I’ve never owned a home. That’s mostly because I make a journalist’s salary while living in one of the least affordable cities in the world. But also, I really like the fact that I can call my landlord or superintendent whenever something breaks, because it’s their responsibility.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Doug Ludlow, formerly CEO of the startup Hipster (acquired by AOL, which owns TechCrunch), told me that he’s a first-time home owner, and he became “a little terrified” as he thought about the responsibilities involved in home maintenance. So he started The Happy Home Company to take things that are “mystifying and terrifying to the average homeowner and make them a little more accessible.”
In fact, when Ludlow briefed me on his new startup last week, he said he was taking advantage of The Happy Home Company’s services at that very moment — specifically, waiting for someone to arrive and fix a leaky roof.
Now if you’re looking for a handyman, there are other online services that might do the job, like Angie’s List or Handy. (Though Handy says that the vast majority of its revenue now comes from home cleanings.) The challenge, Ludlow said, is that “you actually have to know what the problem is in the first place,” which isn’t always easy, given “the infinite number of things that can go wrong.”
The Happy Home Company is focused less on building a marketplace for handyfolk and more on providing “home managers.” So when something breaks, instead of guessing what’s wrong and who you need to talk to, you can just take a photo or video, then your home manager will find the right service provider for you. (Ludlow said the company does extensive screening to find high quality service providers in each area, and will negotiate with them to get the best prices.)
The managers also work with you to create a general, prioritized home maintenance plan. And the service handles payment, too — it charges a small fee on those transactions, but Ludlow said that’s mostly to cover the processing fees. The startup’s real source of revenue will be the $9.99 per month that it charges for home managers.
The approach reminded me of Alfred, which offers a personal assistant to tackle things like laundry and groceries, in part by leveraging services like Handy and Instacart. (Alfred took the top prize at TechCrunch’s most recent Disrupt SF conference.) Ludlow agreed that Alfred seems to have “done a good job packaging things,” but he argued that The Happy Home Company is aimed at a much broader group of customers — it’s certainly a lot cheaper than Alfred’s $99 a month.
Ludlow also put me in touch with his friend Ryan Gerard, who was one of the early testers of the service after becoming a first-time homeowner a year ago. In an email, Gerard told me:
For me, the HHC is a lifeline. They are the people I call for help when things break…and things definitely break. I’ve called them to help fix a really loud garage door, a broken door handle, and a variety of small emergencies.
In addition, for me the HHC is a proxy for finding trusted service people. I trust HHC, so I trust the people they send. For example, I called them when I needed to find someone to inspect a retaining wall. I wanted an independent consultant who could provide an unbiased opinion on whether it needed replacement. I have no idea how to find someone who would do this, or how to evaluate whether they’re good. The HHC found and recommended a Soil Engineer who came out and provided a thorough examination of the retaining wall for me.
The startup was co-founded by Ludlow and former eBay executive Matthew Mengerink, and it offers both a web interface and an iPhone app. You can learn more at The Happy Home Company site. If you use the invite code “Techcrunch,” you’ll get a six-month subscription for free.
Oh, and in case you were worried, Ludlow just told me that his roof isn’t leaking anymore.