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Spotlight on Bixby, Digital.NYC's Startup to Watch for July 2017

Each month as part of Digital.NYC’s Startup to Watch program we connect with the winning company to find out more about them. Here’s what we learned in a recent talk with the Mark Smukler, Co-Founder of Bixby.

Digital.NYC: Tell us about your company. What does Bixby do?

Mark Smukler: Our company is called Bixby and it’s a free web and mobile app for apartment building owners and managers to communicate with residents, organize maintenance requests, and collect online rent and common charge payments. We strive to improve quality of life for residents in apartment buildings by providing managers with a free, easy-to-use tool to make communicating with and serving residents easier and more efficient. We also provide a suite of on-demand services for residents ranging from housekeeping to dry-cleaning to medical house calls, all fulfilled by local, best-in-class service providers.

Digital.NYC: What is your background?

Mark Smukler: I was born in Moscow, Russia in 1989, but moved to and grew up in Montclair, New Jersey at the age of 3. I moved to New York City in 2008, where I attended NYU’s Stern School of Business. I started my career as an Analyst at a boutique investment bank called Stephens, Inc., where I helped advise mid-cap consumer product & eCommerce companies on M&A and equity capital markets transactions. After Stephens, I wanted to gain experience working with early stage companies with the hope of one day operating my own business, so I started working with founding entrepreneurs as a business development consultant, helping with anything ranging from developing pitch decks and raising capital to formulating marketing strategies and growth hacking for customer acquisition. 

One thing I learned during that first year in the tech industry was that I understood very little about the software development process, so I enrolled in General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive program where I spent three months learning how to code full stack web applications. I then spent nine months as a freelance web developer, building ruby on rails and javascript web apps for a variety of clients, several of which were real estate brokerages in NYC. In mid 2015, my friend from college and now business partner, Alex, [Ohebshalom] approached me to build a product for his property management company, Empire Management. That’s when Bixby was born. 

Digital.NYC: What problem or market does Bixby address?

Mark Smukler: Alex came to me in mid 2015 asking if I could help build a product to overcome some of the inefficiencies and inconveniences that he faced in his day-to-day work as a property manager. The specific issues he faced were: no easy way to communicate with building residents; no easy way to organize maintenance requests and keep track of what the building staff was working on, and no easy way to collect online rent and common charge payments. There were some existing solutions out there at the time, such as BuildingLink, but they targeted a different type of property – high-rises with doormen and luxury amenities. Alex’s buildings and the places I lived never had these things but still needed the tools and services that products like BuildingLink provided. We began developing the product in January 2016 and launched in our first building in June of that year, focusing on three main features:  a building announcement board, a maintenance request portal, and online payments. Since then we’ve grown to over 500 buildings in the greater NYC area and want to double that by the end of the year.

Digital.NYC: Who are your target customers?

Mark Smukler: Bixby is a B2B2C business – we target property owners and managers with anywhere from one apartment to one hundred buildings under management, often in the Class B & C (pre-war) property type segment, but not exclusively. We offer them a free communication and work-order management tool with the option to use our payment collection portal, which is the cheapest on the market at $0.50 per transaction. We then make money off commissions when their residents use our platform to place orders for home services. 

Our resident users skew towards millennials, but range greatly in demographics. Our property management customers are often small family offices in their second or even third generation as a business. Many of these customers are currently experiencing a change of control in which the business leader is retiring. Their successor is more comfortable using technology products in their day-to-day lives and this aligns more closely with the rapidly changing resident base.

Digital.NYC: How do you think your company is going to change the market? What are the main differentiators between you and your competitors?

Mark Smukler: What sets us apart from other property management software products is our mission, which is to improve quality of life for residents by facilitating the flow of communication and commerce between residents and their property owners/managers, as well as with the local service and retail community. What differentiates us more specifically is that we’re the only free communication product because we believe that mobile building communication and task management is a basic amenity that should be available to all building tenants. We’re also the only property management product that adds value to the resident through a platform for ordering home services and accessing deals in the local community. 

Digital.NYC: What else might our readers be interested to know about Bixby?

Mark Smukler: People often ask us what Bixby means and why we named our company as we did. When Alex and I started Bixby, we didn’t want it to sound like every other property management company, such as BuildingLink, Appfolio, or Yardi; we wanted it to sound friendly & trustworthy and to represent a “truce” (actually a name we considered seriously before Bixby), between residents and managers.

Alex was hiking in Big Sur one day in late Summer of 2015 when he came upon the Bixby bridge. He said it was breathtaking and that he instantly connected it with what we were trying to accomplish - build a bridge between residents and managers. The word sounded right and it represented the right goal for us, so we adopted it as our name.

Digital.NYC: Why did you chose New York City as your base for the company?

Mark Smukler: Well, New York is our home. Alex and I have both lived here in Manhattan for almost ten years and spent our entire lives around the city. Most importantly, this is where Alex’s network is. His properties were our beta and we learned a lot from them. When we grew and raised money, it was mostly New York Real Estate Professionals backing us. On top of all that, our product is tailor made for New York; nearly 60% of buildings here are class B or C pre-war properties that need a communication tool. New York has a large and tenured real estate community and it’s been a great place for us to launch: if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere.

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