There’s no question that in the exchange of home design and construction ideas, Houzz is queen of the online marketplace. The $13.6 million in funding that it’s received since launching in 2009 does more than acknowledge that investors are willing to bet on a home-construction-focused platform in a down market. Its popularity gives a peculiar read on the industry’s tech readiness. Enter Archability. The young gun bypasses the “Ideabooks” and visual-heavy profiles of its competitor to match building contractors and architects with project bids or extra talent. But growth has been slow for the online platform, which launched in April at the Silicon Valley startup conference DEMO and lets users exchange payments through a PayPal application on the site.
Archability has been a bootstrapped, for-profit venture from the get-go, unlike Houzz, which attracted attention from investors after its founders spread a beta version to friends and family. “It comes off as a volume-based type of business,” says Archability founder Livingstone Mukasa. “The only way for it to be seen as viable is if there is a steady growth in projects coming in.”
So far, that’s been a holdup. The site currently hosts 70 contractor profiles but no projects—a big part, but not all, of the site’s viability. Mukasa, who decided to pursue the platform after coming up short in a search for outside contractors to help with his own project work, also hopes it will serve as a talent pool for firms on all points of the design spectrum who cut staff during the downturn and now might be lacking depth or expertise.
The site’s sluggish start could in part be a reflection of the industry’s current and projected integration of Web-based platforms into their operations. “The industry isn’t necessarily resistant to technology, but it isn’t necessarily interested in technology for technology’s sake,” says Liza Hausman, marketing director for Houzz. To sway architects, she says, innovations must remove resistance from the design/build process. Houzz is known for users who are serious about projects real or imagined, fueling a steep image portfolio that caused one tech critic to call the platform (which also touts an iPad and iPhone app) “the Flickr tailored to the home design freaks.” The most popular feature among professionals and consumers is Ideabooks, or collections of images selected by and shared among users. This section of the site is helping its initial consumer-first approach push collateral professional gains.
Archability’s professional-first approach takes Houzz’s natural evolution and packages it into a seemingly efficient bundle: potential clients post projects, contractors bid on them, clients review the bidders’ profiles and select the best candidate, schedules are coordinated, payments are made on the website. In an industry that’s built on in-person interactions, even Mukasa warns that the platform isn’t for big projects. In an interview with CrowdSourcing, he says that the platform supplements the client-architect relationship. “That face-to-face time is invaluable to a client and to the architect to understand the scope of the project and to help the architect best deliver the solution for their client,” he says. “For example, if somebody wanted a house from scratch, this is probably is not the best place for them to source that work. But, if somebody needed the components of that process, then this would certainly help.”
Mukasa doesn’t see his architecture background—the Houzz folks are business and tech experts—as something that will inhibit the platform’s growth. “Coming from the industry, I have my biases,” he says. “I know the value of these services and I want to protect them.”