Smart City is an apartment locating service based in Dallas, Texas. After a decade of operation, the company has undergone hypergrowth and now serves eight markets across five U.S. states.
A few years ago, Smart City underwent a period of hypergrowth, characterized by massive increases in spend. The company tripled agent headcount in nine months as it scaled to serve new locations.
“When you grow that fast, things break,” says Dustin Walsted, Smart City’s VP of Finance. During this period, the company was more focused on allocating staff to meet various needs than investing in appropriate technologies that could drive efficiency. That, in turn, led to siloed information and decisions that were not particularly data-driven, rather than sustainable, forecasted growth.
One major challenge Dustin faced during this time was a need to gain better liquidity from Smart City’s credit merchant processor. “During that time, I was paying our credit card seven to ten times per month,” he says. The level of oversight needed to support that spend was unsustainable.
Also unsustainable? A messy month-close process, which took 17 days and was plagued with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, and a protracted, days-long reimbursement process. “If somebody needed something paid, they would come to me, and I would write out a paper check for everything,” says Accounting Generalist Ashli King. Each month, it took Ashli a full day or more to review everything to ensure information was correct, expenses were tracked, and employees were reimbursed appropriately.
Dustin’s ultimate goal was efficiency, and his current system was not helping him achieve that goal. He knew he needed a spend management platform that could help streamline a fragmented, time-intensive, highly manual process.
Smart City partnered with Ramp to shift its focus from hypergrowth to sustainability. “All of the stuff that we put in place for hypergrowth scaling, I’ve retooled into stabilized growth,” says Dustin. “I’ve leveraged all of our tools to maintain optimal efficiency.”
Gaining efficiency began with consolidating multiple fragmented systems and automating previously manual processes. “Ramp has helped so much, because we have so many people doing so many different things,” says Ashli. “It’s so much easier to have it all in one spot for me to be able to check over.”
Dustin agrees. “I don’t have to go through multiple channels or different places. It’s all self-contained, so solving problems is easier,” he says. “The flexibility that Ramp as a tool has laid out has allowed me to spend less time worrying about how I’m going to allow my team to deploy capital in a way that makes sense for the growth of the business without having to worry about the administrative requirements around deploying that capital.”
Ramp has significantly reduced the burden on the accounting team, which comprises just Dustin and Ashli. The controls that the platform enables align well with Smart City’s vertical market model, in which every market has a general manager that oversees a team and its associated spend.
Instituting Ramp has enabled a shift from frenetic inspection to confident oversight. “Everything that comes with Ramp has worked out so much better for us, because it puts more responsibility on everyone else,” says Ashli. “We’re now like a check system.”
For Dustin, that shift has resulted in material time-savings. Before deploying Ramp, he spent 10-20 hours each month inspecting employees’ spend and puzzling various pieces together. Now, he completes just two updates each month: once mid-month, and a month-end review. “I don’t have to inspect spend on a weekly basis,” Dustin says.
The platform enables the sustained efficiency that was so important to Dustin. “We’ve set it up so we have all our policies in place, so onboarding is easy now,” he says.
The comfort the Smart City team has with Ramp catalyzed the adoption of Ramp’s Bill Pay tool, as Dustin appreciated the opportunity to reduce reliance on multiple systems while gaining granular insights from Ramp. “Writing out a bunch of checks for a lot of things takes a while to do -- a few hours throughout the day,” notes Ashli. “Now, we can just pull an invoice over to Ramp and automatically get the info. I can do a quick check, click a button, and it’s done.” Ashli estimates that with Ramp Bill pay, she’s cut her bill management time from three hours each week to less than one.
Since partnering with Ramp, Dustin and Ashli have dramatically reduced their weeks-long month-close process, regained hours of time previously spent on administrative tasks, and enabled a shift to more strategic initiatives. Month-close, which previously took 17 days, is now a breeze.
“Before it took days, maybe weeks to complete things and make sure everything was in -- checks and balances and all of that,” says Ashli. “With Ramp, we can get month-end close done in a day, honestly.”
For Dustin in particular, that time-savings has been enormously valuable. “Five to 15 hours each month of non-value-add activities are off my plate,” he says. He notes that department heads who manage spend have similarly regained lost time. “They’re not having to go track down receipts, deal with spend issues, ask me to go look at stuff for them. They have more insight into their information activities.”
That insight leads to empowerment -- which ultimately leads to improved business outcomes. “Instead of managing details around spend, I’m able to ask about the health of their business or what they’re prioritizing,” says Dustin. “I’m able to be a strategic advisor versus just a tactical manager when it comes to spend management.”
The efficiencies Ramp helps Smart City realize result in saved time for the accounting team, which has also translated to cost-savings. “I’ve been here six years, and we’ve grown so much,” says Ashli. “Without Ramp, I would probably need another person to help out, because there’s so much volume, and I couldn’t do it as one person. Having everything in one system makes it a lot easier for Dustin and me to manage ourselves.”
Dustin agrees, “I estimate between time saved for Ashli and I, not having to bring on additional hires, and other teams clawing back time they used to spend dealing with expense reports and approvals, we are saving between 7 and 9% total with Ramp, that’s huge.”