Laura Butler is the CEO / CTO at UpLift Group, Inc.
Tell us about your company. What inspired you to start it?
Condos are supposed to be the best of apartment living combined with home ownership. Owning a stand-alone house is a lot of work and scary sometimes, especially as a single woman. What let me own a house is working hard, meaning little time or presence to deal with taking care of it. But as I found out when I Marie-Condo’ed my life in 2019, condos come with emotional, financial, and legal obligations beyond those of a house. You have shared responsibilities and restrictions because of the common elements – walls, floors, entries, garages, pipes, etc. And it’s just about impossible to find out much less understand the internals of an HOA before buying, particularly its financial health or rules that conflict with your life (no pets e.g.) Our startup aims to demystify and democratize HOA operations, making accessible information and affordable expertise available to individuals (buyers, owners, board members). We want Happy Condo Owners and Healthy HOAs.
Who are your cofounders and what makes you a great team?
My co-founder Carol Butler is also my mom. She has owned many condos in her life and served in every board position. She has a finance and governance background, so she’s really our Chief HOA Medical Offer.
How is your company making a difference?
We help condo buyers purchase with confidence and sometimes save them money during the offer process because of what we find. A property inspection is only half the story for a condo, the HOA is the other half. If you think about condo buyers – they are often first-time purchasers, going through a life change, younger or older – they particularly need advice and expertise. Meanwhile they are dealing with a ton of other stuff – getting a mortgage, planning a move, finding property insurance – and don’t have time much less the background to go through the hundreds of pages of material. That material is also often out-of-date, missing key things, or plain wrong besides being dense and obtuse. We also help their real estate agents who are absolutely slammed by letting them hand the disclosure details over to us. We are there to answer questions, explain what terms mean (like what’s an HO6 policy), and remove some stress + friction out of the buying process.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
COVID of course, it kicked in just after we had our initial idea of how to tackle this huge space of HOAs and made us completely change our approach. Also as two women, two family members, and over the age of 25 there definitely can be a perception that we’re not “serious” or “technical”. I had one advisor who’s now the CEO of a fast-growing startup tell me he was excited I have a passion project and when I want a real job to contact him. One learning is that starting with Boards and overall HOA operations is really hard. It’s like enterprise sales, it’s not scalable or repeatable outside of making b2b tools for mgmt which there are already a ton of, but it also has drama. By the time an HOA contacts us they are likely dealing with very hard problems and conflict. In addition, property management is a big barrier, they control the HOAs data and often charge for it. It took us 6 months to realize that starting with buyers is a great way to help owners and then HOAs.
What is your biggest win?
Paying customers! But seriously, our first condo buying customer was also a repeat. This customer is a real estate attorney who said the Condo Resale Docs are way too complicated (and we should charge more)! A second recent win is a real estate agent in Portland we’ve never met who referred two customers to us in one week.
Who is your role model?
My co-founder and mom.
What do you wish you had known before starting your company?
That every day is like an episode of “24” with tight timeframes and problems you’ve never seen before with little knowledge of how to fix them. Being adaptable and flexible is critical, but it’s also critical to put structure around the random because context-switching among coding, marketing, business models, product, and communicating with customers has cost.
What is your CEO superpower?
Stubbornness. Also I am a target customer, I’m busy and I want the “for dummies” version of things like the CC&Rs. I get angry for HOA boards and communities too when I see ways they are being poorly served by their management partners. Liens, lawsuits, surcharges, bad advice, conflicts of interest.
What has been your experience with FFA?
Wonderful. Always useful and practical while welcoming. There are networks that aren’t directly useful, and as a nerdy introvert “hanging out” makes me sick to my stomach. Plus I don’t have the time for it. Then there are useful practical groups/efforts that aren’t welcoming to me. Y Combinator feels like that.
Anything else you want people to know?
Anybody who’s looking to buy a condo, sell a condo, has questions about their condo, or has a relative /friend in that boat … contact us! We’re here for you. We’ll give you an FFA discount on our already extremely affordable prices, if it’s even something worth charging for at all.