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    Key takeaways 


    • Piñata, co-founded by Clara Chow and Lily Liu, introduces a unique approach where timely rent payments and responsible tenant behaviors lead to tangible rewards, reshaping traditional renting dynamics.
    • Beyond its gamified reward system, Piñata emphasizes renters’ financial health by offering credit score boosts through rent reporting and educational modules on economic well-being.


    In this episode of the Poplar Propcast, host Justin Liberknecht delves into the world of property rewards and tenant-landlord relationships. He’s joined by the co-founders of Piñata, a pioneering platform that has seamlessly blended technology with rewards. Piñata isn’t just a point system; it’s a movement that incentivizes renters for timely rent payments and responsible property behaviors, allowing them to redeem these points for tangible rewards.

    But who are the minds behind this innovation? Introducing Clara Chow and Lily Liu. With distinguished backgrounds primarily in the educational space and impressive credentials, these two are no strangers to leadership. Their combined expertise spans multiple sectors, from serving on various founding boards to holding influential government positions. Together, they are transforming the renting experience for landlords and tenants.


    Paving the way for Piñata 


    Behind every innovation, there’s a story. For Piñata, that story begins with two visionary individuals: Clara Chow and Lily Liu.

    Lily Liu, a technology enthusiast at heart, embarked on her professional journey in policy and politics. Recognizing the significance of local government in people’s daily lives, she took on roles such as a pivotal position in the administration of former New York City Mayor Bloomberg. 

    Drawing inspiration from the evident communication gap between residents and their local governments, she co-created the acclaimed 3-1-1 system. This platform provides residents real-time communication tools to engage with their governments, revolutionizing how cities connect with their populations. Her innovative endeavor expanded globally and even integrated into commercial infrastructures before being acquired by Exela.

    Clara Chow’s trajectory, on the other hand, spans a rich tapestry of sectors: public, private, and social. Graduating amidst the 2009 recession, the challenges faced by her generation deeply resonated with her. As a result, economic mobility and financial security became themes she ardently pursued throughout her career. 

    One of her initial ventures post-graduation was Generation Enterprise, an initiative aiding young individuals in Nigeria and India trapped in unrewarding jobs. This project aimed to dismantle barriers and create opportunities. Concurrently, her roles at prestigious organizations like McKinsey and Hearst underscored her passion for innovative product launches, echoing her belief in world-building through startups. 

    Clara recalled her journey on the Propcast:

    “That was a really cool opportunity to say if you have a vision for how the world could be different, try it small. Do a pilot project. Don’t spend time talking about it. Point to it and show how it can work, and then figure out a way to blow it up real big.” 

    With diverse experiences, both influenced by unique challenges and profound insights, Clara and Lily’s visions converged in the form of Piñata. As each navigated her respective path, one message became clear: to envision a change in the world, start small, make it tangible, and then amplify it. Piñata became Lily and Clara’s medium to do just that.

    So, how exactly did Clara and Lily channel their collective experiences and visions into a tangible solution? Let’s dive deeper into the heart of Piñata and uncover its novel approach to rent.


    Making rent fun and responsible the Piñata way 


    At the core of the innovative mobile app, Piñata transformed paying rent into a rewarding experience, both literally and metaphorically. Clara Chow and Lily Liu, the brains behind this venture, sought to alter the traditional view of rent, turning it from a burdensome obligation into a pathway to rewards and financial betterment.

    Clara encapsulates the essence of Piñata when she says:

    “Paying rent doesn’t have to suck.”



    As someone who experienced the pains of the 2009 recession, she understands renting is often seen as a mere waiting room for homeownership. But Clara sees it as a vital lifestyle for many, offering flexibility and opportunities. Through Piñata, she envisions a system where timely rent payments don’t go unnoticed but are celebrated and rewarded, fostering a future-building mindset for renters and a win-win scenario for both them and their landlords.

    Lily Liu’s perspective stemmed from personal experience and the noticeable gap in the renting sector. At one of Piñata’s initial board meetings, she asked who in the room was a renter. To her surprise, everyone, including seasoned real estate professionals, raised their hands. This universal experience of renting and the substantial financial commitment it represents formed the foundation of Piñata’s mission. For Lily, who calculated her lifetime rent expenditure at a staggering $400,000, receiving rewards seemed only logical, much like loyalty programs in the airline or hotel sectors.

    Justin likens Piñata to airline miles, a system where actions, primarily paying rent, lead to accruing points redeemable for various rewards. Clara reinforces this notion as she labels Piñata as a “rent loyalty program.” She emphasizes its objective of revolutionizing the typically transactional relationship between landlords and renters. In her eyes, if a tenant invests a significant amount in rent, they should feel valued and rewarded, similar to brand loyalty. 

