than large industry trade shows.

9.            What does your family think about your being an entrepreneur?

Depends on the day of the week, my mood and if I had a good day or not.

10.         What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?

The top factors for my success are my drive, persistence, energy and passion. They are all directly correlated with success. I do not quit and I do not stop until I reach my goal or cross the finish line. I get this spirit from being the son of a single mother who was an immigrant and holocaust survivor.

When you have nothing to fall back on but yourself, failure is not an option.

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