“Neighbor.ly” is a civic crowd-funding platform that helps funding community projects.
Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Connolly’, regarding his start-up company “Neighbor.ly”;
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “Neighbor.ly” is all about?
Neighbor.ly is the funding platform for community projects. We help fund civic projects that usually can’t be put on the tax base but are immensely beneficial to the community. Neighbor.ly allows for cities to pre-capitalize projects instead of relying on debt and borrowed federal dollars. Projects can scale so US cities, community organizations and other civic-minded entities can all act as project owners. We’re invested in improving communities and we’re giving cities a new option to do just that.
2. When has “Neighbor.ly” been founded? And what stage is “Neighbor.ly” currently at?
Neighbor.ly was founded in March of 2012 and launched in early July of 2012. The platform is in an open, working test phase in which listed projects are live and are accepting real dollars. Software is continually being improved to provide better functionality and streamline the application and approval process. In October, we launched a skatepark in Portland, OR which marks our first national project. Our backlog continues to grow and we now have well over 20 project proposals from around the country.
3. What is “Neighbor.ly”‘s business model and how does it work?
In order to continue helping cities across the nation, Neighbor.ly takes a 5% platform fee from each project. Currently, we take a very proactive role in helping projects to get on the platform. In the future, we imagine having a streamlined application process and an option for cities to use our services as a consultant, in which case we would charge a consulting fee.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Jase Wilson (CEO) and Briston Davidge (COO), met back in 2003 when they formed the civic-minded web development company Luminopolis with backgrounds in city planning and development and programming. The two eventually moved to OfficePort, a colocation space in the heart of the Crossroads in downtown Kansas City. Chris Parrott (CFO), a certified public accountant working out of OfficePort, has advised dozens of ventures on balancing short-term operations with long-term vitality and value growth. Shaul Jolles (CBDO), a real estate developer and founder of OfficePort, has extensive networks and a business sense that made him ideal for the role he plays at Neighbor.ly. Patrick Hosty (Advisor) is a Kansas City native with a background in public finance and corporate banking.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Neighbor.ly is the first funding platform in the US focused on community and civic projects. Other crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter are interested in helping individuals while we are interested in helping whole communities. We host projects strictly by civic-minded organizations because we’re interested in improving the very communities we live in. We understand the power of all levels of a community gathering to support a cause. This is why we encourage donations and support not just from individuals but from companies, institutions and organizations as well. These entities essentially get to vote with their dollars to put money toward projects they really care about in their own communities.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “Neighbor.ly” achieved so far?
In terms of size, Neighbor.ly is a small company, yet interest in the platform is growing rapidly. We have an ever growing backlog of projects that will be up and running as soon as software updates are finished. We’ve been live for just over four months and we’re very happy with the progress we’ve had. Within that time, we’ve hosted seven total projects, three of which are still live. Our first major success came from a technology project that aimed to raise $5,000 to pre-register disadvantaged or low-income homes for Google Fiber. That project met its goal with a week to go and ended up more than doubling before the end of the campaign. A major milestone came in October when we launched our first national project, a skatepark in Portland, OR.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “Neighbor.ly”‘s competitive advantage over them?
Our top US competitor would be Citizinvestor, a group based out of Tampa. A major advantage Neighbor.ly has in the civic funding space is that we were live with a number of projects under our belt before other sites went live. Having our platform up and running gave us invaluable feedback from live projects and allowed us to make tweaks and improvements that we otherwise would not have known about. It’s important for many community projects to get every dollar they can, so we offer a choice in campaign style. If a project must meet a minimum goal, the project owner can choose the traditional all-or-nothing model. If a project can use all the help it can get, the owner can choose the every-dollar-counts model so they receive the funds even if the goal is not fully met at the end of the campaign. There is a lot of demand for civic project funding; Neighbor.ly has had a total of seven projects and has brought in thousands of dollars with applications from all over the country coming in almost daily.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The biggest problem we are currently facing is funding. We received a portion of funding initially but are bootstrapped at the moment. We’re overcoming this obstacle by applying to various grants and keeping an eye out for other potential funding avenues. In the meantime, keeping a positive attitude has gone a long way!
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
As popular as the idea of crowdfunding is, not a lot of people have heard of it. Many are unfamiliar with established platforms like Kickstarter. When talking about civic minded fund raising, people tend to get really lost. However, it’s a simple explanation that clears things up for most. Also, the word “civic” is a fairly nebulous term to some, so we’re really focusing on the community aspect of fund raising. Really it’s neighbors helping neighbors to pay for the things in their communities that really matter to them.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Cities need money. Without it, projects get cut and communities are left with inadequate infrastructure or services. Neighbor.ly offers a simple tool for cities to raise money to fund projects that have been suspended. The ability to access pre-capital for a project is extremely attractive to a city and the public is generally happy to commit to this down payment because they receive the direct benefit. But the idea scales; neighborhood organizations and even non-profits can be project owners too. Neighbor.ly is just as ideal for community projects as much as it is for citywide projects.
