Today, I am talking with Mark Smukler of Bixby about property management and technology. Bixby is a building amenity platform/tenant portal app that helps management be more efficient by streamlining communication, work order management, payments, document storage, and any other component of tenant-related activities. Also, it’s a virtual/mobile concierge for tenants to find services, such as housekeeping, dry cleaning, moving, storage, and public transportation. It’s a win-win for everybody!
[06:40] Bixby’s end-user interface aggregates different tools into a single platform that costs less and is specific to the real estate business.
[08:35] Bixby is modular and flexible with features that you can turn on or off.
[10:08] Bixby’s development principle is that it doesn’t build anything that it’s not asked to build; every single thing in its product was a direct request from a customer.
[11:10] Bixby integrates with smart home devices and creates a world where property managers and tenants have one central hub, instead of multiple apps for a property [12:25] Bixby enhances the property management business, it doesn’t disrupt it.
[13:08] New generations are comfortable with new technology, but older ones still use old technology; Bixby works with your current system – if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
[14:20] Manage more with less; it’s difficult to gain economies of scale in property management because it is a high-touch, maintenance-oriented business.
[15:25] Bixby cuts down the number of phone calls and time spent communicating with tenants, collecting rent payments, and locating documents.
[16:08] Real estate assets can be monetized beyond rental income; providing housekeeping, dry cleaning, and other services to tenants generates revenue.
[18:52] Set Up a Bixby Account: Go to livebixby.co/signup; Bixby costs $1 per apartment per month, or, if you have fewer than 20 units, it’s free to use.
[20:44] Bixby Branded Application: White-labeled with a client’s logo, color palette, subdomain, hosting, and name.
[22:35] Bixby partners with other businesses, including Coord to let tenants find, reserve, and pay for parking, and TransitScreen for information on public transportation.
Manage more with less
Integration is key; Bixby integrates different features into one platform
Bixby is much more of an enhancement than a disruption
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Jason: Alright. We are live. Welcome DoorGrow Hackers to The DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow Hacker.
DoorGrow Hackers love the opportunities, daily variety, unique challenges, and freedom that property management brings. Many in real estate think you’re crazy for doing it. You think they’re crazy for not because you realize that property management is the ultimate high trust gateway to real estate deals, relationships, and residual income.
At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change perception, expand the market, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, Property Management Growth expert, Jason Hull, the founder of OpenPotion, GatherKudos, ThunderLocal, and of course, DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.
Today, I am hanging out with Mark Smukler of Bixby. I’m happy to have you here on the show. Mark, welcome.
Mark: Thanks so much, real pleasure to be here and excited to talk about property management and technology and how software/hardware can really help you grow your business and provide a better experience to your tenants.
Jason: Mark, why don’t you help the audience become a little bit familiar with who you are, your background, and then let’s get into how you came up with Bixby and what it is.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. I actually was born in Moscow in Russia, but I moved to New Jersey at a really early age where I grew up. I went to New York University where I studied Finance but minored in Computer Science. I started my career as an Investment Banking Analyst, working here in New York City, covering consumer, retail, ecommerce, merger, and acquisition. But I really still felt a draw to the technology side and so I left the finance world to work with early stage companies and become a web developer.
With Bixby, I kind of fell into the real estate business. I ended up building a lot of websites for real estate companies in the greater New York City area. About the team, here’s our availability, you can book a showing, but one of our clients reached out and said, “Hey, we’re aggressively expanding our multifamily footprint and we’re having trouble creating efficiencies and scaling on the management side of the business. Things like every time something happens at the building, we have to go and put a piece of paper on the wall that says, ‘The boiler’s shut down for an hour,’ or maintenance request. Our office would get phone calls all day. ‘Hey, I called the super. There was a leak. It’s still been an issue for the last three weeks,’ and the manager’s sitting there saying, ‘Well you called the super, the super didn’t tell me. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know this was an issue,’” and the company was only taking rent by check in the mail.
They called me, and they said, “Look, we know that technology can have a great impact on our business, but we’re a traditional real estate operators. We have no idea how to adopt electronic payments. We don’t know how to build software and we don’t want it to be a huge disruption for our workforce. How can you help us?”
And that’s really how we got started. We looked at the market, we didn’t see a great product that was mobile first, that really added a lot of value to the tenant experience as much as it did efficiency for the management team. We went on and we built our own. This was very early 2016 and we launched our first building in June of that year.
Jason: Awesome. Explain then what is Bixby to those that are listening.
Mark: We called Bixby a building amenity platform. But it’s kind of just a fancy way of saying a tenant portal. It’s an app that helps streamline communication, work order management, payments, document storage, and really any other component of the tenant relations activities that your real estate company might engage in.
