August 26, 2021
Written By: Elevate Rapid City
One afternoon in the late winter of 2014 in Baltimore, Ray Hespen and his friend David Kingman, located in Albuquerque, were on yet another one of their work zoom calls. Except this time, they weren’t talking about work, but rather, living in an apartment.
Both were lifetime renters. And both had grown frustrated with what thousands of renters find the first time their hot-water heater goes out. “You put in a maintenance request, and it goes into a black hole,” says Hespen. “It’s cumbersome. There’s way too many touch points. You get calls from numbers you don’t recognize. It’s just a mess.”
They came up with an idea: starting a tech company to fix the mess.
By May of 2015, the duo had done enough research with property maintenance companies to find out the companies didn’t like things any more than the renters. Kingman quit his job. A few months later, after raising a little money, Hespen followed suit and became a co-founder and CEO.
Suddenly, it hit them. There was no going back. “It was the day we decided to be poor,” Hespen says with a laugh. “That’s the day we started Property Meld.”
The first ten customers were difficult, or as Hespen put it, “an absolute grind or even a battle.” But he knew if Property Meld could get ten customers, they could get one hundred.
Enter Rapid City, South Dakota in 2017. Hespen, a former School of Mines graduate, had always loved the Black Hills. And there was a part of him that always wanted to come back. After a few calls, he was put in touch with the team at the Ascent Innovation Center, and within a few short months, was renting flexible space on the east side of downtown. “We knew we needed a partner who could be flexible. We weren’t going to be able to sign a 10-year lease or pay market rents. Really, we needed a team and a community that could grow with us.”
Within a year and a half, the company had six employees. Then ten. Then twelve. Growth was coming quickly. So they graduated out of the incubator into downtown right next to the MudHole. By 2022, the company expects to have over a hundred employees and is constructing its corporate headquarters near Harriet and Oak, right next to The Garage on Saint Joseph Street. “Downtown is critical for us,” says Hespen. “You have to have the right ecosystem where talent can go for a cup of coffee and soak up all of the amenities that exist in a few miles of the city core. The stuff that’s happening in downtown, the growth, the lofts and the restaurants, that’s all a part of that.”
Also critical to Property Meld’s growth is access to capital and access to mentors, a task that now falls on Mitch Nachtigall, also a former graduate of the School of Mines and Ecosystem Development Director for Elevate Rapid City. He’s also the guy who now manages two incubators in downtown. “Starting a business or disrupting an industry is difficult, really difficult,” says Nachtigall. “It shouldn’t be made harder because you didn’t know the right people to talk to at the right time.”
Nachtigall regularly meets with companies to assess their business plans, fit for either one of Elevate’s incubators, and makes referrals to mentors and to capital resources. “There’s no reason anyone looking for them should slip through the cracks,” he says.
Hespen agrees. “If we weren’t introduced to the right mentor, like Todd Gagne, and couldn’t find the capital we needed, which we were able to do right here in Rapid City, we wouldn’t be here today. I’d probably still be on that zoom call in Baltimore.”