The Journal was recently alerted to a website with the domain name "betterbusiness.net," which claims to offer a "215 Friendly Rentals List" for $20. Touting itself as "Humboldt's #1 rental source," the site says, "We are Local Advocates who know how hard it is to find a home in Humboldt, especially if you are a Medical [marijuana] 215 Patient."
We'd heard (from Tom Sebourn's blog and elsewhere) that the site was a scam, that its operator had no direct contact with any landlords or property managers, most of whom had no idea that their properties were on the list, and furthermore that the list itself didn't always have actual addresses of available rental properties, 215 friendly or otherwise.
This morning we sent an email to the address listed on the site, inquiring about these matters. And to our surprise a guy who said he's the site's owner called us less than an hour later. Claiming his name is "Jesse Cutt," the man proved surprisingly candid, admitting to each of the allegations listed above, and more.
What follows are highlights from a truly remarkable interview, one that ranged in tone from paranoid to defiant, self-delusional to angry, and that touched on such topics as "bitches," the mafia and Humboldt County's misplaced king.
Jesse Cutt: I've got a single competitor, or at least a person who thinks I'm the sole competitor. We're the only people posting rental listings on Craigslist. This girl [Rental Helpers owner Misty Morgan] thinks she can eliminate competition. She's decided she thinks I need a license to do this. [She's correct. He needs a Prepaid Rental Listing Service (PRLS) license from the state.]
Here's the thing: If there was anybody else competing against her, I wouldn't have even bothered. [But] no one else was in business. I decided I wanted a piece of it. ...
I don't talk to anybody. I don't have any ongoing relationship with any landlords or management companies or anything. I don't need it. I'm just getting all this attention because of how good my site looks. People out here in California, they go by looks. And that's why my site works so well.
North Coast Journal: How do you acquire the listings?
JC: I summarize listings that can be seen from a public place. That's the complete answer.
NCJ: What public place?
JC: Trade secret.
NCJ: How can you claim that the properties you list are "215 friendly" when you haven't spoken to any of them?
JC: Very simple: They are licensed agents or managers. They're corporate managing companies, sworn to not discriminate. ... The allegation is that I'm touting my product as grow-friendly when it's really not. The reality is [that] for every hundred 215 [patients] who buy my list, [only] one in ten will be looking to grow. The other 90, 95 percent are just looking for a place to call home. ...
Here are Cutt's thoughts on marketing:
JC: The majority of my customers are women. I was thinking of putting a picture of Charlie's Angels fucking shooting a guy. That would get women off like crazy. I'll make the site look like it was put together for bitches, by bitches if that's what gets 'em to order.
On the woman who complained about him to the Better Business Bureau:
JC: She wanted to grow weed [at the property she rented]. She thought that was the whole idea [of the list]. It was basically extortion. She wanted her money back plus five dollars. In the end I found out she didn't even buy the list! ...
They can make 80 complaints to the Better Business Bureau against me. It won't affect me in any way because Misty Morgan already has 800 people marauding around thinking I'm a scam. ... [People] think I'm the Better Business Bureau because of my domain name.
NCJ: Is that intentional?
JC: I don't know. I did that a long, long, long time ago.
Cutt said he's from the East Coast and previously made money by registering Internet domain names for seven dollars apiece, then selling them for up to a thousand dollars. That is, until he registered the wrong name:
JC: What I did, I registered a name of a politician. There was a scandal -- a politician embroiled in a scandal. So I added their personal name to my list.
NCJ: Who was it?
JC: That's all history. That's all mafia, so let's not even go there.
NCJ: What does that mean, "That's all mafia?"
JC: Dude, don't even go there. Where I'm from, you don't want to go there, I don't want to go there. Let the people on the East Coast rip each other off, kill each other and investigate each other. ...
You can go ahead and write an article. [Imitating the voice of a shocked reader] 'Wow, the guy doesn't have a personal relationship with the landlords who own the properties.' Who fuckin' cares? I don't care. You understand what I'm sayin'? If you bought my list and you don't like it? I don't give a fuckin shit, dude. Nobody gives a fuckin' shit whether you like it or not. Everybody else is trying to fuckin' survive. ...
