The first time you make improvements on your house can be really scary. Where do you get your supplies? What’s a fair price for a contractor? How do you know he’s not going to rip you off? How do you budget?
Those are only a couple of questions that come up for every homeowner when they’re making home improvements. Back in the pre-internet bad old days, the answers to those questions could only be found by calling the people you knew and trusted who had also made home improvements and, let’s be real, that probably meant only your dad.
Now, however, Dad is not the only one you can turn to. From here on out all you have to do is log into Porch.com and to check out your neighbor’s home improvement projects, how much they cost, and who they hired and what they have to say about them. The site looks like Pinterest but instead of just things that people dig, it exhibits actual projects that can help you make important decisions about what you’re going to do.
Co-founders Ronnie Castro and Matt Ehrlichman took some time to chat about Porch, the story behind it, and some very interesting details. Check it out!
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Matt: I don’t know whether it’s just in people’s DNA, but it was never really a conscious decision for me. It’s something I’ve done all my life. I remember back to being 6 or 7 years old: I’d collect sand dollars at the beach and set up a stand to sell them on the side of the road.
As I progressed through life and became more conscious, the reason I’ve continued to want to be an entrepreneur and the reason I’m doing Porch is that there’s nothing quite like the feeling of creating something where there was nothing before. I love the idea of a group of people coming together around a mission and changing how the world is, and having that impact lots and lots of people. There’s nothing quite like it.
Ronnie: I’m easily bored when I’m doing the same thing day in and day out.
What inspired your current startup?
Ronnie: I wanted to be part of building something great and be able to help solve a major pain for a lot of people.
Matt: After my last venture IPO’d, I took a few months off and began building my own home with my wife and son. I realized it’s comically hard to find the right tools and information to make good decisions. Everyone faces a problem taking care of their home and improving it. Not only is the home our biggest life investment, it’s where memories are born. Managing our home should be easy. And for this purpose, Porch was born.
What makes your startup so killer? How is it different from the competition?
Matt: Porch is focused on solving the problem of home improvement the way homeowners actually want it solved. To that end, we’ve taken a very data-centric approach, spending 14 months leading up to the company’s founding in deep, customer-engaged research to find the right market, what’s missing from what’s already out there, and the true pain-points where we can make the biggest difference for homeowners.
We found that 98% of homeowners experience pain with home improvement, and there’s a big gap between the resources that are out there and the information that’s actually available to homeowners. With Porch, we’re bridging that gap and bringing it all online in an experience that’s educational, functional, and delightful every time you use it.
How do you motivate yourself and your team?
Ronnie: I try to help people see the bigger picture of what we’re doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and lose sight of what’s important. Porch is helping people with their home – the place your family lives and memories are made.
Matt: I set big goals and never accept mediocrity from myself or Porch’s team, defining a high minimum bar and an unwavering expectation to meet it. From there we naturally put our heads down, work and problem solve to get there. As CEO, it’s imperative for me to be down in the weeds, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else. I can’t expect my team to work harder than I do, so setting the bar high for my team also means setting the bar an additional notch higher for myself.
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you be doing?
Matt: Barring professional golf or being involved with the Seahawks which, let’s be honest, I’m not holding my breath for, if I wasn’t doing some sort of offline business I’d want to be teaching. Working with kids is incredibly rewarding and teaching has always been the one thing outside of entrepreneurship that’s attracted me. In fact it’s something I still have in my sights as another adventure later in life. Teachers play an incredibly influential role in our future and it’s a position that deserves to be revered.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their businesses off the ground?
Ronnie: You have to commit. If you attempt to start a business with anything less than 100%, you will fail.
Matt: Don’t give up. So much of it is about perseverance. I truly believe that if we don’t allow ourselves to fail, human beings are capable of incredible things. This was especially true for me in my first business, Thriva. The road to acquisition was bumpy, and we hit many points where I think the normal course of action would have been to close it down. Had we listened to what others were saying, that’s probably what we would’ve done. But because we didn’t allow ourselves to fail, we kept our heads down, kept executing, and eventually we got there. Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that a lot of it comes down to luck–but you have to stay in the game long enough for that luck to find you.
What has been the biggest startup surprise for you (good or bad)? Have you had any incredible/funny/challenging experiences that you can share with us?
Ronnie: In the early days, we worked out of our CEO’s basement, I know, so cliche. The first time I had to explain to a candidate how to get to the “office” I realized I sounded like someone planning a kidnapping… “When you get to the house, go through the side gate around to the back of the house and then head down the staircase to the basement…”
Matt: In March, about one year into founding Porch, we discovered that my co-founder and lifelong best friend Ronnie Castro had a 4 inch brain tumor, and it’s cancer. Ronnie’s 32-years-old, seems very healthy, and just had his second child, so needless to say this came totally out-of-the-blue. Talk about a curveball.
