Austin, TX-based Renovatesimply.com has developed a mobile phone application that allows homeowners to quickly develop a ballpark budget/estimate for their renovation project.
The key to the program, however, is what happens next. The homeowner can request the project be forwarded to a single renovation contractor who, if successful in winning the work, pays Renovatesimply.com a five per cent commission. (Right now, it appears the application is available through the Istore, and so won’t work on Android devices.)
There are no bidding wars and multiple “sends” of the same lead to competing contractors, says Renovatesimply.com’s Bryan Garwood.
He observed in an email:
We just launched in January, so all of our numbers are very preliminary. Of the “contractor requests” we have received, our contractors have won five of them (about 75 per cent of the ones submitted), and one is still pending. The most impressive stat to date is that in only two months, we have had over $9M worth of projects estimated on our app.
And, we don’t sell leads and don’t breed competition. Our contractors only pay us a 5% referral fee, once they win the job.
Ultimately, we want to be a contractor “matchmaker”. The idea is that each contractor has a type of job fits their sweet spot, based on skill, quality, style, location, job size, and customer type. So we try to understand that contractor’s sweet spot and find them jobs that fit. For example, we have a roofing guy that only wants to do tile and metal roof jobs in West Austin, and we have a GC that only wants to do jobs over $100K in Central Austin.
Currently, all of our contractors have been referred to us by a trusted source. We then have a vetting process they go through before they are in the network. There is no cost to be in the network, but we do require that the contractor sends us a few bids or invoices every few months, so that we can keep our database up to date and accurate (which is what powers the accuracy of our App).
This is an intriguing business model. The 5 per cent fee obviously isn’t chicken feed, but since the fee only is paid when the job is committed and the contractor doesn’t need to face down competitors in a bidding war, it can be easily budgeted into the proposal cost and presumably the time/stress in running around providing “free estimates” to low-bid contractors will be minimal.
Since there are few hard costs with the software program, assuming it can be scaled, it could be a lucrative business model for the application developer — but obviously there are challenges in selecting, vetting, and collecting fees from the relevant contractors. (This shouldn’t be too much of a problem “close to home” but I could see some administrative and business management challenges if the project scales beyond Texas.)
Garwood approached me not to pitch the idea or seek contractors to sign up — I needed to search to find the “hidden” contractor information page — but because he has coordinated an information survey with the University of Texas and is seeking wide participation and feedback for the survey.
Here is his initial email to me.
I work for Renovate Simply, where our goal is to help solve the biggest business challenges for contractors and simplify the renovation process.
Our first product is an iPhone app for homeowners. It calculates general estimates for home renovation projects in less than a minute. You can check it out here. We then connect those homeowners with the perfect contractor to suit their needs. Our contractors love this, as we only send them jobs that they are a perfect fit for and they only pay us a small fee, if they get the job.
We are looking to expand our offerings and provide even more value to contractors. In order to better understand contractors’ challenges, we have teamed up with students from the University of Texas on a survey. We have tried to keep it as short and easy as we can for the contractors.
You can check it out here:
We are looking for other partners in distributing the survey and wanted to see if you would be interested. We thought this could be good source material for a blog post or an email newsletter, and we would be happy to share the results with you in return for helping promote it.
We are also raffling off a $100 Amazon Gift Card for the contractors that participate.
Will this initiative lead to down the slippery slope to the scuzzy lead generation services that extract fees and set contractors in a frenzied competition for poorly qualified homeowners while, often, stealing their “identity” and search engine optimization power? I’m hopeful, not.
I can see an application like this having other business development models. Perhaps it can be localized sufficiently to allow contractors to purchase “local rights” and then for a set fee gather whatever leads emerge in their market? Or it could be brokered by local marketing agencies/services who would vet the relevant local contractors and distribute the leads.
Regardless, if you wish, you can help out by completing the survey, which appears innocuous and straightforward enough.