When you pass through the rural area in Northwest Pennsylvania where Wesley (Wes) Hunt grew up, you are likely to notice overgrown dairy farms and abandoned machine shops that once bustled with activity only a couple generations ago. The area was proudly referred to as “Tool City USA.” And while farming and tool and die still exist in the area, they are no longer the expansive industries that they once were. However, that blue collar, dedicated, hardworking, and self-sufficient mentality still characterizes the people who live in the area. Growing up there, this mindset tends to take hold of you at an early age and is likely the reason Wes categorizes himself as an analytical person, driven by curiosity and a natural desire to solve problems.
Whenever Wes’s father was working on something, he always made a point to involve him, even if it meant ending up with a bloody nose. Years later, the family still laughs about when young Wes was asked to bring his father a large crescent wrench as he worked on a mower in the garage. Wes grabbed the correct wrench but proceeded to toss it under the mower, smashing his father in the face. “Needless to say, there were several lessons learned that day,” Wes joked.
However, the time spent with his father on projects like this helped him to face life’s challenges with a mechanical inclination and a bias for practicality, and Wes credits a lot of his early academic success at both the collegiate and law school level to this blue-collar identity he formed growing up. “Even if I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, I always felt that I had an advantage because of my ability to either outwork the competition or quickly and easily apply the concepts we were working with to real world scenarios.” This mentality would start to pay dividends after law school when he passed the Florida Bar on his initial attempt and started his first position as Associate Inhouse Legal Counsel for Hampton Golf, a Jacksonville based golf management company.
As a member of the legal team, Wes was immediately immersed in the inner workings of the entire business and gained valuable legal and operational experience. He also credits his supervisor and then General Counsel for the company, Scott Winch, with helping him grow as both an attorney and a young professional. Scott had a unique way of both challenging and mentoring at the same time. It was a humbling experience, but also one that helped prepare him for leading Compliance View 360.
It was also here that Wes was given his first real opportunity to build something. In 2014, he was approached about taking over the fledgling North Florida Division of Evergreen Lifestyles Management (Evergreen) which had partnered with Hampton Golf to manage the community associations located around their golf courses. The ownership was looking to expand and grow the company’s footprint in the North Florida market. To Wes, it looked like a great growth opportunity.
“In the beginning, we had no communities in the area, so I had to earn my keep by assisting in the finance department where I sorted mail, helped accounts receivable and payable with inputting data, and supported the accountants when needed. Eventually we earned our first contract in North Florida, which was only for the management of the community’s lifestyle program and its amenities. So, I set up social programs, cleaned the toilets, pressure washed the pool deck, and fixed things that were broken around the building. Compared to being inhouse counsel, taking responsibility for data entry, cleaning restrooms, and patching drywall was not the opportunity I had envisioned. But it did give me an opportunity to work my way up through the ranks and understand all aspects of the property management industry,” said Wes.
Before long, the relationship expanded to full association management for that community. And then in just a little over three years, Wes became a licensed community association manager (LCAM), received his designation as a Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA), moved into the regional manager position, and grew Evergreen’s presence in North Florida to a total of 32 communities.
In developing the business, Wes got to know many in the property management industry, as well as several people in the development and home building industries. They got to know Wes as well, and before long, Atlanta based PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM), owner of several trusted homebuilding brands, convinced him to join as their Senior Manager of Developed Real Estate & HOAs for the North Florida Division. In this role, Wes oversaw more than fifty homeowners’ associations and served on the Board of Directors and Community Development Districts for each, which required that he develop relationships with several of the regional property management groups and their staffs.
“As a regional manager in the property management industry and a manager of developed real estate on the developer and home building side, I had an opportunity to experience firsthand the challenges that the property management industry and its managers face every day. They are desperately struggling to keep pace with the growth in the HOA and home building industries, yet adoption of technology-based solutions to help automate and streamline the managers’ workflow is slow moving and at times non-existent. I believe that this lack of technology-based solutions is partially to blame for the labor shortage that the industry is facing today.”
