10 Questions for Michael Bonner, Founder and CEO of Property Pilot and GovPilot
Photo: Michael Bonner of PropertyPilot and GovPilot Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Michael Bonner of PropertyPilot and GovPilot | Esther Surden

Michael Bonner is a Hoboken resident and entrepreneur who has successfully launched two companies, PropertyPilot and GovPilot, both based in Hoboken.

PropertyPilot is a tech startup that offers an advanced property-record-management system to help real estate investors and home buyers locate valuable properties and make sound purchasing decisions.

Prior to founding PropertyPilot, Bonner had successfully purchased, rehabbed and sold more than 250 homes in New Jersey. As a real estate investor, Bonner gained first-hand knowledge of the real estate market and all the other facets of the industry. He designed PropertyPilot to enable users to benefit from his insights. Bonner assembled a team at PropertyPilot and a team at GovPilot that have, between them, many years of experience in real estate sales and management, as well as extensive knowledge of local governments.

PropertyPilot is a GIS [geographic information system]-based, subscription-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that uses a Web browser to deliver instant, reliable and cost-efficient access to all the critical real estate data needed to successfully navigate today’s volatile real estate markets. Offering an array of one-of-a-kind tools and applications, PropertyPilot allows you to quickly and efficiently organize and analyze data. And given that it’s a cloud-based service, data can be easily shared.

The relevant property data include such information as ownership and tax assessment records; recent property sales and foreclosures; pre-foreclosures; lis pendens [notices of pending legal action]; real estate owned by a lender; map views; and neighborhood information such as housing, education, crime and population statistics. Maps are provided by Google or Pictometry for either a street view or an aerial view. Customized maps will locate properties of interest. And properties can be evaluated based on neighborhood pricing records.

GovPilot gives residents ready access to government by making governmental services available in the cloud. This makes it easier for residents to deal with code enforcement, animal control, public complaints, building and construction, permits, licenses and other services. 

This automated access can help local governments, as well, because it integrates all departments. The aggregation of data from multiple sources gives a government office a robust knowledge base that can make planning and service provision much more efficient.

GovPilot is now being used by Passaic County, the Borough of Roselle, Hillsborough Township,

Montclair, Westfield, Newark, Trenton and other local governments throughout New Jersey. Though it primarily serves the Garden State, GovPilot’s client list has recently expanded to include local governments in Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado and several other states.

In February, Paterson partnered with GovPilot to get a lagging tax lien sale off the ground. GovPilot helped Paterson generate revenue and satisfy the town’s residents, who were thus able to refurbish properties that had been languishing. The same GIS software is used to expedite the repair of potholes.

Newark, a computer-savvy city, and the largest city in New Jersey, has also partnered with GovPilot. Newark uses GovPilot's GIS software to provide residents with all sorts of information—for instance, on housing foreclosures. Purchase contact information is readily available for those trying to buy these properties.

GovPilot has provided an innovative way to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus by limiting stagnant-water breeding places for mosquitoes, which usually breed in pools or containers on vacant lots. GovPilot software aids in the consolidation of complaints, making them more actionable. Camden County is now using the software for this purpose.

Trenton has replaced its computerized government software with GovPilot. The city tested GovPilot side by side with a national competitor, and chose GovPilot because of its built-in GIS features. With GovPilot's GIS software, vacant properties and foreclosures are easily tracked, as are complaints regarding vacant properties.

Recently, at the suggestion of Madison County, New York, GovPilot partnered with Pictometry International's aerial measurement software (Rochester, N.Y.). GovPilot can now display Pictometry views for clients who subscribe to both GovPilot and Pictometry and wish to integrate the two. The collaboration between the two companies has resulted in a GIS map featuring aerial and historical views of Madison County.

Basic Info:

Company names: PropertyPilot and GovPilot.

Product names: PropertyPilot.com and GovPilot.com.

When did you launch the companies? Property Pilot was launched in 2012 and GovPilot was launched in 2015.

Team: Michael Bonner (founder and CEO, PropertyPilot and GovPilot), Sam Saafan (CTO, GovPilot), James Delmonico (director of sales, GovPilot).

New Jersey location: Hoboken.

Employees: Approximately 30.

Funding: Bootstrapped.

Market you are serving:Cities and municipalities.

