Coming from a family of builders, I grew up on construction sites. From the age of four, I understood what it meant to create something from the ground up, to see a house built from the inside. By the time I was ten, I was spending my summer holidays on builds; I remember looking up at the roof joists of what would become someone’s home, and realizing I wanted to make something that important.
<Image that captures this—looking up at bare bones of house from the inside>
Much to the chagrin of my parents, at 16 I took up an apprenticeship with a carpenter, spending half my time at college and half on build sites. As an apprentice, I was assigned menial work, and couldn’t even really ask questions. One advantage of my position, though, was that I had a bit of distance from what unfolded on projects—which gave me a unique perspective when one renovation went totally wrong, sparking the idea that would eventually become Bolster.
<pull quote: “To see a home being built from the inside was so fascinating—I wanted to make something that important to people.”>
We were working on a high-end renovation of a beautiful four-story Georgian townhouse. One day, the construction team was removing part of a staircase to replace it, when the first floor landing suddenly came crashing down. The team had left so many of their tools on the landing that it just buckled under the weight.
Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, but the two homeowners—who were still living in the house—had to climb a ladder to their sleeping area every night, and back down to the ground floor every morning, an inconvenient (and hazardous) arrangement.
What was most shocking to me, though, was that both parties—the homeowners and the contractor—seemed to be clueless as to how the accident had happened. How on earth you could do something this high-risk, and have this level of randomness and lack of accountability? The whole process seemed to me to be broken.
<pull quote: “People are operating in the dark—what if you could redesign the entire process?”>
As I got older, I became a general contractor myself and got to see more of the inner workings of renovations from the business side. I also gained a closer understanding of the consumer’s perspective, and got a sense of what the problem really was: a lack of data upon which to base renovation decisions. Because each project is unique, there is a high degree of unpredictability inherent in the work—but what if there were a way to redesign the entire process?
<Photo of Fraser at work as GC>
Building a better way to renovate
I got a chance to find out in 2008, when I was invited to become a lecturer in architecture and design in Mexico City. There, while running an incubator for student-entrepreneurs, I met a managing director from a company called Endeavor, which provides the resources to help entrepreneurs kick start their companies in emerging markets.
It was pure serendipity that I met them. At that time, Endeavor was working with an institute with a vision for stimulating the economy during the recession, by providing funds for Mexican homeowners to renovate. When the institute sent out its marketing materials, it immediately received hundreds of thousands of inquiries, and they urgently needed ideas for how to best respond to all the requests.
<Photos from Mexico City / of Mexican homes>
I met with the institute and Endeavor, and they presented me with the perfect challenge: ensure that renovations are completed on time and on budget, overseen by quality professionals who are paid properly—and make it scalable, instantly. I had two weeks to come up with a solution.
<This might be a good place for a page break or photo to build a little suspense>
There’s a famous saying: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief.” The strict parameters of the problem sparked ideas, and after 14 days, I came back and presented a plan: put funds from the institute into a bank, which holds the money in a trust. Bring in the insurance industry to help guarantee the performance of the general contractors on the renovation. Build a web interface that allows the contractor to present their bid and sign off on each renovation task as they complete it. Once the customer agrees that the project is complete, the bank is notified and releases the funds to pay the contractor.
It was a system that could work for everyone. The consumer would know for sure that the contractor would complete the project, and the contractor could rest assured that they would get paid.
The institute loved the proposal, and awarded us with a contract. We had beat several huge corporations to win the opportunity. After taking a year to implement the plan with co-founder Anna Karp, we launched our company, Onis Vida—and received 30,000 inquiries on our first day.
Our first two projects couldn’t have been more different from one another: one was the addition of a balustrade around the veranda of a luxurious home owned by a bank CEO, and the other was the installation of new plumbing, electricity, and flooring in the bare-bones home of a nurse. For her, the work was transformational, and it occurred to me: This could work anywhere.
<pull quote: “It was the first time I realized that this could work anywhere, and for anyone, doing a renovation project.”
Upon completing our 1,000th successful renovation, we realized it was time to take the process to a larger market: New York City. Together with Anna and a few other dedicated team members, we built Bolster here in the U.S. And although NYC’s market presents its own set of challenges, today Bolster is following the same ethos of reinventing the renovation process by making it more transparent—and enjoyable—to homeowners, general contractors and architects alike.
Read on to learn more about how Bolster’s streamlined process can work for your project.
<photos from an NYC-based reno>
Other possibilities to include on an “Our Story” page:
· A timeline of Bolster’s development
· Photos and short bios of team members