My Unconventional Journey to Making Home Maintenance Invisible

It’s my pleasure to announce that alongside my co-founder Guillaume Laliberté and the amazing team at Setter, we have just closed a $10M Series A round of Financing. Setter is backed by Jess Lee of Sequoia, Pete Flint of marketplace expert NFX, hustler extraordinaire Eric Bahn of Hustle Fund, Avichal Garg and Andre Charoo of Maple VC.

Setter is now available to homeowners in the Bay Area (our second market after Toronto), and we took on this funding to be able to bring the experience of living in a Setter-managed home to the rest of North America (the waitlist is now open HERE!)

How we got here is the story I’d like to tell.

I never thought that I’d be running a VC-backed startup. It was 16 years ago that I renovated my first house. That project evolved into my first company, Black General Contracting. Bathrooms, then kitchens, then full guts, additions, and finally we were building and fully remodeling multi-million dollar homes. I loved every aspect of construction. Building relationships with my vendors and customers. It really is so amazing to have an actual tangible result of year’s worth of effort. Because of some of our amazing customers, we were given the opportunity to really build out some really beautiful projects.

This was my favorite project. The homeowner had a wonderful aesthetic

Over the years, our previous customers would often reach out to us to help take care of small jobs for them around their homes. We were a “Yes Team” so even though some of these smaller tasks could feel like a distraction from our larger projects, we would take them on.

I would stop by the client’s home, bring a coffee, chat for a bit and take a quick look at whatever they needed to be done. These little drivebys would take about 90 minutes when all I really needed to provide a quote was a photo.

Eventually, smartphones became prevalent enough that everyone had a camera in their pocket and I started getting a photo for every request.

BAM!

I no longer needed to leave my desk to provide a quote, and I was gaining back 90 minutes per job. All of a sudden, I started to enjoy taking care of these small jobs. Very quickly, about a third of my business became focused on maintenance and repair.

The Home Manager

Sometime in 2014, I got invited to quote an addition for a home in one of Toronto’s more beautiful neighborhoods. An addition usually came at $500,000, so I was eager to close the deal. (I did not close that deal, but that’s not the important part.)

I was greeted by a gentleman who walked me through the property. I quickly found that he couldn’t answer many of the questions that a homeowner usually could. Questions like “Should we consider in-floor heat?” or “Should we consider a full-height basement VS the crawl space on the drawings?” He kept deferring and I finally asked him, “What exactly is your relationship to the property here?” He turned to me and apologized saying, “I thought you knew — I’m the Home Manager.”

I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.

I didn’t even realize that a Home Manager was a thing. Every homeowner I had ever spoken to would kill for one. How on earth could I possibly scale this idea?

I decided rather rashly that with some simple tech to capture the data I needed, I could take the best practices of my custom home building experience and bring it to all the homeowners who had always been asking us to tackle small tasks for them.

Problem, solution, now I just had to implement.

The Startup Starts Up

I had to build a team. I needed to find someone who could be the subject matter expert for all things tech just like I am for all things construction. Enter Gui. Gui was a gift from NEXT Canada a hyper-competitive and exclusive incubator. Gui and I were introduced on December 21st via email, we met in Montreal on Dec 27th, and he was living in my condo and sitting at his desk on Jan 4th, 2016.

Gui had been involved in a Y Combinator company, put himself through Computer Science Harvard, had taken things apart to see how they worked and believed in taking chances. He was perfect.

Gui and I showing off some Setter Swag

I wound down my involvement with Black General Contracting and we got to work. Gui grabbed a roll of duct tape, brought Slack into my life and stuck Twilio, Front and Slack together into the first iteration of Setter. At the beginning our goal this time was to use SMS to find out what people wanted and the bare bones of what we needed to get it done. We invested almost nothing in the tech.

Our VC Partners

We grew slowly, hit decent MoM numbers, and got into the 500 Startups program 10 months later. Eric Bahn, now of Hustle Fund, was our mentor there, preparing us for Demo Day and ultimately our Seed round. Sidenote: If you have the opportunity to spend 20 mins with Hustle Fund your valuation will probably 3x by the time you walk out of the meeting.

Things started to move very quickly from there. We had doubled our users and revenue over those three months at 500 Startups. Eric introduced us to Jess Lee at Sequoia and we started talking. The market size was $700B, we had the tech and the team to tackle it and Jess probably needed some things fixed at her house.

I’ll never forget being in the Uber driving up the I- 280 to that first meeting in Menlo Park with Sequoia. When the reminder popped up on my phone, Gui and I looked at one another and decided that no matter how it went, even having the opportunity for a partner meeting was an accomplishment.

We had done everything we could to get there, and the only thing left to do was share our vision for the future of homeownership.
The calendar invite for my meeting with Sequoia.

So after a few incredibly intense (for Gui and me at least) meetings on Sand Hill Road, Sequoia invested $2M in our Seed round in March of 2017.

Jess has since been become an incredible partner and has essentially become our third founder, completing the trifecta.

What’s Next?

Our amazing team and incredible group of investors have helped get us here. Now it’s time to grow and share our vision for the future of home ownership with the rest of North America.

Our mission is to create a home maintenance experience that is so convenient and reliable that it becomes invisible. The experience of living in a home managed by Setter brings peace of mind to our homeowners that they say they’ve never felt before. These stories fuel us.

Give us a try. We think you’re going to fall in love with your new home life.

Experience the future at: www.setter.com.