Sugar, a startup that aims to turn apartment buildings into “interactive communities,” has closed on $2.5 million in seed funding.
A slew of investors participated in the financing, including MetaProp, Agya Ventures, Concrete Rose, Debut Capital, The Community Fund, Consonance Capital, Lightspeed Scout Fund and Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH syndicate. Also participating were angel investors such as SquareFoot CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum, Ben Zises, Diran Otegbade, Oleksiy Ignatyev and Zillow board member Claire Cormier Thielke, also of Sequoia Scout Fund.
Mali-born Fatima Dicko founded Los Angeles-based Sugar in March 2020. As people began quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dicko saw an opportunity to help make it easier for people living in apartments and residential communities to “engage with one another in a safe and efficient way.” So she partnered with real estate investment groups and property management companies to build an app for residents of apartments and those communities who might be feeling isolated and disconnected from their neighbors.
“Most residential apps are clunky, outdated and a pain to use. Tasks as simple as paying rent, communicating with your property manager or unlocking doors are cumbersome and tedious,” Dicko said.
On top of that, feeling isolated and disconnected from neighbors can also contribute to resident turnover, negative online reviews and, ultimately, decreased revenue for building owners.
So Dicko set about creating an app that not only gives residents a way to interact with other residents, but also do things like unlock doors without keys, submit maintenance requests and pay their rent. The platform has since grown beyond a pandemic-related use case. Today, the startup has clients globally, including residential communities of varying sizes, real estate investment groups, Airbnb rentals, hotels and other types of residential properties.
Sugar’s product has two components. One is a mobile app for residents and the other is a web-based dashboard for building owners and managers. The mobile app is sold directly to building owners and/or managers. Property managers also have access to the management dashboard to monitor resident engagement metrics and track online ratings and reviews of properties within their portfolios.
Prior to closing the seed round, Sugar achieved “consistent” month-over-month growth resulting in six-figure ARR (annual recurring revenue) just four months after launch, according to Dicko. As of now, Sugar has begun rollout to certain properties within the portfolios of early customers, such as Equilibrium Real Estate Investment Group, CGI Investment group and Apartment Management Consultants (AMC). Combined, the firms manage over 655 properties and 150,000 active doors in 22 states.
Sugar has also secured 90-day pilots with major property management companies such as Bozzuto, which manages over 78,000 residences and is seeking to boost resident engagement, Dicko said.
Its ability to integrate keyless entry hardware products into a community engagement dashboard is a point of differentiation for Sugar, according to Dicko.
“Our consumer app is sticky, which benefits users and owners. Sugar believes that access control is the most important feature in order to increase usage of the platform,” she said. “Because the product can plug into hardware and enable users to unlock doors and share digital keys from inside the app, this will enable increased product adoption leading to more engagement inside the community portal.”
She said another big differentiator is the ability to integrate into a building’s current hardware or software stack. Prior to attending Stanford Business School, Dicko spent several years as a senior product engineer at Procter & Gamble. It was there that she says she got excited about the idea of creating new solutions to solve old problems.
Sugar currently has nine full-time employees compared to two employees last year. It plans to make key hires in both engineering and sales with its new capital.
Kunal Lunawat of Agya Ventures said his firm was impressed with Dicko’s “tenacity, drive and ability to attract and assess good talent.”
“Everyone talks about community in residential buildings but no one is building a product that specifically solves for it,” he said. “The focus on community rests central to Sugar’s ethos, and that is why several of the world’s leading property managers are flocking to their software.”