Entrepreneurial Questions:

1.   What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. I have lived in New Jersey all my life. It's just happenstance. Here I am. Yet, the services I provide do improve the quality of life of New Jersey residents. It was just business, but it became more than just business.

2.   What problem are you solving?

Both PropertyPilot and GovPilot are SaaS companies providing easy and quick access to government records with built-in — not added on — GIS software.

GovPilot solves the problem of “siloed departments,” where each department operates independently with its own software, and different departments do not have integrated as well as standardized software. We offer an integrated, standardized software solution for all departments in a local government: city, town or county. We do not do state governments or national governments, but local Canadian and Caribbean governments are similar, and a potential future market.

The automation process of choosing GovPilot requires a system analysis and documentation of existing processes, which is given free of charge. The system analysis causes a rethinking of processes that innately results in a streamlining of processes, which then leads to efficiency; and efficiency is cost-reducing. Also, there is a certain economy of scale and cost benefit with a standardized system that serves all departments, as opposed to the commonly found scenario in many governments where each department and office “does its own thing” for software solutions. You often find one department using an Excel spreadsheet while another department is using a database.

This service provides governments with the ability to reduce budgets and property taxes. New Jersey is one of the most highly taxed states in the country. Automation of government offices will reduce labor costs, which, in turn, will reduce the taxes necessary to fund government. The cost of pensions and such are high. I do not envision clerks losing their jobs. Yet, as more governments automate and clerks retire, fewer new clerks will be hired. There will be attrition. Clerks will never become totally obsolete; human intervention will always be necessary. There must be someone to talk to who can resolve a problem.

An unforeseen advantage for cities and municipalities using the GovPilot system is the improvement of government work flow. GovPilot impacts the quality of life of residents. Access to government is so much easier, and it’s 24/7. Building and parking permits and the like can often be obtained quickly and online, providing no-waiting, hassle-free government.

3.   Why can you address this problem better than anyone else?

We are better at automating government records because we have GIS built into our software, and our software is dynamic. Our competitors may use Esri or some other mapping software as an add-on. Then, the user has to learn another piece of software and how to integrate that software into the record-keeping software. With us, you learn only one software.

Also, GovPilot provides adjustable templates — not fixed forms. Our software conforms to our customers' needs. Customers do not conform to our software. Our software has been built out from customer requests — not in from the outside observation of analysts.

In addition, forms are integrated with other departments’ forms, and can flow to other departments as necessary.

4.   How did you come up with your startup name?

PropertyPilot got its name from the way it made navigation easy for the assessment of property records in order to source opportunities. For example, businesses seeking to make an assemblage of properties, as well as developers, would want to know the value of properties or of properties in the surrounding area or neighborhood. GovPilot was a spinoff of PropertyPilot. Governments asked us if we could provide the same easy access and navigation for other departments and their records. That is how GovPilot came about and got its name.

5.   What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest mistake was having built my original software with Silverlight. It seemed like a good idea at the time. This was pre-HTML5, and Silverlight was used by Netflix because it handled streaming video well. However, Silverlight became a “has been.” I wasted a lot of time developing on a platform that basically became obsolete upon product release. I learned that tech companies must do due diligence when it comes to technology trends, and take a broad look at available tech.

6.   When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?

I have never thought of quitting. I have been an entrepreneur since I was 18. I studied business at Union County College. I started out as a painter. Then, I got into real estate investment, especially into developing inner-city properties, which followed with the development of technology to support investment in real estate. I learned programming along the way and partnered with my current CTO, Sam Saafan, who is very talented and helped me develop my software ideas.

7.   If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

I would have used “Use Cases” from the beginning, instead of copying from forms. Just copying from forms does not include the system analysis that makes for a well-engineered, fully functional system.

8.   What’s the best place to find founders to network with?

The NJ Tech Meetup is the best place for entrepreneurs like me to network.

9.   What does your family think about you being an entrepreneur?

When I was young and first starting out, there was a lot of pressure from my family to “just get a job.” I am a college grad, but I wanted to make it on my own. I have a similar attitude towards funding. I am entirely bootstrapped. From time to time, I am approached with investment offers, which I currently decline.

Investors have pluses and minuses. Every investor is another partner, and a time will come to pay the piper. I will bring in investors, on my terms, at the right time, when we have the right number of customers and annual revenue.

10. What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?

Perseverance.

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