You need a plumber. You ask around, you check Yelp and Angie’s List, you find a few reputable leads. You make some calls, leave some messages, get some estimates. Then you take a leap and choose someone. At that point, there’s not much to do but keep your fingers crossed.
Anyone who owns a home has experienced a version of this scenario. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. All in all it’s a haphazard and time-consuming process—a lot of grunt work for an uncertain reward.
Seasoned real estate professional Scott Fouser recognized that homeowners need an advocate when it comes to home repair and maintenance. On the flip side, home service providers need a reliable source of clientele.
Thus, GruntWorks was born. We sat down with Scott to learn more:
What was the spark that inspired the birth of GruntWorks?
I was in my house, and I needed the air ducts cleaned. I got three quotes that ranged from $99 to $299 to $699. I thought, I’ve got 20+ years of experience in the real estate industry, and I’m confused about who I should use and why. They all tell me theirs is the right solution, but how do I know?
It’s one thing on the commercial side, where you have a professional process. But on the residential side, you just don’t. You might have a file or an Excel spreadsheet if you’re super organized. But usually a contractor comes to your house and you get a receipt, which you probably end up throwing away.
Be constantly aware of your blind spots. It’s super easy to drink your own Kool-Aid.” (Tweet this.)
At the same time, I started learning about the challenges that contractors face. I asked them, how do you handle marketing and lead generation, customer retention, and reputation management? About 98 percent had no strategy, no plan, no tools. They worked one job to next. When they were working, they were getting paid, when they weren’t working, they were looking for another job. They were spending money on door hangers and ads in print magazines, but had no idea where their clients were coming from.
I learned that 70 percent of home repair/service contractors fail within seven years. These guys have a need for a reliable source of new business and repeat customers.
So there was a very real need on both the consumer and contractor side. The question was, how do we bridge that gap?
How did you decide on the name ‘GruntWorks?’
It wasn’t a six-month branding process. I had a guy who I could always go to, and he would solve these problems for me—I’d just tell him what I needed done and he would find a solution. He didn’t really go through the steps we do now. He would just get it done. Ultimately that is what people want. Simplicity. But they also want peace of mind. We now give them both.
I was sitting in my car one day, and I said, I’m going to start you in business, and I’m going to call it GruntWorks because you do all the grunt work that no one else wants to do.
Here’s GruntWorks in five minutes. GruntWorks President Troy McElhenny presented at OEN’s Angel Oregon Spring 2014 Showcase:
Video produced by SpykerMedia.
How has your initial concept evolved since its founding?
The company was formed in April 2011. Initially, we thought we would be a service provider—the idea was that we would do all the things you needed to have done. But it became very clear very fast that that wasn’t practical. We would need to have so many people on our team—people with roofing experience, painting experience, plumbing experience, etc. Plus, our objective is to get the right solution for the customer’s needs and expectations. If we were self-providing, we would be just like all the other contractors—telling you we’re the best. That’s how we arrived at our current model—matching customers to trusted contractors. The contractors get a reliable source of business and the customers get contractors that fit their budget and needs. It’s a win-win.
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?
Be constantly aware of your blind spots. It’s super easy to drink your own Kool-Aid. Knowing where your gaps are will prevent you from making the big mistakes.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I just wanted to grow up! I was always drawn to real estate, even though I may not have known it at the time. I remember looking up at big buildings and saying I wanted to own one of those one day. And I did!
What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
How much I love the pain. It’s a love/hate relationship. It’s so difficult and so rewarding at the same time.
Actually, the biggest surprise is how hard it is to raise money for a company that just makes sense.
Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed?
There are pluses and minuses. The pluses are that it truly feels like a community. Entrepreneurs here support each other and help each other. I’ve spent a lot of time in LA and there, it’s fairly dog eat dog. There’s not a lot of help.
The downside, building off what I said earlier about the difficulty of raising money, is that the angel investing community is not as strong as it needs to be. The expectations are very different from what you’d see in other markets, like the Bay Area, LA, and Seattle. If you pitch people here, the due diligence is higher for a smaller amount of money. That process in itself takes away time from the goal of building your business. The money-raising side is practically a full-time job. So how can we improve flow of capital to companies that have a sound business model and can truly become scalable?
What’s on the horizon for GruntWorks?
The single most important thing for us now is efficiency of operation. That will only happen once we launch a technology platform that we have mapped out. It’s a communication tool and database that will connect customers with personal home assistants and ultimately to contractors. It will also keep your record, so if you’re a customer of ours, you eventually can see whatever you had done, who did it, and when it was done. It’s an electronic health record for your house, if you will.
We also want to dive deeper into the Portland market. We’ve targeted Seattle and LA for our next expansions. By the time we get operational in those three markets, my guess is that we’ll be a substantial acquisition target.