At the same time, it acts as a virtual amenity, a way for your tenants to find services for things like housekeeping, dry cleaning, moving, storage, get discounts from businesses in the local neighborhood, even find information on public transportation. On the one hand, it’s an efficiency tool for the real estate company, for the management team. On the other hand, it’s this virtual amenity that really extends the managers value offering in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Jason: Okay. This is going beyond the typical tenant portal that most property management software would kind of come with.
Mark: Yeah. I think that tenant portals aren’t necessarily a new concept. You can think about a company like Building that started in 1999, RealPage has their own tenant portal called Active Building and then another one called My Building for co-ops and condos and HOAs. But what we felt was these portals a: were generally web-first products and now we’re living in a more mobile generation. It’s important to be able to oversee a portfolio on-the-go. It’s important to allow tenants to interact with this product on-the-go. But more so, the products that existed prior to Bixby were much more focused on the property management team and creating efficiencies there.
What we felt was, while that’s incredibly important, a product like this has a unique opportunity to really add value to the tenant experience. We wanted to combine both of those sides of the equation, a product that creates efficiencies for the management team but also can help provide additional value to the tenants in some of the ways that I’ve mentioned.
Jason: Cool. A lot of single-family residential managers listening would be like, “Well, how is this relevant to what I do? We’re using RealPage’s Property where we’re using Buildium or we’re using Rent Manager, one of these tools and they have a tenant portal, but I don’t think it has any concierge side to it with housekeeping and some of these sorts of things.” Maybe you can touch on that. I think they’re curious about that.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. For product like ours and any software stack that a real estate owner/manager is contemplating or building out to support operations, I think integration is the most important part. What you don’t want to end up is with five or six different software that don’t speak to each other. What Bixby focuses on is providing that end-user interface that aggregates a lot of the different tools that you might already be using into a single platform.
For example, we integrate with a number of different accounting systems from QuickBooks and Xero to Yardi and RealPage and MRI. Really, one of the agnostics to whatever you’re using for your bookkeeping but sit on top of that as the tenant engagement platform. We still have a lot of clients who are using Zendesk for their maintenance request and they’re may be using Facebook groups for sending messages. Then they might be using Rent Manager to collect and track payments.
What we really offer is a single product that integrates those different features into a platform that’s really specific to the real estate business and often at the fraction of the cost of using five or six different software.
Jason: It sounds like it could do both things though. You could use Bixby to connect a lot of different things together that you may want to use, or Bixby can take over several of those pieces.
Mark: Yeah, to an extent. I think one of the things we really stayed away from is being an accounting software. I think accounting is really a business in its own right and it’s a complicated product. Depending on your operation, you’ll have different needs. You might need a different platform like QuickBooks versus Buildium or Rent Manager, for example.
When we created the product, we made it really, really modular and flexible. All of the features that are in the product, you can turn on or off. If you feel like, well, you want a way to store documents, you can share them quickly and easily with your tenants and be able to e-sign leases, and you want a way to send messages to a number of different single property homes without having to find their emails and email all of them individually, and if you want to wait for them to send you maintenance requests without picking up the phone and calling you, you can do that versus, let’s say, you’re already using something else for payments and you want to integrate that payment system into our product.
It’s a very modular product. Every property management company needs a different software stack, and we try to accommodate kind of all operating styles.
Jason: Yeah, sounds cool. If you have this modular system and a property manager comes to you and they’re like, “Well, I use these three or four different tools, can we plug it into this?” How quickly do you guys create integrations when they may not have it yet? They might be using Property Meld for maintenance coordination, and maybe they want to use Tenant Turner for the showing side, they’ve got some different phone numbers they want people to route to for afterhours maintenance calls, and all this can be maybe put into the app?
Mark: Yeah, for the most part. We certainly don’t integrate with every company on the market yet. But we have a development principle here where we don’t build anything that we’re not asked to build. Every single thing in our product was a direct request from a customer. If the client came to us and said, “Hey, we want to use your product but we’re already using this tool for maintenance request.” We’ll either contact that company and create a direct integration or we’ll just route users to that app or website from within our application. The latter is definitely much quicker. The former will take a little bit of time and work, but it’s kind of that promise where we don’t want to disrupt your business. We want to enhance it. How can we make our product fit for you?
Jason: Right. In situations where you don’t already integrate with somebody, you could probably route to their web app or something along these lines and then maybe concurrently working on an API integration with them if they’re open to doing such.
Mark: Yup. That’s exactly right. I think one of the big benefits is really to the tenant. One of the integrations we do are with smart home devices. You can imagine as you start to employ those into your properties, you’re going to have one app to open the door, one app to turn on the lights, one app to control the air conditioning.
