When former Digg CEO and Amazon manager Matt Williams founded his latest startup Pro.com four years ago, he focused on what he knew best: marketplaces. The company’s original mission was to transform the way homeowners find, book and schedule home improvement professionals, everyone from plumbers and painters to carpenters and ceiling fan installers.
Then about 18 months ago, the company began to change its business model from a marketplace focused on contractors and home improvements to a general contractor itself with a full roster of in-house construction personnel.
Williams found that Pro.com as a marketplace couldn’t guarantee things like price transparency, the quality of work and responsiveness, so the company decided to make the switch.
“In order to get a much better experience for the homeowner we found that we really had to provide the service ourselves,” Williams said. “So we decided at that stage to become a directly licensed general contractor for each state that we operate in and to hire a set of crews in each city.”
With that transformation complete, Williams said the company is experiencing double digit monthly growth, and Pro.com just raised $10 million to bring its tech-powered general contracting model to more cities. Silicon Valley venture capital heavyweight Draper Fisher Jurvetson led the round, which also includes existing investors Maveron, Madrona Venture Group and Two Sigma Ventures.
The concept is similar in a way to Redfin, the Seattle-based real estate brokerage which completed an initial public offering last week. Just like Redfin needs high-quality real estate agents in each of the markets it operates in, Pro.com will need well-respected general contractors.
The model poses challenges. And while both Redfin and Pro.com use technology to fuel their businesses, they also have the challenge of expanding in new markets with a people-centric model.
With the latest funding round, Pro.com has now raised $27 million over its lifetime. Previous backers include Andreessen Horowitz, where Williams did a stint as an entrepreneur in residence, and Bezos Expeditions, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ capital investment firm.
Right now, Pro.com operates throughout the Seattle area and most of the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the next 18 months, Williams said the company will expand, with a goal of establishing a presence in the top 10 or 15 U.S. markets, starting with major West Coast cities.
Today, Pro.com has about 60 employees, about a third of which are contractors, electricians, mechanical engineers and other construction personnel. As the company expands into other cities, Pro.com’s headcount will grow.
While the previous iteration of the company competed with other online marketplaces for home services, including Amazon Home Services and Seattle startup Porch, Pro.com says its primary competition today is traditional general contractors. Williams tells GeekWire that Pro.com’s technology is what makes it stand out from other contractors.
While it can take weeks for a typical contractor to prepare a quote, Williams said Pro.com can produce a mobile-friendly quote in a fraction of the time. The company uses mobile apps to manage field staff, capture and pass along updates from work sites, handle invoices and accept mobile payments.
“It’s a combination of incredibly knowledgable individuals and our technology basis that’s created our ability to quote faster than any other GC out there, the ability to execute projects more efficiently and be able to pass those price savings on to the homeowner and to be able to have things like electronic invoicing for the end to end project,” Williams said.
Williams, the son of two entrepreneurs, ran Seattle-based auction LiveBid.com from 1996 to 1999, when it was acquired by Amazon.com. He spent 11 years there in a variety of roles.
Williams’ stepfather was an architect who also owned a construction firm, and Williams saw first hand the complicated nature of managing such a company. Between that, and the “painful experience” that was remodeling his home, Williams knew he wanted to focus his startup on home improvement projects.
“I personally experienced that pain and understood enough about the industry that doing something in and around the home made a ton of sense,” Williams said. “And after doing the research, in terms of market size and how fragmented it truly was, it was very clear in my mind that this is a space that will be changing dramatically in the next five years with the use of technology, specifically the smartphone.”