When the Levees Broke
Back in September 2005, I docked a flat-bottom boat to my front porch so I could wade through the flooded ruin of my home. Like 80% of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my neighborhood had been underwater for two full weeks. I watched my law books float by in waist-deep sewer water and wondered how exactly we were going to rebuild. Somehow in that moment, I knew my part in the effort to rebuild was not going to involve those law books....
Years later, empty houses sat rotting as painful reminders of the storm while the city’s tax base took its own direct hit. Since real estate tax is the #1 source of revenue in most jurisdictions, empty houses meant lost funding for schools, roads, parks, and programs. I wasn’t sure if my proud and resilient city would ever recover.
The Opportunity in the Wreckage
Distressed assets have become a favorite of investors and developers because they offer a healthy return on investment regardless of the state of the market. Cities and neighborhoods benefit from revitalization of vacant homes, too. What stands in the way is the $25 billion title insurance industry.
Because the Constitution guarantees “life, liberty, and property,” the government can’t simply seize an abandoned asset and offer it up to investors, even if it’s been sitting empty for years. If a rightful owner were to show up after a sale, title insurance would have to pay claims. Title insurance companies only approve insurance after adequate proof that all owners have been found, notified of the delinquency, and given a fair chance to bring a property back into good standing. This is a harrowingly manual process, as I discovered in my early days as a real estate attorney.
A Major Opportunity - With a Catch
After earning my law degree from LSU, I was trying to grow my own real estate title company and law practice when a large out-of-state investment company came to me with an offer. They had attained a substantial portfolio of delinquent tax properties through legal foreclosure, but their sales were falling through when their buyers couldn’t get title insurance approved.
But tracking down and contacting owners meant finding property tax history (which often requires a subscription to a city or county website), downloading documents, manually transferring data from one doc to another, typing it up in a database, tracking people down, folding and stuffing certified mail envelopes, dealing with half of your mail or more getting returned, and often having nothing to show for all of your work. Meanwhile, the property sits empty.
When I inquired into better processes, most people told me it couldn’t be done. It was a fool’s errand, they said. Well, so is living in a city in a bowl below sea level. I dove in.
A Workflow That Finally Made the Work Flow
I created a title insurance underwriting workflow that evaluated the risks of obtaining a clear title and described curative measures for getting there.
Ideally, a property would go through the workflow and come out the other side insurable. I validated my idea with a national insurance company, asking, “If a property has gone through this process, would you say it’s worth insuring?” They would answer in the affirmative and always add, “IF you can pull it off.” They had doubts. I powered through them.
With the workflow developed, I still needed to bring those manual processes into the 21st century.
The result was JurisDeed: a tool that manages the necessary micro-steps of clearing a title so real estate brokers and attorneys can focus on the big picture.
Opportunity Knocks Again
I officially launched JurisDeed in 2020, and by the summer of 2021, as a solo founder, I had conducted over 100 customer interviews, built an MVP, and raised a pre-seed round of $335K. By 2022, although our beta customers had been continually paying for our software-powered legal compliance and diligence services, we stopped and realized they worked in five distinct industries and amounted to twice that number in economic buyer personas!
I think I read somewhere (ok, lots of places) we were supposed to go to market with one initial market and, ideally, one primary ICP.
When everyone is your customer, you're Google. But, when you're a B2B SaaS, pre-product market fit startup at the pre-seed stage with limited resources that purports to serve everyone...well, you know....
But we had paying customers!
Unfortunately, the frequent mantra hammered into every early-stage founder's brain by many in the startup ecosystem of "Traction is everything..." leaves out a really super big important qualification that concludes this little nugget of wisdom:
"...when you're heading in the right direction."
Of course, that direction is up and to the right...somewhere.
This time, opportunity came in the form of some really awesome mentorship and a willingness to learn and grow. Another 100+ customer interviews later, now bolstered by 18 months of beta sales and user feedback gave us the focus and clarity that had been missing to that point.
Opportunity knocked again.
Bringing Homes Back Online
On average, six to eight million property tax bills fell delinquent in the U.S. every year, shorting America’s cities and counties between $15-25B that's needed to fund critical services like teachers, police, and firefighters across our nation's communities.
Thankfully, over half of this deficit every year is covered by private investors, without whose annual investment, many local governments would go bankrupt. But, to continually invest every year, these investors must regularly and successfully navigate a gauntlet of strict legal requirements - different in almost every state, complex property diligence, and unmarketable titles.
JurisDeed is the industry's first AI-powered legal and title co-pilot, guiding property debt investors to successfully journey from early delinquency to liquidation and reinvestment without sinking into a sea of paper records, lawyer bills, and unsellable properties.