After building its foundation in Washington state, Blokable is scaling in California.
The Seattle startup that takes a novel approach to home building announced Tuesday it has opened a corporate office in Sacramento and is planning a major manufacturing facility in the state.
Blokable hired Jeff Robinson to oversee the company’s manufacturing expansion, bringing experience from his tenure at Tesla and Ford. Jim Hurley will join the team as head of real estate finance, following nearly a decade of management work for the California Public Employees Retirement System’s investment office.
Blokable launched in 2016 with a mission to reduce the cost of building homes by making the process more efficient. When Blokable was just getting off the ground, its co-CEO Aaron Holm liked to compare the traditional home building process to the laborious way computers were once made. They were completely custom, requiring a lengthy building process. The former Amazon product manager who led the tech giant’s physical retail push saw that inefficiency as a big opportunity.
He and co-CEO Nelson del Rio launched Blokable, a builder and technology company that manages the full development process, including design, planning, permitting, and manufacturing — which happens off-site. Before the California expansion, Blokable relied on a Vancouver, Wash., manufacturing facility.
The modular units, or “Bloks,” are built one section at a time and homebuyers can add features like decks, stairs, railings, and more. After being manufactured at a facility, Bloks are trucked to their permanent site where they are craned onto the foundation, connected to utilities, and stacked several stories high.
New technologies are integrated throughout Blokable homes. Bloks come equipped with smart home features like embedded tablets that control the temperature, smart lighting and more.
Blokable has two revenue streams. For market-rate housing, the company owns the units and makes money off of the equity they gain. For affordable housing, Blokable develops units for nonprofit partners, for a fee, in addition to the cost of the project.
“Our process delivers lower all-in costs to develop housing which creates equity for Blokable and its partners in market rate projects, and equity for the community through nonprofit projects,” Holm said. “The key is that across everything we do, we have an incentive structure to continually drive down the cost to develop and operate housing.”
Blokable’s approach has been approved by regulators in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Last year, Blokable delivered a model unit as part of a larger housing project in Edmonds, Wash., north of Seattle. Since then, Blokable hasn’t completed any additional projects, and has instead focused on nailing down the business model and making sure the manufacturing process meets housing regulations.
“We’re not rushing to get maximum output at this point,” Holm said in an August interview with GeekWire. “It’s really about the engineering of the building system and getting that 100 percent ready for scale and then looking for opportunities to spread across the country.”
The California expansion was fueled by a $23 million fundraising round led by Vulcan Capital. Blokable has raised $30.4 million to date from investors like Vulcan, Building Ventures, Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH, Kapor Capital, Motley Fool Ventures, and Ten Eighty Capital.
“California is ground zero for the country’s housing crisis and this is where solutions are most needed,” Del Rio said in a statement. “Our vertically integrated business model is the only way to drive down costs and unlock the equity required to force the housing market to work for everyone. We’re building an exceptional team here in California in order to scale where scale is most needed.”