What we’re trying to avoid is a world where you, as a property manager, need to have four, five, six different apps for every single property and same thing for the tenant. We’ll integrate devices like Nest thermostats, Philips Hue light bulbs, a number of different smart lock companies, all into the product. The tenant has one login, they can interact with all those devices, and if you are using a different maintenance request portal or payment portal, like you said, it can just link out to that website, but again, they still feel like there’s one central hub for them.
You can do API integration, which is great, but you can also just do a single sign-on. Once they sign-on to our app, those credentials get passed on to Rent Manager or whatever payment gateway you’re using, whether it be QuickPay or PayLease, even though they’re routed to that website, they’re automatically logged into their account which saves them that kind of re-login process.
Jason: It sounds really cool. What else should people know about Bixby then?
Mark: There’s two things that we focus on. I mentioned that we’re really here to enhance the property management business and not disrupt it. I think that’s really an important concept. There’s so many companies that are coming to market in real estate technology and technology in general looking to disrupt the way things were done previously. We know that a: real estate is one of the oldest and largest industries in the world, and it’s also been one that’s kind of been deterrent to embracing technology and employing it in the business, and for good reason. I guess it’s kind of a “if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it” argument.
But there’s a few tailwinds that we feel are really contributing to a shift in mindset. A new generation of tenants and residents, who have a different relationship with technology and are a little bit more digital native than kind of proceeding renters. At the same time, there’s a bit of a shift in the ownership and management landscape as well, where some of the individuals who bought their first properties in the early ‘80s and grew their portfolio are looking to retire, and somebody younger is taking over the business who has a different relationship with technology and they’re adopting a company that still relies on fax machines and emails and a very paper-based analogue processes. They are looking for a product like this to really streamline their operations and make things more efficient.
Kind of knowing that that’s where the industry is and the cycle of adopting technology, were very conscious of the fact that we’re not here to tell you, “Oh, you have to get rid of that, and that, and that.” We want to work with your current systems, we don’t want to make a significant change for your workforce, and we want it to be much more of an enhancement than a disruption. I think that’s important conceptually.
But what we’re really trying to accomplish for management companies is manage more with less. I think that there can often be an issue with scale in property management businesses and that as you acquire another property, you need to scale up your expenses and your operations equivalently. It’s difficult to gain economies of scale in the property management business because it can be such a high-touch, maintenance-oriented business.
What we try and focus on and something that we often point to, if a property manager can oversee, let’s call 100 units, that’s kind of what the industry considers to be standard if you’re hiring a property manager. Through a platform like ours, we believe that they can oversee 300 units. Let’s say you acquire another 100 units to your portfolio. You don’t necessarily need to go out and hire another property manager to oversee those new units, those new properties.
Your existing property manager, through a product like Bixby, because we’re cutting down the number of phone calls, cutting down on the time spent communicating with tenants, collecting rent payments, chasing down documents, and all of these tenant-relations activities that are very important to providing service to tenants, but don’t always flow down to the bottom line in a positive way. Because we’re alleviating the time spent there, managers can spend more time on things that are more important to the business. For example, acquiring more properties and really growing the business while limiting expenses. Something that’s really important for us.
There’s one other component I want to touch on which is, we believe really strongly that real estate assets can be monetized beyond just rental income. If you look at industries like hotels and hospitality, and even travel with airlines, you’ll notice that hotels make a large portion of their profits not necessarily through room bookings, but through room service, and food and bev on-site, and the souvenir shops that are in the lobby. Similarly, for airlines. They make so little money on the booking of the actual seat, but there’s the baggage fees, and the drinks that you can buy, and the in-flight entertainment.
Jason: And Wi-Fi.
Mark: Exactly right. We feel that property managers of residential assets, and commercial as well, but residential specifically, are foregoing an opportunity to monetize assets much more than they have traditionally. But providing services to tenants like housekeeping and dry cleaning and gaining commissions from the providers or partnering with the local garage and letting people book parking there and taking a transaction fee for whenever they park there, it’s not really core to the property manager’s business. They’re real estate operators and owners. Those kinds of partnerships and tracking and accounting, that can really be a distraction.
What we provide is not only to provide better service to tenants by connecting them with these kinds of services, but also generating new revenue streams. I think that’s really exciting for us in applying that hotel model to residential assets. I think it’s a win-win for both tenants and the property owners.
Jason: Yeah, it’s really cool. I like what you said, the focus is to manage more with less. Really, what you’re talking about is creating leverage for the property managers. They’re thinking collapsed time on communication so that they can handle more, keep their operational cost even lower as the competitive advantage, and then I love this idea of maybe learning from the hospitality industry and incorporating some of those things. Do you guys have a pool of ideas? If a property manager came to you and say, “How can we make some additional money?” Do you guys have like, “Hey, yes we’ve got this list, or we’ve got these ideas or let’s figure this out.” Explain kind of the onboarding process maybe with a new client. How do you take them through all of this?
