Home CompaniesB2B This Startup Pivoted From Serving Private Industry to City Governments — And Found Success

This Startup Pivoted From Serving Private Industry to City Governments — And Found Success

by Muriel Vega

Jason Rusnak and his business partner Chris Behm started their careers at HR and payroll solutions company ADP. There, they saw that companies competing to attract talent were offering unique benefits, far beyond a standard 401(K) matching.

They initially founded a startup that aimed to offer new kinds of employee benefits, such as down payment and student loan assistance. They began recruiting clients, including the City of Savannah, Georgia.

While the city was happy with the benefits service, they asked if the team could also manage other services like housing rehabilitation, affordable housing development, and compliance.

At the time, applications for housing programs were paper-based, stored in cabinets. It was difficult for officials to keep up with income and asset qualifications over time and stay compliant.

“We didn’t know much about the space, but we had a client that was interested in working with us. We partnered with the [City of Savannah] to build out functionality specific to housing and community development,” says Neighborly Software CEO Rusnak.

They officially pivoted from an employee benefits platform to an administration and regulatory compliance platform for government housing and local community development. The platform serves as a one-stop-shop for residents, contractors, and city officials to streamline programs’ applications, reviews, and documents.

Invest Atlanta, for example, uses Neighborly Software to administer their city-wide housing rehabilitation program. Low-to-moderate income individuals apply on the platform for grants and loans to help fix their property.

The software will sort applicants by their assets and income levels. Once city officials review and approve, the platform lets contractors bid on and get hired for the project.

All parties can see the status of the project and the funds allocated for it.

Beyond the initial application and review process, the platform keeps up with compliance rules for each stage of the project after the work is done. For example, for down payment or rehabilitation programs, a property owner must live onsite for a certain number of years after to be eligible for fund forgiveness.

The software monitors and alerts the individual every year to submit proof that they’re still a resident. “There’s a long period of monitoring that takes place, often from 10 to 20 years,” says Rusnak.

It also helps non-profits applying for funding to report on the results of the project.

“How many people did you help? What was the demographic?” says Rusnak.

The SaaS platforms paid for by the city, based on the number of administrators who access it. Fund seekers and contractors can access the interface for free.

Rusnak says that after their pivot, “it’s been off to the races ever since.” The startup already works with over 40 cities across the country; they just on-boarded their first clients in California, Texas, and Washington.

With a focus on hands-on on-boarding consulting, he says they have succeeded at overcoming challenges often found in working with slower-moving entities like government agencies. “If you do a really great job, you have a great product and you give them great service, they will do the selling for you.”

“It’s such a close-knit community that they talk to each other and spread the word for us,” says Rusnak.

He expects the team to grow to 10 people by the end of the year, from the initial two.

The Atlanta-based startup raised an initial angel round from Three Five Two, Inc’s Geoff Wilson in 2017. Though they’re already profitable, Rusnak says that they will raise more funding early next year to expand to new markets and other city programs.

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