By the age of four, I was hooked on construction. My father, a developer in Edinburgh, Scotland, brought me to a building site one weekend, with instructions to hold a tape measure and stay out of trouble. From that day on, I begged to visit sites, and watch buildings be transformed from start to finish. I would marvel at these projects, be they heritage properties, country homes, factories, and hotels, all pre, during and post-construction.
By 16, I was carpentering on home remodels in Scotland, and by 24, I was building façades for luxury residential towers on London’s River Thames. Later, as a consultant, I helped map out the lands that would become the site for the 2012 London Olympics.
I began to see that there were serious problems with the way construction, and specifically renovations, were done.
And while I loved every minute of it, I also began to see that there were serious problems with the way construction, and specifically renovations, were done.
For big commercial projects, companies had safeguards, standardized processes, and insurance to protect them. But for the unsuspecting homeowner looking to improve his family’s life through a new kitchen or sunroom, a renovation-gone-wrong was a disaster.
In fact, when I faced the truth, the home renovation process was (and still is) governed by the same unnecessary costs, huge risks (both financial and safety) and pointless inefficiencies that have plagued it for generations. Imagine if we set up bank accounts now the same way we did in 1820. It sounds absurd – but way we manage home renovations hasn’t changed in centuries.
With an eye toward changing all this, I launched my own “one-stop-shop” home remodeling company. It got off to a great start: winning an industry award, and I was living and breathing the issues faced by homeowners, contractors and architects.
Blaming the Other Side = Disaster
Very quickly, I made a discovery: in disputes between homeowners and contractors, the blame doesn’t always lie on one party or the other. Rather, the process is a complex chain of events, where each party accepts substantial but different risks. Sound messy? That’s because it is. Even messier is the fact that one or both parties may not know the huge financial risks they’re taking on when they sign the contract.
The more renovations I handled, the more I saw that 1) the process was driving both parties insane; and 2) the double-sided risk and knowledge gap were at the root of the problem.
So I began to work on the Big Challenge: How do you build a business that delivers risk free home remodeling to both homeowners and contractors? I started devising a solution, with input from U.K. experts from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Then came the 2008 financial crisis, and the loss of our biggest client. My partner, Anna Karp, and I struggled to save our company, but ultimately had to shut it down. It hurt, and it hurt deep. Anyone who’s been forced to voluntarily liquidate their company, let staff go, face disappointed creditors, move into a parents’ basement, etc. knows what I’m talking about.
Redemption came in Mexico, where I found myself teaching industrial design students not just about construction, but about how to build companies as well.
Around this time, Mexican President Calderon announced his vision to inspire Mexican homeowners, in particular low-income families, to improve their economic standing and quality of life by borrowing money to remodel.
In Mexico, every worker on payroll contributes 5% of their gross salary to a company called Infonavit, which in turn provide workers with low interest loans. The institute is responsible for some 80% of all the country’s mortgages.
Infonavit’s problem, however, was that they were giving out loans to remodel, but then the contractors would fail to perform or clients would only give the contractor a chunk of the loan, and pocket the rest.
I realized this all sounded very familiar to me – underneath the specifics, it was really another version of the Big Challenge!
With a group of partners, we figured out the solution: have both parties put something at stake, and create a means of holding each to their word.
Basically, we’d assure homeowners and contractors of a transparent, fair, and accountable process.
We started developing the website that would handle every one of these loans, and the transactions around them. Under our system, the loan money was kept in escrow, so that neither the contractor nor the homeowner could misuse the cash. The other part of the solution was to have the contractor put something at stake – so we modified the commercial construction bond to create a remodeling bond.
Basically, we’d build in trusted middlemen to assure both sides of a transparent, fair, and accountable process.
Infonavit loved the idea, and we were awarded with a contract to manage home remodeling projects using our new system. Since then, thousands of projects have been handled successfully.
I began to realize that my team and I had only begun to find the solution to the Big Challenge. Our idea, with some work, could be made to service all home remodelers anywhere – including the biggest, most sophisticated home remodeling market in the world.
The United States
In 2011, more than 16 million U.S. homeowners spent over $145 billion remodeling their homes with professional contractors. New York City was the largest market, with more than $11 billion spent. Looking forward, we believe the market will only get bigger — a remodeling boom is on its way.
And we moved to New York, raised capital, built a great team, adapted the business model to the U.S. market, solved the trickiest issues, and finally felt great about being entrepreneurs (thank you America!).
The result is Bolster: a convenient, web-based solution that helps contractors win more remodels and brings transparency to remodeling process.
Welcome to Bolster
Bolster exists to make remodeling easier and risk-free for remodeling contractors. We invent products and services that help good contractors stand out and win the projects they deserve.
Our mission is to eliminate risk and uncertainty from remodeling for contractors and their customers through financial innovation, education, and technology.
Founder & CEO