TECH: Pixly Wins $100K in Las Vegas Competition, Eyes Future
For more than two decades, Encinitas resident Lee Mills has shined as a marketing leader, part of success story after success story in the startup business world.
Since the late 1990s, Mills has worked to launch new products, build programs, re-brand, develop partnerships, raise capital and scale startups, including Anonymizer, BeyondClicks, Mojo Pages – MOGL and Raken, Inc.
A mentor for future entrepreneurs at Founder Institute and CONNECT San Diego and a venture partner/angel investor at Interlock Capital, Mills is also a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County and a volunteer with San Diego Habitat for Humanity and the Surfrider Foundation.
But the veteran of the U.S. Navy (1990-94) is most proud of his latest venture − co-founder and CEO of Pixly, a Business-to-Business Software as a Service startup focused on visual documentation and collaboration of photos and videos for construction, facilities and real estate.
“Pixly is revolutionizing the way construction professionals, architects, engineers, facility managers and real estate professionals snap, tag and share photos,” Mills said.
The Pixly app streamlines archaic project photo documentation workflows with tags, markups and voice annotations. Users can assign and track tasks viewable in management dashboards that improve efficiency, communication and accountability.
Since its late 2019 beginnings − making it through the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic − Pixly has been steadily gaining a following in the construction and development communities, and with facilities like Sharp Hospital.
It’s also making an impression beyond its home base of San Diego.
In October, Pixly bested nearly 130 other new business ventures to win a $100,000 startup pitch contest hosted by The Veteran Fund at the 2022 Military Influencer Conference at the Hilton Resorts World in Las Vegas.
The Veteran Fund is an early-stage venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley that invests in high-growth startups and dual-use technologies, led by top founders with a military background. It counts Deepak Chopra as one of its limited partners.
“(The $100K) means the opportunity to transform the construction industry and beyond − an industry that employs so many veterans with the necessary transferable and soft skills that the construction sector needs − with the support of The Veteran Fund and the military community,” Mills said.
The Veteran Fund General Partner Mike Sherbakov said many startups, particularly those with a connection to the military community, “need that first round of institutional capital,” and that The Veteran Fund helps fill a crucial “pre-seed gap” in the startup lifeline.
Nearly 130 pitches were made virtually to The Veteran Fund investment committee, which narrowed the field down to a group of 12. Then, the top five companies were invited to make in-person pitches in Las Vegas.
It was there that Mills shared the vision of Pixly, impressing Sherbakov and The Veteran Fund’s other general partners Ryan Micheletti, Lisa Song Sutton and Justin Nahama.
Looking for a triple threat of team, product and market; a startup run by a veteran of the military that fit its motto of “protecting America’s future through venture capital;” and a company that could disrupt the commercial market, Pixly – and Mills in particular – won them over.
“Lee is an incredible founder,” Sherbakov said. “His desire to mentor and elevate the ecosystem of startups speaks volumes about his character.”
Pixly was originally an idea born out of the Springboard program of CONNECT San Diego where Mills is a mentor. Springboard seeks to elevate entrepreneurs by offering educational programming, providing mentorship, making introductions and assisting with access to capital.
In 2017 through CONNECT, Mills met Patrick Caughey, an architecture professional working with historic buildings, with an app idea to solve photo documentation problems he experienced firsthand in construction. The idea stayed with Caughey, but never gained much traction.
Fast forward to two years later, when Mills said he saw a need for this exact app. He spoke with Caughey and the two partnered as co-founders, then brought on Thayer Flynn, a third-generation developer, and construction professional, to launch Pixly in late 2019.
“I knew Lee through other startups, and he brought me in to help with finance and operations, to help scale and grow the business,” Flynn said. “I’m very excited by the news about the $100,000 pitch. A lot of credit goes to Lee, for his perseverance and his ability to pitch. My hat’s off to him.”
Caughey echoed Flynn’s kudos, calling Mills’ win at the pitch contest “an amazing accomplishment.”
“It really demonstrates his commitment to and passion for what he’s building,” Caughey said. “It’s no easy thing to start a company during a pandemic, but Lee made it work. This latest milestone shows there’s nothing holding him or Pixly back.”
Since launching, the team of three has built an iOS app, launched a web app version, secured myriad letters of intent from top general contractors and generated hundreds of early users along with high-profile pilot projects.
Mills said that Pixly will be using the newly acquired funds to enhance its product with new features and support early customers along with a greater focus on sales and marketing to grow faster.
Mills came to San Diego while serving aboard the USS Constellation. After serving four years and earning a Navy Achievement Medal, he completed design school while working full-time as a telemarketer. He then began his tech startup career as one of the first marketing hires for Backup.com, followed by Anonymizer, MojoPages and Raken, where he became an expert in construction technology.
Pixly falls along that line, helping construction, facility and real estate professionals save time and money by making it easy to shoot project photographs with an iPhone, tag them, organize them, share them and collaborate instantly from anywhere.
Pixly also reduces the risk of disputes and litigation while making it easy to find photos quickly in one secure cloud. Mills said that 30% of projects have disputes and that “a photograph can be worth 1,000 words − or millions of dollars.”
Mills said Pixly is in the midst of a million-dollar seed round, and that the money will go toward its current push for new markets, sales and marketing, facilities management, inspections and other field services.
It will also help toward Pixly’s push for additional features. Mills said the company is working on perfecting its use of artificial intelligence that will recognize what is in each photo to make for even faster organization and stronger collaboration.
CEO: Lee Mills
BUSINESS: B2B SaaS technology platform
NOTABLE: Pixly was launched out of CONNECT San Diego’s Springboard program.
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TECH: Pixly Wins $100K in Las Vegas Competition, Eyes Future