Monday, April 10, 2017 (Built NYC) – Sweeten’s founding story is one often heard in the tech industry — an individual encounters a problem in their own life, decides to fix it and succeeds. In this case, architect Jean Brownhill was renovating her home in Brooklyn and found it extremely difficult to find a good contractor.
So, Brownhill created her own free marketplace that connects renovators with the best contractors for their projects.
Since its inception in 2011, the company has grown its team to nearly 30 employees, posts over $20 million in construction projects to its platform monthly and has raised over $8 million in funding. More recently, the company has extended its product offerings to commercial renovations — from startup offices to restaurants to retail stores.
We caught up with Sweeten’s co-founders, Brownhill and Preeti Sriratana, after they completed their latest project revamping media and e-commerce site Domino’s headquarters in New York to find out more about what’s next for the company.
What problem is Sweeten solving?
Jean Brownhill: We add trust and transparency to what is traditionally a daunting process. Many business owners don’t know where to start to look for a general contractor for their office build-out and don’t have the knowledge or bandwidth to manage the work once they do hire someone. This is especially true for startup companies operating at a breakneck pace. We match their renovation with the best screened contractors, help evaluate the estimates and provide personal support until the project is done. And we’re absolutely free to renovators.
Preeti Sriratana: Our service helps educate owners by walking them through the process to understand what to expect, costs and schedules. This is based on data from thousands of renovation projects on our platform, as well as from our team of trained architects on staff.
How has Sweeten helped startups and small businesses in New York as they grow?
JB: Operations teams have enough on their plate dealing with the needs of a growing business. We take the time-consuming, challenging work of finding a general contractor off their ‘to-do’ list, and collaborate to fulfill their vision of their new office. When Domino contacted us, for instance, we were excited to help them transform a raw space into their new home. Now, it’s nearly complete and such a good reflection of their brand.
PS: Finding a great general contractor and then making sure the build-out is smooth takes a lot of effort. Since Sweeten is able to hold its general contractors accountable, small businesses can focus on building their business as opposed to building their spaces.
What prompted the launch into the commercial projects area of your business?
JB: We were already getting a number of commercial projects because so many homeowners who’ve used Sweeten are also business owners. So we started taking on their office spaces, shops and restaurants. Now we’re formalizing the offering and opening up to a wider audience.
PS: We spent the first years building our general contractor network, personally screening over 15,000 general contractors to identify the top 1,000. Our inventory is fully capable of taking on commercial projects—their portfolios already have many of these project types. It was a natural fit for our model. We pride ourselves on setting a new standard in construction, first on the residential side and now on the commercial end.
What are you most excited about with this new launch?
JB: Learning about all the cool businesses in New York City and helping them make their new spaces exactly the way they want them!
PS: We’ve always been proud to be founded in New York City, and are excited to be able to help to build this city, starting with its small businesses and startups like us. The irony is that we need to find new office space, too, as we’ve now outgrown our Lower East Side office.
What has been a challenge in launching into the commercial space?
JB: Because we came to this business organically — we’d finish a Brooklyn Heights townhouse and the homeowner would then ask us to build his bar — it’s been fairly seamless. The challenge on the tech side was to create an entirely new path on our site for commercial projects — we really wanted to make sure we were addressing the needs of a busy business owner. It’s now super easy for them to come to our site and give us enough info so we can match them with three to five great general contractors who are interested and available to meet them. We’re also going to expand our blog content to feature more commercial projects.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of building Sweeten in New York City?
JB: We love New York. I moved here when I was 17 to go to the Cooper Union for Architecture school and have basically never left. Folks who stay here want to work hard and be fully engaged in the world, and that’s who we want on our team, as our general contractors and as our clients.
PS: We also like seeing the renovation trends in different neighborhoods and have started tracking what areas are heating up renovation-wise. It’s rewarding, too, now that we’re in our sixth year, to have clients return to us for the next chapter in their lives, such as renovating their home to add a nursery.
What are your short-term goals for Sweeten? Your long-term goals?
JB: As founders trained as architects and having practiced more than 20 years combined here in New York City, we want to make the renovation process more transparent and effortless — an enjoyable process. While nightmare stories of renovating abound, when done with the right general contractor, it can be a totally different, and even fun, experience. We see this all the time at Sweeten, and we want to fulfill this notion to help businesses.
Our longer-term goal is to be in every major U.S. city, helping homeowners and business owners alike to renovate with confidence and create a space they love.