We were, and still are, very much depending on Ronnie for the business. But he was out for over a month with surgery and recovery, and he deserved to come back to a business that hadn’t missed a beat. So we had to adapt in his absence. We cut out most meetings to buy ourselves more time. We hired a team of 15 wicked smart interns to help pick up the slack. The team rallied around the experience, kept pushing at full speed and grew much closer and more efficient for it. And now that Ronnie’s back, we’ve carried those gains over into how we work today.
How do you handle frustration or disappointment?
Ronnie: I focus on the things in my control. If it’s something I can control, I make the adjustments and move on. If it’s out of my control, I just move on. Playing golf has taught me a lot about frustration. You can’t let a poor shot affect your next shot.
Matt: I do internalize it more than I’d like to, something I’m working to get better at. The only guarantee in a startup is that there’s going to be highs and there’s going to be lows. When those lows come, there’s inevitably some period of time, whether its an hour, or an evening, when it’s going to weigh on me.
The key I’ve found is to invest in developing an optimistic core, an anchor, that I can return to time and time again. With Porch, I’m working on something that does good, solves a real problem and makes the world a better place. That’s inherently motivating, and I have that truth to keep me long-sighted when the going gets tough.
What are the top 3 online tools/websites/devices that you couldn’t live without? (And why?)
Ronnie: Google Analytics – There are new tools doing some things better, but you can’t beat the level of insight for the free price tag.
Moz – It’s more than SEO.
Quora – It’s becoming my go to source for information/advice from experts.
Matt: LinkedIn – cliche, but it’s my #1 go-to because business starts and ends with relationships. Dropbox because it helps us collaborate and stay nimble with Porch having two offices in different cities (Seattle and San Diego). Moz because their suite of SEO tools are proving massively helpful in building our online presence.
If you had $1 million and one year off, what would you do? (Other than work on your current startup)
Ronnie: Take my family and travel all over the world.
Matt: I’d chill with my family. The hardest thing about a startup is the time it demands, and that’s been as true with Porch as with any other. With a newborn child at home, I do my best to be out of the office at a reasonable time each day, but if I do have any regrets, it’s not having more time to spend with my family.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
Ronnie: My family is always my top priority. When I’m with them, I’m with them 100%, not checking email or working on the laptop. Work/life balance is different for everyone, you shouldn’t try to have the “same” balance as someone else, you should decide what’s best for you.
Matt: As I alluded to in the previous question, it’s not easy. Once I became a dad I had to start budgeting my time a bit differently than I did with my first startup. As a parent I can’t dedicate the same unholy amount of hours to my business that I could right out of college, no matter how much I love it.
My current schedule looks like this: On weekdays I rise with the sun, head to work, and try to be back home by 6:00 to spend at least a few hours of family time with the kids until they go to bed around 8:30. After that I kiss my wife goodnight and head upstairs to crank on emails and projects until about midnight or 1.
Weekends I reserve one day with no work, just pure family and fun time. It’s not an ideal schedule for either a dad or an entrepreneur, but in the early stages of scaling a business one has to make certain sacrifices, and I do the best I can.
Who would play you in the movie of your life, and what would be the theme song?
Ronnie: I’ve been told I look like Ben Affleck, so I’ll go with him. As far as theme song, I’d like an 80’s rock/rap mash up.
Matt: I’m a Marvel geek so if I didn’t say Robert Downey Jr. and the soundtrack from Iron Man I’d be selling myself short. What tech entrepreneur wouldn’t want to be on the same plane as Tony Stark?
How has being an entrepreneur changed you for the better? How has it enriched your life?
Ronnie: Work doesn’t feel like work. When you’re spending so much of your waking life doing your job, it’s good to enjoy it.
Matt: I’ve met some amazing people along the way and formed incredibly enriching, lifelong relationships, but I’d have to say the best part has been the rate at which it’s forced me to learn. As an entrepreneur I’ve intentionally chosen a path with great challenges and lots of highs and lows. And with that, I’ve greatly accelerated my rate of learning over what it would’ve been otherwise.
What is the tech scene like where you live?
Ronnie: The start-up community is active and there’s a lot of great talent.
Matt: Something that’s been very important to me with Porch is to build a great technology company that’s headquartered in Seattle. It’s a little harder to raise money here than it might be in the Bay, but if you can get that done Seattle’s an amazing place to grow a tech company. It has the right combination of tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft to draw in talent, and startup successes like RedFin, Moz, and Zillow to build a strong ecosystem without being too crowded and spreading the talent thin. Not to mention it’s absolutely beautiful here.
What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
Ronnie: Take more risks with your career. It’s a lot easier to do that before mortgages, kids and all the other responsibilities that come with growing up.
As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Matt: Everyone should talk and sell to customers. I spend more than 50% of my time in every business working with external stakeholders. It provides you with invaluable insights and builds your intuition so your gut and head are aligned to steer you in the right direction.
How can the KillerStartups community help YOU?
Ronnie: Porch is launching later this summer, but we have early signups available on the site. Message me directly if you’re interested in getting access.
Matt: We’re hiring! We’re looking to fill positions across engineering, product, design, sales, marketing, support, controller and HR/recruiting. Drop us a line here if you think you’d be a good fit!
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