A Site to Suss Out What a Local Neighborhood Is Actually Like

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Ann Montgomery moved every year when she was growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich. As an adult, she continued that process, jumping from the Midwest to Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, South Beach, and more. During all that bouncing about, she realized that there was no online repository for specific information about a given neighborhood — the type of stuff a local would know but which someone visiting for the day (perhaps to see if they wanted to move there) would never uncover.

In an effort to solve that problem, Montgomery launched Nabewise, a site that combines data and crowdsourced reviews to help users find the perfect nabe to settle down in. Street Fight talked to the frequent mover about the wisdom of the crowds, the value of data, and how easy it was to finance her business.

What was the genesis of NabeWise?
I was moving so much, and I started to really enjoy exploring microcultures. Moving was a way for me to travel. When I moved to New York from South Beach, Miami, I was into the whole South Beach, outdoorsy lifestyle. I was struggling in New York, so I started researching areas around New York. I was looking for a place that had young people within 30 minutes of the city. I was shocked that there wasn’t any information. I spent a month riding around in my car on the weekends, exploring the towns, and mapping out their characteristics. I noticed that each city had similar microcultures, but I thought it took about a year to figure them out. I decided I was going to start a site that solved my problem.

Is there a size that defines a unique “microculture?” Can Nabewise go to the tiniest towns?
We’re thinking of going everywhere. We call them neighborhoods, but what we’re really understanding is finding the smallest geographical unit that has an identity. We typically start in the urban center and expand. We layer neighborhoods like Union Square, and stack up and stack down. As we move out from the urban center, you start to see us move into town comparisons. The difference between Greenwich, Conn., and Rye, N.Y., is a question everyone is trying to figure out when they are deciding to move that area. You can break Greenwich down further between Greenwich, Old Greenwich, and the downtown area. We don’t have demand for that layer yet, but as the site grows, we will. You can go up or down on the site and get complete context from the locals.

You are reliant on crowdsourced information, but how much do you have? Are you worried there won’t be enough?
In New York, neighborhoods have an average of 10 to 20 reviews. Whenever we go into a new market, we hire a team of locals — just like Yelp does — and they will write about the neighborhoods that they know. Unlike some of the more difficult crowdsourcing exercises, we’re not capturing anything that’s particularly controversial.

We were surprised that right out of the gate a number of folks started asking to license our data and content. Even in the early stages of our site, our data is very accurate and reflects what’s known by the local community. If you ask what are the best nightlife neighborhoods in New York, there isn’t a lot of disagreement about which ones are the best. It’s just a question of capturing something that’s been invisible for a long time.

The data you’re collecting is valuable. I would imagine that’s a way to monetize.
Right now, our focus is on expanding nationally and internationally, and also getting the product further along. We haven’t focused as much on the revenue side. On the other hand, unlike a lot of tech companies that start off this way and then raise a ton of money, we’re in the real estate space where there is some money. We’ve been able to finance ourselves just by selling our data. We have a couple larger clients, and we have started selling to some of the smaller brokeriages. Virtual Results is a company that builds brokerage websites and now they can incorporate all our data. We’re adding a lot of value for real estate firms who want to be able to say, “This is what the locals think about their neighborhood.” The real estate companies aren’t legally allowed to provide some of the information that we provide.

Hosting listings is another place where you could monetize, no?
The question pops up all the time. I think that when you step back and look at the local space or the real estate space, everyone is focused on listings search. It’s increasingly a commodity. It’s also hard to get the data and do a listings search well. It’s a challenge. I don’t think we are going to put listings on our site unless it’s going to be done really, really well. There are exciting companies that are doing that well.

I think for the time being, there is so much more that Nabewise is able to do in terms of understanding the neighborhood. We haven’t been able to capture a lot of the granular information yet. We started where there was the greatest need and the most obvious hole in the market, but now we’re going to more block-level data. If you think of the discovery phase of the moving-transaction process, we want to serve that planning phase where people are figuring out where they should live. There are a lot of additional needs in that space and other ways to make money besides putting listings on our site.

Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.