If you’ve ever had to get a construction permit, you know that the process can be very painful and time-consuming. There are many reasons for this, and they vary depending on where you are located and what you are trying to get built.
Pulley is a San Francisco-based startup that wants to help speed up that process with its “purpose-built” software, and it has raised $4.4 million toward that effort.
Susa Ventures led its seed round, which interestingly included participation from other investors such as BoxGroup, Fifth Wall, Suffolk Construction and South Park Commons, but also a group of high-profile angels from within the industry as well as in the tech space in general. Those angels include Procore CEO and founder Tooey Courtemanche; Nat Friedman, former CEO of GitHub; Flexport CEO and founder Ryan Peterson; Built’s Chase Gilbert; and Plaid CTO Jean-Denis Greze.
Charlie Jacobson and Andreas Rotenberg started Pulley in the second half of 2021 with the goal of helping people get permits for projects of all sizes faster. And not just a little faster, but 10x faster. It’s a lofty claim, but if Pulley can well, pull that off, it could be revolutionary for the construction industry, where time is very much money.
“Permitting roughly takes months,” Jacobson told TechCrunch. “Our goal is to get that down to days.”
Jacobson and Rotenberg believe that permitting is slow and unpredictable “because it’s different everywhere.” The pair say that there are more than 19,000 different permitting jurisdictions in the U.S., each with their own process for interpreting and enforcing 10,000 pages of building codes. Pulley was built on the premise that these processes “are poorly documented, run via legacy software, and often change without notice.”
What some people may not realize is that delays in construction permits are contributing to very large national problems such as the housing shortage, which in turn leads to higher housing costs for all. On top of that, the need to retrofit existing buildings is increasingly crucial toward efforts to combat climate change.
Pulley initially is focused on the commercial space, because those projects tend to be the most complex, “but also have the most on the line,” notes Seth Berman, general partner and co-founder at Susa Ventures. Commercial construction in the U.S. alone is a $230 billion market, he adds.
“Most developers hire expeditors to help streamline their permitting process,” he said. “Across all $1.6 trillion of construction, faster permitting represents a $50 billion opportunity.”
Susa, Berman adds, has been investing in the proptech space for years and as such, has seen firsthand through its portfolio companies “how slow permitting limits construction growth and drives costs.”
“One of the biggest bottlenecks to any commercial or residential construction project tends to be the permitting process,” he told TechCrunch. “While many industries have been digitized, the permitting process in many jurisdictions is still analog. Pulley solves this by creating software that streamlines the process of getting permits faster. We’re really excited about what it is building to fix this mess.”
If you’re wondering how tackling commercial construction can help the housing crisis, many don’t realize that multifamily construction -- such as apartments or condos -- is actually considered commercial property whereas single-family homes are residential. And the more time that is spent on construction, the less rental income can be made.
“We’ve kicked off some larger, more complex commercial projects and are working with multifamily developers to permit hundreds of units of housing and larger apartment buildings,” Jacobson said. “Each of those represent hundreds of thousands of square feet of construction.”
Pulley says it has built workflow software “purpose-built for permitting with localized intelligence for each jurisdiction.” In other words, the software is localized to each city’s unique requirements, and automates submission and status tracking. Pulley also offers its customers integrated support from a network of local permitting consultants.
The startup’s software is currently in closed beta in markets across Texas, where it says construction volume has grown 30% over the last two years and permitting times are among the highest in the nation. So far, Pulley has tens of millions of dollars' worth of construction under permitting and a “growing” waitlist of developers, architects, engineers and contractors.
“We’re equipping them upfront with better data and intelligence around what the city is actually looking for and showing them a list of example comments that similar applicants have gotten from the same reviewer,” Jacobson said. “We believe we can save them at least one round -- if not two or three rounds -- of revision back with the city. If our data can help them save one round of revision, that can save two or three weeks off a project timeline.”
Pulley currently is made up of a team of six, and is using its new capital to build out its core product, do some hiring and scale to other markets.
“We’re tweaking and perfecting in Austin, Texas, and want to replicate what we’re doing there in other markets,” initially in Texas and then elsewhere in the country, Jacobson said.