One of a group of profiles about recent graduates 

Before graduation, Jepson School of Leadership Studies student Blair Brandt and his business partner and longtime friend, Belton Baker, launched The Next Step Realty. They announced their plans in January and worked during the spring semester to build the business, which is a network of people and not a traditional real estate brokerage.

Based in Palm Beach, the founders' hometown, the company aims to help 20-something recent college graduates find rentals in their first-job markets.

Brandt is spending most of the summer in New York. The uptick in hiring in financial markets has been a boon for his start-up, he says. 

Brandt is a leadership studies major with a minors in business administration and law and the liberal arts.

This concept of marketing relocation services to new graduates is inventive. How did you come up with the idea?

I took time off from the University of Richmond Spring semester to work in residential real estate brokerage in Palm Beach, Fla. Many of my friends in college, knowing that I was involved in real estate and had contacts in different locations, reached out to me for advice on finding an apartment after graduation. More specifically, they asked if I could connect them with a personally recommended and reputable real estate broker. Eventually, brokers paid me for these referrals. When I told my good friend Belton Baker about this, he suggested that we market the idea to his fraternity through a list-serv and his friend's sorority via the same method. Between my idea and his marketing approach, word got around fast that we were a helpful resource, and we were able to create a Web site and launch a larger marketing effort.

How does the process work?

Graduates hear about our company in the press or through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, campus organizations, Greek societies, career development offices, or human resources departments. We're also hosting socials in some cities. All in all, the strategy is viral marketing, personal recommendations, and word of mouth - both online and offline.

They go online to our Web site and specifiy their location and needs and we match them with a broker in that city. The client and the broker will exchange e-mails and phone calls for a few weeks typically, which will include virtually sending listings back and forth. Ultimately, the client and broker make an appointment for that client's arrival in which they physically visit properties. The broker is also a resource for any questions the client has about the city.

After the client has signed a lease, and moved in, they have access to our online resource guide that provides information about dining, entertainment, nightlife, utilities, furniture, and groceries.

What if I need a short term lease, three months for an internship or nine months until I go to grad school?

We refer you to a Web site or company that specializes in that.

What if I want to rent a house at the Hamptons for the summer?

We work with one of the most well-known brokerage firms in the Hamptons, and are able to find summer rentals in the Hamptons, especially for groups of clients.

What if I need roommates, do you help me match up with housemates?

We do not get involved with roommate selection. We are building a network for roommates to find each other. The online system will allow people to find housemates to view eachother's profiles and meet in person if they want to explore the possibility of rooming together.

What is your business plan?

Our expectation in the short-term is to be the leading global real estate network specializing in recent college graduates. In the long-run, we hope that the network will grow to include an expansive network of young urban professionals.

For a start-up, you have a vast network already in place. How were you able to accomplish that? Is your family’s business in real estate?

We have a network of 50 brokers in 30 locations including New York, Washington,  Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Richmond, Chicago, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Hamptons, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Miami.

We came up with what I think is a good broker recruitment strategy. Once we pinned down the right way to do it after lots of experimentation, we worked 14-plus hour days for months on end, and still do. We utilized personal networks and reached out to friends and family who led us to brokers. Once we got personal recommendations for a broker, we had to sell our idea and pitch our business model to brokers to prove the business woud be worth their while. If we sold them on our pitch, they then had to sell us on the quality of their business practice. We interviewed hundreds of brokers before settling on the current network around the globe.

Photo credit: Palm Beach, Fla., where Next Step Realty is based, by eschipul on Flickr used through Creative Commons.