Richmond's Project Mongoose pivots, rebrands after going through Lighthouse Labs

Richmond startup Project Mongoose is now HIO, and with the name change comes a new focus.

Last year, co-founders Jen Finn, Alex Otanez and Bernard Harkless launched the company with a software and hardware interface developed by Otanez. It utilized artificial intelligence to help buildings maximize electrical use. Project Mongoose planned to install the platform in large apartment complexes and help organizations save money.

But that changed after the company began working with property managers and entered Richmond startup accelerator Lighthouse Labs. Finn realized that the most pressing need for property management companies was finding an easier and more efficient way to communicate with tenants. Property managers can spend 30% of their time answering basic questions from tenants.

At the same time, property management companies are cutting costs and do not have the cash to install a new piece of hardware. Higher interest rates are putting pressure on the industry.

“The hardware and installation just isn’t there,” Finn said. “The market in general just isn’t necessarily ready for it yet.”

As a result, Project Mongoose has rebranded as HIO, a texting and artificial intelligence program for property managers. The platform functions much like a customer service chatbot. A tenant texts a question and artificial intelligence sends a reply. When the answer to the question is unknown, the tenant can get connected with the property manager. The goal is to save property managers time and effort.

Finn said the most important feature of the platform is the texting format. Tenants are not required to download an app. They can simply text the number and the platform answers the question based on the specific property.

“Let’s say you need to ask your property manager a question,” Finn said. “It could be something as basic as, ‘When is the pool open? or ‘Can I paint my walls?’ We can answer that from the resident’s point of view. We can answer about 75% of those questions.”

When a property manager becomes involved, the platform forwards the text chain. That way the property manager understands the conversation and the resident’s problem. The manager can then answer the question and end the conversation.

The system is built on technology from OpenAI, the company behind artificial intelligence program ChatGPT. The platform is being tested at a property in Richmond, and HIO is hoping to find other property management companies that want to help the startup refine the platform.

As an added value, HIO will provide the top questions that people are asking the property manager. The information could be useful and help the company fix or alleviate particular problems.

Currently, HIO is self-funded, but Finn said the company may look for investment funding in the future.

All of the information used to develop the texting responses is private, but Finn can see a time when the aggregated data is sold. The next step in the development process is a maintenance option. Tenants will be able to ask maintenance questions and a maintenance person will be dispatched when needed.

Finn added that the company is not abandoning the hardware-software product. She believes that can be a potential add-on service the company offers to property managers that purchase the texting platform.

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