Statecraft, a startup that was originally planning to work with local governments to wrangle housing data, has pivoted.
The company, now called Openland, is focused on communications. The idea is to take some of the changes that have come into instant messaging in recent years and apply them to the complicated ecosystem that is real estate development.
It’s also secured a funding round worth $2.25 million, with about 30 investors on board including Sinai Ventures and Y Combinator.
The messaging platform includes directories of users, communications channels, inter-organization messaging capabilities and template responses for the little questions that people are always asking. The company thinks that will help partners in the development market — think investors and developers — communicate faster and more informally, breaking up longer communications into manageable chunks.
But Yury Lifshits, the co-founder and CEO of the company, is also thinking about local government officials who answer those people’s questions and do economic development work with them.
“There’s basically nothing out there right now that helps really chat between all those stakeholders,” he said. “They’re stuck with paper, they’re stuck with email.”
For cities who are trying to drive development, they can use the tool to list available lots for developers who are looking for space.
“They can say, ‘Hey, this city planning directory is available in this chat for the next few hours, anybody can ask questions and we will answer them,’” Lifshits said.
Ideally, he said, the faster and more informal method of communication will speed up the process of getting new development built. The company’s headquartered in San Francisco, where California’s housing price problems are especially acute, and public pressure is mounting to build more living space.
Lifshits said a big part of the holdup in building more units is simply communication. In a press release, the company estimated that about half the time it takes to build something is spent on communications work — financing, getting permits, etc. — and the actual construction takes up the other half.
“Right now you kind of have to submit paper requests and fax something and pay a fee to ask a simple question and retrieve a document,” he said.
It’s an area that more startups have focused on lately, with companies like idevelop.city and Symbium working to make it easier for developers to figure out where they can build and others, like Camino, is creating tools to help people run through the permitting process faster.
As for Statecraft, its pivot to communications came from a revelation as it worked through its original concept.
“We realized that the data system is not mature enough to, even if we put together all the data points that exist in some systems, we still would not have a complete enough picture,” Lifshits said. “You need to go to the source and talk to all the stakeholders.”
Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.