Q&A with Jiyan Wei and David Petersen, Cofounders of BuildZoom

by Y Combinator10/17/2018

We put together a list of the top YC companies by valuation as of October 2018. You can see that list at https://ycombinator.com/topcompanies.

Here’s a Q&A with Jiyan Wei and David Petersen, Cofounders of BuildZoom, one of the companies featured on the list.

What does BuildZoom make/do?

BuildZoom is a marketplace for remodeling and construction. We help people complete their construction projects on-time and on-budget.

To actualize this vision, we’ve developed a platform that connects people with the right professional for their construction project, and streamlines the hiring process. For contractors, we partner together to work on projects that are perfect for their capabilities, and provide them tools to manage, organize, and grow their businesses.

In order to facilitate the optimal match between a client and professional, we need full visibility into the construction market, a capacity we refer to as the Construction Graph. To maintain a comprehensive and timely construction graph, we gather data from 400 licensing entities and 1,500 building departments. 160 million building permits and 5.5 million license records are then matched to 3.5 million construction entities and 55 million parcels, giving us deep insight into the construction market and enabling us to accurate match demand with supply.

How many employees does BuildZoom have?

110 Employees (60 in the US, 50 in the Philippines)

How many founders?


What is your most impressive recent product milestone?

We’re on pace to reach over $3.0 billion in GMV in our marketplace this year and the fastest growing segments include commercial alterations (158% YOY growth) and commercial construction (236% YOY growth), which alongside large, $250k+ residential construction and remodels, are the market segments where we see the most significant greenfield opportunities moving forward. It feels great to help so many people build and remodel their homes and workplaces.

What’s an interesting element of BuildZoom’s company culture?

In order to retain some of the characteristics we enjoyed most about our early venture-stage, our team is encouraged to deviate from the status quo (to a certain extent). If a team member independently identifies an opportunity to accomplish a set goal that creates value for the company, they are encouraged to pursue it even if it doesn’t always meet with their set roles or responsibilities. This approach enables us to tap more deeply into the independent creativity of our team and empower them to think and act in a more entrepreneurial manner.

Looking back, what motivated you to start BuildZoom?

Construction is an enormous industry. It’s about 8% of the world economy, and $1.4 trillion in the United States alone. It’s a broken industry that remains largely offline. It costs more to build infrastructure in the US than anywhere else in the world. The failures of the construction industry creates massive societal problems, from homelessness to housing affordability to inability to build proper infrastructure (trains, undergrounds, airports). Normally you see people moving from low GDP areas to high GDP areas (3rd world to US, for example) for economic opportunity, but here it’s the opposite. People leave great jobs in SF for cheaper housing in Arizona.

Working on a huge, broken industry was very appealing to us. We wanted to take on something big. That and painful first-hand experiences finding, hiring, and working with contractors, made us believe that this was a problem encountered by many. These realizations served as the early thesis behind BuildZoom.

Is what you’re working on now the original idea or did you pivot?

Construction is more complex than most marketplaces and requires a certain degree of human interaction to complement the technology. Over time, we’ve layered in a more high touch approach to help steward our larger deals through our pipeline, which requires our reps to spend more time with both homeowners and contractors.

Our initial vision was to solve the market problem by establishing a marketplace built on transparency, accountability, and objectivity and we’ve stayed true to this vision. We did pivot in terms of the monetization strategy. Initially, we applied a more traditional pay per lead model, but soon found that it created incentives that were misaligned with solving the fundamental marketplace problem. Instead of connecting qualified demand with qualified professionals, the pay per lead model often results in connecting unqualified demand with the highest bidder. Furthermore, the most qualified contractors were often unwilling to pay for leads; however, they were willing to pay us a percentage of acquired deals, which lead to us transitioning into the referral model that we now apply.

Were there moments where you thought the company might die? Describe one of those and anything you learned from it.

We bootstrapped the company for the first year or so and were able to build something useful without venture backing, so we haven’t had many moments of existential doubt. But, there have been and continue to be moments when we think the company may not achieve full self-actualization. These moments often create a sense of urgency that results in productivity.

What was a particularly important insight you had about your market that made your product work?

We spent months defining our product within the massive construction industry. There is often a tendency to lump construction in with local or home services’ Residential builders and handymen do not belong on the same list simply because they both work on homes — especially when only one of them is generating $10M+ in revenue.

We currently focus on the residential and commercial construction belonging to the former group.

What’s one piece of advice you’d share with a young founder?

After achieving product/market fit, the next milestones are going to require excellence in recruiting and sales so make sure to value these things. he market is littered with brilliant product-oriented founders who neglected these disciplines.


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