    Flowchart showing how Piñata works


    Lily coins a metaphor that Piñata offers both “candy and vitamins.” While there’s the joyous “dopamine hit of surprise and delight,” the true essence of the app lies in its foundational benefits. Behind the scenes, Piñata not only offers rewards but also contributes to renters’ financial health, reporting payments to credit bureaus and offering perks that provide tangible monetary relief.

    “There’s the fun dopamine hit of surprise and delight, which is why we’re called Piñata,” Clara remarked. The brilliance of Piñata lies not just in its gamification of rent but in its long-term vision of making renting a mutually beneficial venture for all involved.


    Adapting to pandemic realities 

    Formed in 2019, Piñata’s team came together just a month before the pandemic in 2020. The ensuing global shutdown, eviction moratoriums, and economic turmoil greatly influenced the startup’s trajectory. As shared amenities like pools became inaccessible and concerns about financial health soared, Piñata’s vision sharpened. Emphasis on renters’ lifestyles, amenities, and especially services like credit reporting became central amid payment moratoriums. These challenges forced quick iterations and adaptive strategies. 

    Clara distilled Piñata’s ethos during this period into three principles: inclusivity, emphasizing financial health, and ensuring mutual benefits for both landlords and renters. Recognizing the potential tension between these two groups, Piñata aimed to create a bridge, fostering understanding and collaboration amidst uncertain times.


    Elevating the renting experience for both sides

    At the core of Piñata’s mission lies a profound intention to redefine the dynamics of renting. Clara captures the essence of this mission: “Here’s the change we want to see: renters build their financial future from rent.”

    The organization’s vision revolves around creating a balanced relationship between landlords and tenants, fostering mutual respect and loyalty. This perspective aligns with the broader industry’s recognition of the value of happy residents, emphasizing long-term benefits over mere short-term gains. Further elaborating on this, Lily emphasizes the potential of crafting a consistent and memorable residential experience, much like recognized atmospheres in various commercial spaces. By promoting collaborative initiatives among landlords, there’s an opportunity to offer consistent and valuable amenities, setting a new gold standard for the renting experience. 

    Building on this foundation of redefining the renting paradigm, let’s delve deeper into how Piñata empowers its community.


    Working together with enlightened landlords 


    Clara explains that Piñata ensures transparency for property managers and owners. They’ve developed dashboards that show the number of renters being rewarded each month, the specifics of their earnings, and a compilation of reward redemptions. These dashboards provide a real-time measure of monthly renter satisfaction. 

    By facilitating and tracking rent payments and encouraging positive behaviors among renters, Piñata makes it evident how content renters are feeling. Happy renters are prompted to provide reviews and referrals, while dissatisfactions are addressed proactively on the landlord’s behalf.

    Lily highlights the depth of data analysis Piñata brings, especially concerning credit reporting. Owners can monitor the impact of credit reporting on their renters, gauging financial health at the building level. During unpredictable economic times, property owners can anticipate and understand potential delinquency issues well in advance.

    Clara reassured those interested in integrating Piñata that its versatility covers large multifamilies and single-unit mom-and-pop operations. With no need for integration and only requiring a rent roll, Piñata acts as a seamless loyalty layer on top of existing systems, promising ease for property managers.


    Looking ahead to the future of Piñata


    Lily and Clara share an aligned and ambitious outlook for Piñata’s future. By 2024, they anticipate catering to a million renters. While the company currently focuses on collecting payment data to process rewards and points, significant strides are planned in the FinTech space. As Lily highlighted:

    “We’re gonna be rolling out some really exciting ways for renters to be smarter about how they’re saving for and paying for rent.” 

    This commitment goes beyond mere transactional relationships. At the heart of this innovation is their core value: incentivizing renters to excel. Clara envisions building a vast network, both nationwide and globally, of satisfied renters. With the support of progressive landlords and property managers, the coming years will see Piñata championing financial health and establishing enduring connections with renters, ensuring lifetime benefits.


    Final word


    In the evolving landscape of the rental market, Piñata, under the visionary leadership of Clara Chow and Lily Liu, emerges as a beacon of innovation. The Poplar Propcast highlights how they have seamlessly blended technology with rewards to reinvent tenant-landlord dynamics. With ambitious plans centered on rewarding and uplifting renters, Piñata stands at the brink of redefining the renting experience. This platform promises a future where renters and landlords thrive in the same space by forging trust and incentivizing responsible behaviors.






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