NCJ: Wait a minute. You know I'm a reporter, and you're telling me that if somebody buys your product and they don't like it, you don't give a shit?
JC: [Pause] Uh. I don't know. I never stopped to think about it. I have got a lot of other things to do. Like count my earnings. It's business, dude.
Cutt said he's sold the list to hundreds of people since he began selling it sometime around March. Then he launched into the following dissertation on the principles of business:
JC: People around here are pretty fucking interesting, dude. Money is king, ok? And people around here just haven't found that out yet cuz they're in the country. But they're gonna find out. See how fast rents are going up? The city is coming. Competitors are coming and money is king. ... I'm sitting behind the computer making money. ... That's how the business world works. You should write a story about business since nobody out here understands it.
NCJ: How do you expect to make money? Isn't word going to get around?
JC: That's not how business works. Money is king here. You understand what I'm sayin'? It's all about money. See, Humboldt is different. Money's not king necessarily always around here. That's very peculiar to me. It is.
NCJ: What is king?
JC: I don't know. I don't know. But it's not money as often as it should be. I have a real issue here. If I go into a store and I want something, I'm there to patronize it, and I've got money. But you walk into a store around here and people treat you like you're on their turf or in their house. See, everything around here is all about personal. People don't separate personal and professional. Or business from pleasure. Or men from boys. There are no labels or terms. ...
You got all these yin-yang Californians around here, you know: 'I can get someone to host [a website] for free. Someone down in the Bay Area,' or some shit. And they seem like a business, but then they cop an attitude a week later because they don't like what you said to their tech support guy, and they don't give a shit what kind of money you're bringing in. You understand? That's the problem with fuckin' California. ...
The funny thing is, by the time your newspaper gets printed, all I gotta do is flip the switch and all of a sudden 'Better Business' is gone and it's a whole new ballgame. You see what I mean? These stories don't even apply to a web page. My web page has changed and so has my advertising model and so have my claims. ... I can change the policy every month. There is no news story you can write because every day it changes. It doesn't stay still like a store. If you come back to Target, you know what the front of the store looks like, you know when they're gonna open and you know what you can get inside. So Target is something.
NCJ: So aren't you taking advantage of people? Are you running away from angry customers?
JC: No, absolutely not. Nor have I changed my domain name. Since I started this website it's all remained the same.
NCJ: You know, I just Googled your name, and it doesn't look like a real name. Is "Jesse Cutt" your real name?
NCJ: But you said you've been on the front page of newspapers. I can't find anything like that.
JC: Oh, well I didn't give them my real name back then. In mob land? Hell no. But in today's day and age you can't hide shit. So there you go.
NCJ: My main question is, how can you advertise a 215 friendly rental list when you have no information about whether or not these properties are friendly to marijuana patients?
JC: Actually they are. I guarantee it. Because if you call me or email me and you tell me that you bought my list and that you went to one of these managers and they were not friendly to you because you are a 215 [patient], I will go to bat for you. I'll call them. I'll complain about them. And everything else. ... I didn't have to talk to [owners and managers] directly because I found out that they all promised the government. They promised this county and the state when they got licensed in business and in real estate. They made these promises already. They will confirm it. It's just a fact. ... You can't discriminate.
Toward the end of the conversation we asked for his phone number.
JC: You can just email me.
NCJ: You'd prefer not to give me your phone number?
JC: I don't have one.
NCJ: Then how did you call me?
JC: With this phone, but it's not mine.
JC: Why would I give you my -- what's your phone number? You understand what I'm saying?
NCJ: You called me on my phone number.
JC: My phone number's right on my -- oh, it's not on my website. It's on the actual list. [Cheerfully:] If you don't buy the list you can't see the number. For $20 you'd have the number right on your desktop. You understand what I mean?
Yup, pretty sure we do.