11. If “Neighbor.ly” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We imagine Neighbor.ly as the one-stop shop for cities looking for funding. Currently, we host projects and act as the coordinator between cities, organizations and citizens. In the future, we hope to offer other useful funding mechanics to the site and even offer bonds. We’d like to keep Neighbor.ly focused on civic an community projects but spin-offs are an option that we may look into in the future.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “Neighbor.ly” based on?
We noticed a trend in local governments across the country: an increase in the demand for public amenities and services and the lack of funding with which to do them. Neighbor.ly is based on the age-old practice of “passing the hat.” Neighbors and communities pitching together in order to raise funds for new public amenities. The internet allows us to streamline that process and connect to a much larger community and ultimately the world.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Being live for just four months has given us invaluable feedback that we wouldn’t trade for anything. The greatest thing we’ve learned, and possibly the most encouraging, is that people are willing to support a cause they believe in, even when it doesn’t directly affect or benefit them. A few of our projects have exemplified the idea of neighborly funding: neighbors helping neighbors to pay for the things they care about most.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Growth and expansion. A good problem, mind you. We’re seeing tons of demand for funding civic projects in communities all over the country. When we’ve built out the software to handle the load, we’ll move into a stage of growth and finding the right people to build out our team will be an exciting process.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Both citizens and governments benefit tremendously from the platform. Citizens get perks in return for donations on the platform as well as the civic amenities they want in their communities. Cities save money by collecting interest-free capital up front instead of relying on borrowed federal dollars that will end up being paid back at a higher cost. A fourth, inherent benefit is the creation of jobs for nearly every project that gets funded.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Our current users have found our platform through a combination of social media, press and word of mouth. Since our launch, we have been accepting projects from within the Kansas City metro. This allows us to be very hands-on with projects and organizations during the application and approval process while we work out software issues. What is now very much a manual process will eventually be automated. Once the software is solid and intuitive, we will push for a more formal launch. Social media components are baked right into the software so that when someone supports a project, they’re able to tell their friends via Twitter and Facebook. This route has proven to be extremely powerful and has generated a majority of our user base during our soft launch. Despite the more localized launch, we have been contacted numerous times by chambers and non-profits across the country, including Skaters for Portland Skateparks, asking about getting their project on Neighbor.ly.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current users are individuals, organizations and businesses both local and nationwide. While the majority of our users are based around Kansas City, at least 20% of the donations received in the Paint the Town Green campaign on Neighbor.ly came from outside the Kansas City metro. Our goal for Neighbor.ly is to act as the go-to platform for cities across the country. In that scenario, our user base is simply any individual, organization or business interested in making their community better.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
New users discover Neighbor.ly every day. Because of the social media baked into the software, the spheres of influence expand with each mention of the platform or a project on it. New users try Neighbor.ly because they have nothing to lose but a lot to gain. If a project falls through, the donors get a full refund less a transaction fee. A project, if greenlit, distributes the donations at the end of its campaign and awesome civic projects come to life that directly benefit our users.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Our users love what we’re doing to communities and their local governments. Most who are new to the idea wonder why it hasn’t been done before and see a lot of potential and value in it. It’s also helpful that many of the project owners putting up projects are non-profits offering tax deductible donations. This only helps to incentivize donations from companies and other businesses wanting to help their own community.
20. How are you going to scale?
Scaling is contingent on making Neighbor.ly’s services ubiquitous in cities across the country. Local governments everywhere are short on funds and we think Neighbor.ly will soon be a necessary tool for cities to raise the capital needed for great civic projects. Scaling also comes after more funding is obtained and software is built out to streamline the application and approval process.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
The biggest missing feature is an automated application and approval process. Data and projects are added manually which tends to slow down the entire publication process. This feature is currently being developed and once added, will allow us to quickly post our increasing backlog of projects and will allow new users to add projects in an efficient manner.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Neighbor.ly hosts projects solely within the US but allows for donations from around the world. We encourage the idea of neighbors helping neighbors but leave it open so that a local obligation affecting a few can be a global opportunity. A way for anyone to support a project and its cause even if they’re not directly affected by it.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We imagine Neighbor.ly being utilized in major metropolises all across the country to suppliment government funding. Ideally the platform would become the one-stop funding shop that organizations and local governments consider using in early stages of project development. We want to be a platform that is simple, accessible and powerful. We think growth is inevitable because cities and communities are always looking for new ways to capitalize civic projects.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We’re bootstrapped at the moment and are not currently looking for new employees. Once we’ve secured further funding, we’ll be looking to hire on a handful of new people with a variety of backgrounds: developers, designers, business developers and community engagement folk. At the present, we’re focused on getting our software locked down and functioning smoothly.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We’re looking into partnerships with other platforms that help generate great ideas within a community. Where these platforms allow for the best ideas to be voiced and rise to the top, Neighbor.ly is a platform that gives these ideas the means with which to pursue them. And, of course, funding is always welcome! All inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Stay positive. An idea is worth pursuing if your intent is to do well while doing good.