It's Angie's List meets PinterestSeptember 17, 2013: 11:55 AM ET
A new site, Porch.com, brings social networking to home improvement.
By Catherine Dunn
FORTUNE -- Matt Ehrlichman was between jobs 18 months ago when he and his wife started on that most old-fashioned of projects: building a home. Like many, he found himself frustrated by the challenges of finding good contractors and design inspiration to transform their parcel of land in Northeast Seattle.
So the tech entrepreneur did what entrepreneurs do: Ehrlichman co-founded a new digital endeavor, Porch.com, a site that adds social networking to home improvement and officially launches today (after three months in beta).
Think of it as an Angie's List—featuring Pinterest-worthy photos—meets a LinkedIn intended to connect users to professional plumbers, painters, and design firms. As it geared up for launch over the past year, Ehrlichman's crew has amassed listings of some 1.5 million professionals and data on more than 90 million home projects. In June, Porch raised $6.25 million in seed funding from more than 20 investors including eBay founder Jeff Skoll, SV Angel (co-founded by Ron Conway), Tesla backer Bill Lee, Foundation Capital partner Charles Moldow, and Facebook executive Javier Olivan.
The idea is to give an "old school" industry a makeover for the social-sharing era, Ehrlichman says, so that homeowners can easily find out who does good work on homes like theirs, and how much those projects typically cost. "It's really amazing that tech hasn't fixed this industry yet," he tells Fortune.
Ehrlichman, 34, is convinced Porch can stand up to existing directory and review services like Angie's List, which claims more than two million members, not only because Porch will be free for users (Angie's List, for example, charges membership fees), but also because of the pricing information and photos users will have access to on "real projects." Says Ehrlichman, "You can actually see what type of work a professional has done."
Fans of remodeling shows like "Love it or List it" and other HGTV junkies: Prepare to binge anew. Porch users can share before-and-after photos and endorsements; browse for ideas and recommendations according to project type, price, and location; and save all their favorites to an online scrapbook.
Of course, not everybody relishes the idea of having their houses featured on a website. Ehrlichman insists privacy protections are built in. Porch won't display the addresses of featured homes, and the site's map function won't pinpoint precise project locations either.
The company requires that professionals on the site confirm they have rights to share photos of their clients' abodes. "Every professional knows the experience is completely anonymous," says Ehrlichman, adding, "That's what professionals want, and that's what homeowners want."
So how's Porch planning to monetize this experience? The site is offering packages of analytics tools, market data, and increased online exposure for $35 a month for builders, contractors, and other professionals who are members. (Pro's who just want to post pictures and the pricing of their handiwork can do so for free.) Beyond that, Ehrlichman is willing only to hint at "interesting partnerships" to come.
Ehrlichman previously co-founded Thriva, a maker of registration software tools for camps, corporate events, and the like, which sold to the Active Network (ACTV) for $60 million in 2007. He stayed on board, leading strategy efforts through the company's 2011 IPO, helping grow sales. ACTV's revenue increased from $65 million in 2006 to $420 million in 2012.
As for Ehrlichman's own new home, the foundation is in, it's being framed, and he's got about another nine months to go before place is move-in ready. By then, perhaps, there may be a whole lot of people gathered on Porch, eager to see those before-and-after photos.