Finding someone to repair, remodel, or build your home—the largest asset most people will ever own—is fraught. For years, technology companies such as Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor have been trying to help, with varying degrees of success, by matching homeowners with vetted, reviewed service professionals.
Seattle has seen its share of companies pursue a version of this lead-generation business, including groups within Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Zillow (NASDAQ: Z), a heavily funded startup called Porch, and Pro.com, which emerged about three years ago with a nifty estimating tool that helped people get a sense of what their project would cost.
Pro.com founder and CEO Matt Williams says that after about a year-and-a-half, it wasn’t working out. Customers reported uneven experiences with the contractors Pro.com matched them with, even though the company took pains to vet them on quality, responsiveness, and price.
“That’s just true of what happens today in any kind of lead-generation space tied to home contracting,” Williams says. “We wanted to do it better.”
So Pro.com picked up the hammer itself, attempting to build what Williams describes as a technology enabled, multi-city general contracting business.
The company announced Tuesday it has raised $10 million in new funding from DFJ, which led the investment, and prior backers Maveron, Madrona Venture Group, and Two-Sigma Ventures to support its expansion into 10 new markets. Pro.com previously raised some $17 million. Prior backers also include Bezos Expeditions and Andreessen Horowitz.
Pro.com already operates as a licensed general contractor in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Williams acknowledges that pivoting into general contracting was “a hard decision.” It is quite obviously a fundamentally different business involving excavators, nail guns, and putty knives, in place of programming languages, cloud services, and mobile apps—though Pro.com is keeping those aspects front and center. There are local variations in building codes and practices, real estate market dynamics, subcontractors, and suppliers to navigate—each subtly different in each new local market it would join. Prospects for profit margins and paths for growth look different in the world of home remodeling than they do in a tech marketplace for home building services.
Undaunted, Williams says Pro.com’s project estimating tools enable its front-line contractors—employees of the company—to provide fast, mobile-friendly quotes. Scheduling software helps the company run projects more efficiently and communicate progress to homeowners, he says.
Of course, even small general contractors today use technology, though it tends to be off-the-shelf tools that everyone uses—e-mail, text messaging, and project management tools such as Smartsheet. Pro.com thinks its bespoke technologies will provide a point of differentiation, and allow it to compete on price through efficiencies, and, eventually, scale.
With the underlying technology in hand, Pro.com’s challenge now is to find the right team in each new market to launch what amounts to a new residential contracting business. Williams says he knows of no other general contractors that operate in the number of cities Pro.com is contemplating. There are subcontracting franchises—plumbing and electrical brands that operate across multiple markets—but will people respond to a national general contracting brand? That remains to be seen.
Pro.com has some 50 employees, many of whom, like Williams, are former Amazon engineers and executives. The company has also hired a team of former independent general contractors who have played an integral role in the development of the business, Williams says.
Seattle-based DFJ partner Bill Bryant is joining the Pro.com board as part of the funding.