Navigating quickly-changing construction permit regulations and government agencies can quickly delay a real estate project and cost you thousands. You can pay a permit expediter, but that route will still put you out anywhere from $35 to $70 per hour. South Carolina-based PermitZone bridges the gap between municipalities and private contractors to take the hassle out of the equation by providing all of the necessary, updated information and manage multiple projects in one place.
When CEO Ray Antonino‘s 7-year-old construction company started growing past state lines, he started running into misinformation as he searched for the right permit, the right office, and the right requirements in cities he wasn’t familiar with. A serial entrepreneur without much tech experience, Antonino tapped into the local startup community in Myrtle Beach, SC, to build his startup while simultaneously running his construction business. A Techstars stint later and the rest is history.
Now the company is looking to expand even further with new partnerships and clients including an upcoming Fortune 50 company deal this fall.
Antonino talks to Hype about how his rapidly-growing construction company (3 states and counting!) inspired PermitZone, why SEO can be a great asset for your startup, and being a military veteran in the tech industry.
What’s your pitch?
For contractors and DIY-ers, getting a construction permit is a pain. Access to permit requirements requires phone calls and time-consuming trips to a building department. For large corporations that leverage sub-contractors to complete work on their behalf, there is no easy way to monitor compliance and ensure that contractors pulled the required permits.
We help contractors and DIY-ers pull construction permits online — nationwide. Additionally, we provide large corporations visibility into the status of permits issued for the sub-contractors they use and give insights into local building departments.
How’d you get the idea for it?
I owned a construction company in Myrtle Beach for nearly 7 years. As I grew the business to span from SC to GA and into NC, I had to constantly reinvent the wheel. First, to find out what building department oversaw an address, if a permit was needed, what, if any requirements where needed to pull a permit and the inspections required to complete the job. I learned quickly, that the one thing building departments have in common is that nothing is common from one to the next.
What’s your current funding status?
We bootstrapped the first $68K. After being accepted into Techstars Austin 2016 class, we raised $170k and have an open round of $200K remaining. We are pursuing investors with a background in B2B technology sales, and/or domain experience in construction or real estate industry. Our current investors include a Harvard MBA graduate with CEO experience selling in the construction space, and a founder of a technology company in the aerospace industry with a healthy exit, and Techstars.
What’s PermitZone’s revenue model?
For contractors and do-it-yourselfers, we charge a convenience fee to process a permit on their behalf. For large corporations seeking information on municipalities, we charge a fee to access our dataset through an API call.
Who are your competitors and how do you stand out?
Competitors include third party permit expeditors, couriers, trusted employees and government software providers (ex: accela.com, cityworks.com, tylertech.com, mygov.us, etc.) Depending on the size and scope of work, contractors use permit expeditors at a rate of $300 to $2,000 per project, while smaller specialty trades send employees from the field or office at an average loss of 3.6 hours with travel and wait time.
We solve this problem with two questions: where is the work to be performed and what type of work is being completed? Contractors get the resources needed to stay compliant, the ability to pull a permit online anywhere in the U.S. and one dashboard to view the status for all permits in real-time.
You’ve talked about the importance of SEO for your startup. How has it helped you grow your business organically and why should other entrepreneurs think about prioritizing it?
Offering meaningful pages that brought value to people searching us helped us. In fact, our SEO sucked, yet the information we provided proved to be better than what is out there. It is only after we had “the courage to be incomplete,” per our Techstars mentor, that we gained invaluable information on who are customers are, what made them search, and why they were willing to pay for our solution.
In the same way, we are taught to get our solution into the market quickly and iterate the feedback loop, SEO is very much the same way. If you wait until you have it perfected, you will not only have wasted a ton of time, you will likely waste money on AdWords or Facebook ads that bring little to no value.
We are now making SEO an important initiative and given the amount of energy that goes into it, we are happy we learned more about what will speak to our customers. Pro Tip: Be sure you have a clear ask on every page you produce and make it stupid-easy for prospects to reach you with questions. It is here that you will be rewarded so long as you listen for the sake of listening and not selling.
What kind of resources did you find helpful when starting out that helped you get more familiar with the tech industry?
Fortunately for me, I am a military veteran and early on I found Patriot Boot Camp and BunkerLabs, both selfless organizations that eat, sleep and breathe helping veterans, and took the next steps for transitioning into a tech entrepreneur.
While not all reading this will be a Veteran, I am certain there is a tight community seeking to help you. If you are a minority, I promise there is a tight community that will embrace you and work like hell to get you connected. If you can’t find one hit me up and I will get you connected!
How does the Southeast weave into your story? Why build your startup here?
While an Akron, Ohio boy for 30 years, the past 10 years I have enjoyed the lifestyle of living within 2 miles of Myrtle Beach. After returning from Techstars in Austin, I spent months on end thinking of a move to Austin, Boston, NYC or even Raleigh. After a good talk with Paul Singh, an investor in over 1,800 startups, I decided to call Myrtle Beach home.
Now I spend time helping and staying connected with the awesome relationships I had built from Raleigh, Charleston, and Savannah. Paul preaches that you do not have to leave, you can do it from where you are, and I believe he is right.
I do have to take this opportunity to give props to the city leaders of Myrtle Beach. The city went out of its way to attract airlines and as a result, I can get to any major city on the East Coast for very affordable prices.
What’s next for PermitZone in the next 6-12 months?
Customers – Customers – Customers. We are laser focused on brand awareness and market adoption through channels partners. One such success is our first integration with Knowify, a task management software for contractors to manage their business. The Knowify + PermitZone offering allows for their contractors to pull permits seamlessly through their application and includes other goodies for them to manage inspections and compliance related resources.
Additionally, we will have a pilot up and running by late Fall as our conversations with a Fortune 50 company are moving along. A VP of the company is our champion and has expressed the willingness to pilot our Enterprise solution in 120 locations throughout multiple states.
Featured and middle image by Naji H. Kelley, all other images courtesy of PermitZone.
As of 2019, PermitZone has rebranded as Permits.com