“Being a property manager can be an extremely rewarding career, but all too often managers burn out or end up being miserable as they regularly drive an hour or more round trip to perform a 5–10-minute inspection of their property or meet a vendor to show them something as simple as a dead shrub. While onsite, you are handwriting notes, keeping lists, compiling pictures on your mobile device, and using several applications—some of which are useless because you are in a rural area with terrible cell service. And on the backend, you are receiving hundreds of homeowner emails and calls, many about the same issue, and trying to live up to unrealistic response times set by members or the board for the association. It is insanity, and to top it all off you end up frequently taking work home, which cuts into personal and family life. I think most managers are intelligent, dedicated, hardworking professionals, but many times they are doomed from the start simply because their industry does not have or cannot provide the tools necessary for them to successfully perform their job,” explained Wes.
This lack of technology-based tools in the property management industry is exactly the problem that Wes set out to solve when he started building Compliance View 360 in 2018. While at Pulte, Wes often commiserated with fellow members of the property management industry about the stresses associated with their work and wondered if there was a market opportunity for the right solution. Initially, Wes, who was a certified Remote Pilot for unmanned aerial systems and flew commercially at the time, thought this might be a possible solution for performing community inspections. However, after toying with the idea, he determined that this method posed several challenges, such as the FAA’s requirement that ensures pilots maintain line-of-sight, waiver, and approval processes in certain areas, and privacy concerns that would be difficult to overcome at scale.
In late 2018, a colleague happened to mention that his son who played hockey was using one of the new 360-degree video cameras that had just come out to help him train for the sport. Wes began to think about whether such a camera might help property managers conduct inspections. He thought, “What if you could put a 360-degree camera on a car—like Google Street, but with 360-degree video streamed directly to the managers’ desktops for conducting property inspections? Maybe an entire system could be built to make community management a whole lot easier.”
Wes started doing a lot of research on the various 360-degree cameras that were currently in the market, including GoPro and Insta360, and concluded that the idea might be feasible with the right software. But had anyone else thought about this? Perhaps there was already a patent on a similar product? He engaged a patent attorney who did some preliminary research on the idea and was unable to identify any prior applications for such a system.
So, he consulted with Richard Hayes, founder of Digital Lightbridge, a full-service digital marketing agency, who helped create a detailed wireframe to define and illustrate his patent application and business model. And in 2019, with the help of his patent attorney, Wes submitted his request to the United States Patent Office.
With his patents submitted and the initial research indicating no such system existed, Wes turned back to Digital Lightbridge and asked Paul Tejera, Technology Director, to create the first version of the software, which would combine 360-degree video footage with synchronized GPS data in a web-based application, empowering a community manager to view the footage, identify violations, capture screenshots, and prepare notifications.
In early 2021, Paul completed the first working prototype of the software, and Wes was ecstatic with the results. So much so that, in March of 2021, Wes officially resigned from Pulte and decided to focus all his energy trying to make his product a viable solution for community inspections. Shortly thereafter, Wes also decided that he was going to need some help and made his first hire. Keegan Mathur, a highly productive, tech-savvy Orlando based property manager with a video capture and editing background, and an uncanny ability to identify obstacles and advance a mission joined in April of 2021. During initial conversations, Wes could tell that Keegan was experiencing burnout as is common among property managers, but he also learned that they shared a similar vision for the industry and ultimately the product he was building. “It didn’t take much convincing to persuade Keegan to join the team as a project manager,” Wes stated.
Even with Wes and now Keegan focusing all their energy on this new endeavor, they had several challenges ahead of them, including how to make the idea work in the real world and how to scale it appropriately. Do you use a fleet of cars or use gig drivers? How do you process and store 360-degree video on a large scale, and will it be usable by the property manager? How do you identify the property addresses when sending a notice? What is the business model? Where’s the team to make it happen? How do you fund the start-up? Would anyone really pay for this system? And even if you can solve all these problems, is the industry ready and willing to adopt this type of innovation?
“There were several times I thought we were dead in the water because an obstacle seemed insurmountable. I would just lay awake at night with a pit in my stomach thinking about going to look for a new job and about all the time, money, and energy we wasted. But then the next day we would go back to the drawing board, conduct several brainstorming sessions, and then test our solutions. Eventually we would figure it,” explained Wes.
