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Expat moves Silicon Valley software startup to Buffalo

Tim Zielinski started his first business enterprise while a student at the University at Buffalo, making deliveries of fresh meat, poultry and seafood to customers he found through ads placed in the Metro Community News. The Buffalo native relocated to Northern California, where he launched a consulting and staffing firm in 1998 that he still operates today.

Now, Zielinski has founded his latest company, Rezedent, which allows for the online collection of homeowners’ association dues and rent payments. Residents also can use the network to make online requests for help from their landlord and to communicate with people who live in their building.

Zielinski is moving this startup to his hometown, where another Buffalo expatriate, Bill Irvine, will run it here.

“We both felt, naturally, this is the best place to launch Rezedent, was back in Western New York,” Zielinski said. “And, nothing wrong with Silicon Valley, but you know everybody and his mother has an idea that they can call a startup.”

Zielinski and Irvine said their property-management software serves more than 1,000 units in 89 properties across the country, with clients picked up mostly through word of mouth and Zielinski’s own sales efforts. The partners now seek to raise $750,000 from investors and to hire up to 15 workers in Buffalo over the next year as the company grows.

“This has been completely boot-strapped by Tim,” said Irvine, the chief operating officer. “This is a labor of love for him.”

Zielinski, 48, a Canisius High School graduate, said he long ago gave up his meat-delivery business, Lone Star Purveyors.

Bill Irvine, center, chief operating officer of Rezedent, and Tim Zielinski, right, who founded the startup and moved it to his native Buffalo, with Zielinski's longtime friend and fellow entrepreneur, Rachel Jackson, in the Z80 Labs incubator, Buffalo.

Bill Irvine, center, chief operating officer of Rezedent, and Tim Zielinski, right, who founded the startup and moved it to his native Buffalo, with Zielinski's longtime friend and fellow entrepreneur, Rachel Jackson, in the Z80 Labs incubator, Buffalo.

However, Zielinski’s The ICE Group, which evolved over the years from a technology consulting company to a boutique staffing firm, has three employees in San Mateo, Calif.

Zielinski wasn't looking to start another company in late 2013, when he came up with a software tool to let the members of his homeowner’s association in nearby Foster City, Calif., pay their dues electronically. He said he was a member of its board and he wanted to help the association collect payments that regularly came in late.

By mid-2014, however, he saw the potential to use the software on a wider basis, not just as a tool to eliminate the mailing in or handing in of rent and dues payments.

Rezedent’s portal also lets building residents contact their property managers online if they need work done on an apartment, or if they have any other request. The system lets managers track the status of the request and of any response by a third-party contractor.

Residents also can use a feature that lets them communicate with their neighbors, in what Irvine calls hyper-local social media, including through a calendar of events, classified ads, a newsletter and other features.

Irvine said it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Craigslist and Quicken “all rolled into one.”

Zielinski and Irvine said property managers like the convenience of Rezendent’s system.

Irvine said Americans pay $600 billion in rent annually and, if all of it could be converted to digital payments, processing them would be worth between $20 billion and $25 billion to the companies that handle this business.

Rezedent’s target market is property managers with 500 or fewer units, because many of the most popular property-management programs can’t or won’t serve properties of that size, the founders said. BuildingLink, RealPage and Yardi are the market’s main players.

Zielinski regularly returns to Buffalo, where most of his family remains. He said he was struck, as he visited over the past five years, by the city’s revival, and he wanted Rezedent to be part of it.

Some longtime friends who work at the University at Buffalo or who have startup companies of their own steered Zielinski to local resources, including Launch NY, which serves startups in upstate. Zielinski wanted to find someone who could run the company in Buffalo full-time, while he spent half his time in California and half here.

Marnie LaVigne, Launch NY’s CEO, suggested Irvine, a Kenmore native who had lived in Arizona and New York City for 16 years. Irvine and his wife this past spring had felt the tug to return to Buffalo and he took out an ad on LinkedIn, targeting area executives, saying, “Bring me back to Buffalo.”

Irvine said he and his wife knew they were officially back when, while driving west on the Thruway near Batavia, they picked up the signal from 97Rock on the car radio and the first song that came on was Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home."

After moving in July into an apartment in Buffalo, Irvine’s relentless networking paid off with the referral to Zielinski.

Irvine, 56, brings 20 years’ experience as a tech entrepreneur. He works from the d!g co-working space on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and Rezedent has applied to Start-Up NY’s tax-free zone program.

Irvine and Zielinski look to build up the company first by hiring about 15 customer service – Zielinski prefers the term “customer success” – employees in Buffalo by the end of 2017. They also would hire about twice that many members of a national sales force. To do that, they need to raise money.

They attended all three rounds of the 43North competition last month, where they mingled with venture capitalists. And last week, Irvine and Zielinski pitched to the Western New York Venture Association.

“The next step is a bunch of Buffalo investors giving us money, of course,” Irvine said.

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