Education: B.A. in Sociology with a minor in African Studies, University of Wisconsin— Madison, 2011.
Is this your first start-up? No. I started another non-profit organization, UniFi Scholars, that provided financial literacy education for high school seniors to prepare them for the financial aid process and managing their money in college.
What problem does your startup solve? JustFix.nyc supports renters facing landlord harassment and poor housing conditions with technology to build well-documented cases and connect with community and legal advocates.
Landlords use harassment and neglected repairs as tactics to force tenants to leave their homes, and 1.2 million New Yorkers live in “deficient housing,” with three or more open code violations (mold, rat infestations, lead paint, etc.). However, the process to seek resolution is complicated and imbalanced—90% of tenants in Housing Court don’t have legal representation, while 90% of landlords do.
We provide unrepresented tenants with a self-help web app that assists in gathering evidence, mediating with their landlord through templated communications, reporting violations to city agencies, connecting with organizers and attorneys and presenting a “case history”—the record of all of their evidence and actions taken—for housing court.
Is the service currently on the market? Yes. It’s free. We are a non-profit organization currently operating across NYC.
How did you come up with the name? We wanted a name that would be easy to tell friends or neighbors. We heard folks say that they wished they could “just get their issues fixed!” We combined that with the “justice” meaning and landed on JustFix New York City.
Do you have any patents? No.
What inspired you to pursue this startup? My co-founder, Dan Kass, had been working as a tenant organizer in Crown Heights since 2013. With his background in computer science, we were inspired to build technology to empower tenants. The organization was formalized as part of the 2015 Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood Foundation program.
Do you have funding yet? Yes, we’ve received grants and awards from the Robin Hood Foundation; Fast Forward Accelerator (funding from Google.org and Blackrock); NYC EDC through winning NYC BigApps, and a micro-grant from Civic Hall Labs; and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
What is your biggest challenge re: the start-up? Being a nonprofit technology startup. Like tech startups, we require more investment up front for product development that will lead to exponential growth and impact. However, nonprofit funders largely haven’t adapted their funding methodology to account for a new type of intervention that isn’t a direct service model with linear impact.
What do you need right now? In six months? In a year? Now, we need funding to continue our expansion across NYC and increase our digital marketing as a channel to reach at-risk tenants. In six months, we hope to be a fully integrated piece of the Housing Court process for pro se tenants. In a year, we are looking for forward thinking partners in cities and states across the country to replicate our model.
What have you learned that you wish you knew five years ago? Don’t jump to conclusions. The best options will appear naturally, through observing and talking to people.
Who most influenced you and how? I took a sociology course with Associate Professor Jenna Nobles at the University of Wisconsin–Madison during my sophomore year. I was so fascinated by the field of demography and her research around demographic shifts resulting from natural disasters that I changed my major from Finance to Sociology–setting me on the path to working on social services and closing the access to opportunity divide.
Who have been your most important mentors? The four members of our Board of Directors: Heather Weston (COO of Case Commons); Ignacio Jaureguilorda (Director at Center for Court Innovation); Juan Figueroa (former President of Universal Healthcare Connecticut and former President, LatinoJustice) and Sateesh Nori (Attorney-in-Charge, Legal Aid Society, Queens). They bring tremendous experience in non-profit administration, housing law, and innovation, and have been incredibly patient and generous in guiding JustFix.nyc from a project to a formal organization, with a focus on helping our founding team develop as leaders.
Book that changed your life? Evicted by Matthew Desmond. A fantastic book that has really shaped our work at JustFix.nyc.
Advice for other entrepreneurs? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
What are you afraid of? Giant subway rats.
What are you most proud of? My performance as Hamlet at 5 years old (an abridged version performed as part of a summer program my parents ran).
Most embarrassed: My appearance in Cosmopolitan magazine when I was 18. They interviewed me about relationship advice, and as you can imagine my advice as an 18 year old wasn’t very good.
Where do you expect to be in 10 years? Continuing to develop technology to deliver better social services for everyone.
Your dream career if you were not a lawyer and entrepreneur? Surf bum in Costa Rica.
What does your workspace look like? (Borrowed from Sam Gosling.) Covered in post-it notes and Trader Joe’s snacks.
Favorite vacation destination: New Orleans–family, food, music.
Favorite musician or group: The Fugees—Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean; both legneds.
Favorite food: Lamb sandwich at Mediterranean Café in Madison, Wis. I went there so often they named the sandwich after me.
Favorite quote: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” –Jane Jacobs
What’s your mantra? The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Who would you want sitting next to you if you got stuck for three hours on the tarmac in a 737? Groucho Marx.
Updated July 18: Want more? Check out “Five Questions with Georges Clement: President of JustFix.nyc, Seeks to Keep Safe in Their Homes,” on Thomson Reuters’ “The Justice Ecosystem” blog (Legal Executive Institute).
(Disclaimer: Thomson Reuters is a sponsor of Stanford’s CodeX.)
Compiled by Monica Bay, CodeX Fellow and freelance journalist. She writes for Thomson Reuters, ALM, Above The Law and others, and co-hosts the “Law Technology Now” podcast (with Robert Ambrogi) for Legal Talk Network. Bay is a member of the California bar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MonicaBay.
Cover image: Clipart.com