“If working with my dad taught me one thing, it was that that when solving a complex issue, especially a mechanical one, you must understand not only the sum of all the parts but also how each part works with or effects another. In our case, the only way we were truly going to solve all the implementation challenges we were facing was to put ourselves and our concept out there and gather a whole lot of input from property managers, current HOA software developers, and leaders in the management industry. This input and feedback would be crucial to truly understanding and resolving the pain points associated with performing community inspections,” he said.
Keegan and Wes worked alongside Digital Lightbridge for several months with a common goal of debuting their product in August of 2021 at the National Community Association Institute tradeshow in Las Vegas. They set up a small booth and showed the Compliance View 360 concept. Community managers flooded the booth over the three-day event just to see the demo and satisfy their curiosity. The market was indeed hungry for technology that would streamline the community inspection process. But the feedback from the event also shed light on several additional challenges they would need to solve if they really wanted to go to market with this product.
First off, finding a camera that could run off continuous and long-lasting power was key. Many of the smaller 360-degree cameras were battery powered and only provided a limited amount of run time. Secondly, they needed a camera that could achieve state of the art image quality at a high resolution, with built-in stabilization and the ability to automatically stitch and stabilize the video captured by several lenses at once, all huge pluses for compliance inspections viewed from cartop. In another stroke of luck, Wes decided to reach out to Insta360 to ask questions about their commercial grade cameras. He dialed the number on the website and somehow managed to get a representative on the phone who ended up being the Director of Operations for all of North America. This phone call started a series of conversations between Insta360 and Compliance View 360 that led to the purchase of the first Insta360 Pro 2 Camera. This camera checked all the boxes and solved several of Compliance View 360’s challenges all at once.
While Wes and Keegan were working on refining the software and equipment, Wes received a Notice of Allowance from the patent office. This was remarkable in that almost all of their claims were determined to be patentable. Wes was also the “first to file” for anything like this. After a couple minor modifications to the application and an additional six months, Wes received the official patent from the United States Patent office for a System and Method for Performing Community Compliance.
“Receiving the patent on this idea and owning a patent was an unbelievably cool moment for me. I had never even considered submitting or owning a patent until now,” Wes recounts.
“The patent was huge, and finding the right camera helped us clear several major hurdles,” said Wes. “Still, I knew we had to bring together a business team and start solving the day- to-day challenges of creating a real business and going to market.”
Wes added to his team over the next several months, starting with an inhouse software developer named Nicholas Gerenscer. Nick was a gifted gaming programmer who had an immediate impact within his first few weeks. He redesigned the entire interactive map which opened up a completely new set of features for clients.
Wes also convinced Jared Widman, a 15-year sales veteran, to join the team as Vice President of Business Development to help build the business model, pricing structure and sales team. He would later add Andrea Craig as the Head of Talent and Culture to build a human resources department and manage the office. Finally, Wes added Wendy Herkenratt, an experienced accountant and finance manager with several years of experience for firms of varying size, including several years at an HOA management company.
Now confident that he has the right team in place and can take this product to market, Wes is looking even further into the future. He believes that Compliance View 360 will save property managers countless hours of driving to inspection locations and will make their compliance work much more efficient. But Wes is not stopping there. He’s already looking for ways to leverage existing and developing technology sectors to improve their product, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, and 3D rendered interactive environments. He is also looking at other markets like municipalities, roving security, landscaping companies, and home builders, who are all facing many of the same problems as the HOA management industry. He believes this video inspection solution can help them as well.
How is Wes feeling right now? “I’m thrilled to work on a team that’s building something that will move an entire industry, or possibly even several industries, forward. I think it’s going to be big for the property management industry and community managers in general. It’s also very rewarding to be able to build something from the ground up, especially when you consider the speed and way in which we have done so. We have bootstrapped the entire project, we are working entirely remote, and we have a small, hardworking team of employees dedicated to making this platform work. It all feels very familiar.”