Jean Lauer photographed by Skye Parrott for BlackBook Magazine
Of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on home renovations in the United States last year, a respectable portion came from the startup Sweeten, which listed projects totaling over $150 million. Jean Lauer, the site’s founder and chief executive officer, expects to see that number grow, and the trend lines point in the right direction. Last year the National Association of Home Builders’ chief economist, David Crowe, said in a statement that the only roadblock to a “slow, steady recovery of the housing industry” was a “shortage of qualified labor and subcontractors.” Sweeten aims to correct this market inefficiency by making it easier to find a contractor.
The platform operates like this: Homeowners list their project and all of its details, while contractors, architects, and designers bid. Once a contract is awarded, Sweeten checks in at the beginning, middle, and end of construction to make sure all is well. Centralizing the process introduces a wealth of safeguards against fraud and shoddy work. Sweeten’s projects range from $15,000 renovations to a $15 million residential development in Queens. “Whatever price point they are working at, the contractors just have to be great at what they do,” Lauer says. Installing new kitchens or ripping out bathrooms might not seem like an area rife for digital disruption, but just as Uber flipped the old hand-in-the-air method of taxi-hailing on its head, Sweeten may turn out to be revolutionary in its own right.
This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.