We recently announced our investment in Fixer, led by Founder Collective and including Chicago’s Impact Engine. Fixer is a service that fixes anything in your home reliably, on-time and at a fair price – founded by a contingent of Grubhub’s early employees, including Grubhub co-founder and long-time exec, Mike Evans. Fixer is also our first investment in a Public Benefit Corp (PBC).
For a fund that mostly invests in B2B SaaS and some marketplaces, this direct-to-consumer investment was a unique investment for HPVP. Past is prelude. I grew up in a home that had been pieced together over two centuries by industrious New Englanders. It turns out the first New Englander wasn’t expecting the last one (my dad) to build two new stories on the bespoke structure – too much for the original foundation posts. My Dad and I spent the next few years replacing the main structural posts in the crawl space. Re-leveling a home requires slow and periodic screw jack adjustments so walls don’t crack – like periodic visits to the orthodontics – except that this was in a 2 foot crawl space with centuries of dust, mouse droppings and a 50 ton house above. Naturally, I was the only one who fit… and now we know why parents have kids.
With many stories like this, I’ve long appreciated and enjoyed the handy things in life. But it turns out that many people don’t, creating an increasingly ripe market opportunity. There are two reasons for this. First, handiness and amateur craft skills are being mass-cultured away, while families simply have less time. Generations ago when family homes were passed from generation to generation, maintenance and repair of both home and the things in them (furniture, clothes, fixtures) was like cooking – everyone did it. Now, just as the crossover of consumer food spending from majority-in-home to majority-out-of-home portends the death of ubiquitous home cooking in favor of restaurants, my generation was the last to have shop class. We now seeks these skills in purchased services. Meanwhile other generational mega-trends – majority dual income families, constant digital tethers to work and overscheduled children – leave no time for fixing things ourselves.
Enter Fixer! But wait, how about Thumbtack, Handy, Angie’s list and all the others? That is exactly what I asked Mike when we first discussed Fixer last year. He pointed out a key insight to the Fixer model: when a consumer has a broken faucet, the problem they are trying to solve is “I need my faucet fixed”, not the intermediate problem of “I need to find a plumber”. Most existing platforms solve the latter before the former, and that’s an interim step that creates unnecessary time, frustration, cost and friction in the process. If you’ve ever used Thumbtack or Handy, you’ll find yourself with a bunch of leads for providers but still in the frustrating “yellow pages” vortex of contacting each one and judging for quality, timing and cost. No thanks.
Instead, fixer has built a scalable set of training, process and technology to repeatably deliver a quality experience and outcome, hitting the core consumer need head-on. As evidenced by Fixer’s Yelp and Thumbtack reviews, users love the service. My HPVP partners are regular users, and we’ve also used Fixer in our office, a sign of a B2B opportunity that could be big for Fixer. Both accidental and intentional landlords spurred by the 2008 financial crisis and Airbnb’s arrival, respectively, have created a whole new economy of residential and commercial property owners and managers. Fixer is finding a widening vein in reliably solving their maintenance needs too.
Great service, but why a PBC?
When Mike and I were talking about financing late last year, he said “we’re going to be a PBC, which isn’t for everyone.” The main difference between C-corps and PBCs is that PBC boards of directors are obligated to account for the impact of decisions on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This includes employees, customers and the broader community. With some thought, I realized I wouldn’t want to be involved in a company that didn’t consider all stakeholders. In fact, just as rewarding as the financial returns of being an investor is seeing companies create jobs, careers and happy customers. In this sense, venture capital investing has a near perfect alignment with PBCs. Indeed, the decline of trade skills presents a perfect storm to solve a consumer problem AND build a new generation of skilled handypeople who can learn and exercise a trade with strong pay and benefits. You need both to make the model work right.
Scaling a tech enabled service like Fixer won’t be easy, but we’ve got a lot going for us. With a massive market, the right generational macro trends and one of the best teams we’ve ever seen, we’re excited for the journey and the impact it can have for consumers and a new generation of Fixers. Give fixer a try!