Mark: Yeah, sure. Every property is going to be different. What’s available to the tenant is going to change. The process in creating an account is very simple. You go to livebixby.co/signup and you can create an account in minutes. You add your company, you add your first property, you add any of your maintenance team, and it’s a very, very intuitive product. On the manager side, we really, really focus on making it as easy to use as text and email.
Once you’re there, we’ve created partnerships with over 50 service providers across the country. Groups like Handy or Paintzen for painting or Moved for moving concierge. Similarly, Unpakt for moving services, Lemonade for renter’s insurance. These are all partnerships that we have partnership agreements in place with, and those come out of the box with the product.
As soon as you introduce your tenant to the application, they’ll get an email saying, “Hey, welcome to your building’s community portal. This is what you can use to send us messages, to submit maintenance requests, submit rental payments, and there’s also a marketplace for services. Oh, it looks like you haven’t moved into your place yet. Here’s the moving company that we recommend,” and that’s it. The tenant gets introduced to those services every time one of those tenants places an order, we get paid, we cut 50/50 back to the property owner.
Within the first few months, you just start getting checks from Bixby. The product costs $1 per apartment per month. If you have less than 20 units, it’s a free app to use. In that sense, we really think that we’re more of a profit-centered than we are another expense item on your panel.
Jason: You mentioned this is Bixby-branded, like the tenants are downloading a Bixby app or they using a web-based app? How does the tenant utilize this service?
Mark: We tend to push our Bixby-branded application. The idea is that we’re the company that represents living better in your apartment and renters living more comfortably and conveniently. But we do, of course, white label the application. There’s a lot of property owners, management companies, properties in and of themselves where the brand and really, really core and important to the business. We white label the application, we put your logo on it, your color palette. We set you up with a sub-domain, we host your own app in the app store, and we name it whatever you want. It costs about $5000 and a one-time redesign fee, and then same $1 per unit per month maintenance fee ongoing.
Jason: I think some property managers go, “Oh, a dollar per unit.” But even if you have 1000 units and it’s a dollar, you’re spending $1000 a month. You could spend easily 2-3 times that amount on an employee or two at that level, or three. I think the cost is a no-brainer if people really take a look at where time goes in, and if it can collapse that time, it would make a lot of sense.
I love the idea of having the white label app because then, you eliminate any sort of brand confusion, you’ve established yourself that’s going to go in that extra step to say, “Hey, our company has something unique or special in the marketplace compared to our competitors. That’s really cool. I love the idea of the additional revenue streams, that they can just strap on really quickly and easily, that are already built into it. They can pick and choose from this pool or market place that you already have in place.
Mark: Yeah. It really depends on the property and it comes back to the integrations component. We partner with Coord, which is a subsidiary of Sidewalk Labs, Google’s Urban Tech Division. They’re the ones who are going out and partnering with garages around the buildings that use our product. If you’re in one of those areas, you can let your tenants find, reserve, and pay for parking through our app. That’s something we’re just piloting in Chicago at the moment and looking forward to announcing soon.
Similarly, another integration would be TransitScreen where you can find information on public transportation on the building. This can be another add-on that the tenants opt into. Definitely, a lot of ways to monetize the asset beyond just rental income and we really look to be that partner to help facilitate that.
Going back to your example, if you have 1000-unit portfolio, let’s say you have 50% turnover every year, about 500 people moving in and out, we generate on average about $100 per tenant per year. 500 individuals moving in and out, $100 per tenant, that’s a really significant new revenue line item.
Jason: Yeah, definitely. Is there anything else people listening should know about Bixby and how can they get in touch, maybe demo or get more information?
Mark: You can visit our website, www.livebixby.co. There’s a link in the upper right-hand corner that you can click to access demo credentials to play around with our sandboxed account and get to know the product some more. You’ll also get information to reach out to our products specialist, we’ll be happy to lead you to a demo, learn more about your business, and see how we can partner to enhance your business with our product.
Jason, thanks so much for having me, really great to be here.
Jason: Absolutely. It’s been good to have you. I think maybe we can connect later. I’ll make some recommendations of different tools and things to integrate in the single-family residential space which will be really cool. You guys heard it, check it out at livebixby.co. I appreciate Mark coming on the show.
If you haven’t already, make sure you get your tickets to DoorGrowLive, really excited about that. If you’re not a DoorGrow Hacker, if you aren’t in our community yet, go to doorgrowclub.com and make sure you get inside our Facebook group. It is just for the property management business owners. You have to apply, and we will screen, not everybody gets in. We only let about a third of the people that apply in. But if you are a property management business owner or you’re going to start a property management business, you are welcome. We want you in there and contributing and you’ll get a lot of value out of it.
That’s it for today and thanks for tuning in to The DoorGrow Show. Bye, everybody.
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