Renovate is a platform that facilitates the home remodeling process for first time homeowners and provides a steady-stream of workflow for small to midsize contractors.The Garage sat down with Renovate founder, Charbel Bourjas (Weinberg ’19) to learn more about Renovate and the startup’s future goals.The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.What is the problem you’re working on and what is your solution?Charbel: It's difficult for first-time homeowners to find a reliable contractor to update some part of their home. Many times, they purchase their house and they want to either update their kitchen or their bathroom, something to turn it into their home. However, it’s not easy for first-time homeowners to go through the process of finding a good contractor, of knowing what kind of questions to ask and what price points are, especially operating on a tight budget. Our solution is to create a platform that connects these homeowners with contractors and allows contractors to bid on projects. Renovate guides the homeowner through the whole process of remodeling their home.What sparked the motivation for your startup?Charbel: I've had a lot of experience in home remodeling. I've spent plenty of time working with contractors, working on properties and on-site, buying material at Home Depot. Through this experience, I’ve realized that working with contractors is extremely difficult. It was even more true when we were doing whole home renovation, which is not the case anymore. I’ve talked to friends and family who are trying to renovate a smaller aspect of their home. They still see that it's very difficult to work with reliable contractors. We know that contractors get a bad rap. We also know that there are plenty of great contractors out there. It's just a matter of finding and empowering them with the resources to give them access to good homeowners. Renovate makes this match.What has been your biggest failure so far? What did you learn from it?Charbel: I’ve talked about how I’ve experienced working in remodeling entire homes. I thought that the assumptions I had from this experience would apply for smaller-sized projects. When I would speak to homeowners and try to get them to use our product, I would present them solutions based on those assumptions. But I realized very quickly that the solution that I had in mind wasn’t the ideal for my target market because it was founded on completely wrong assumptions. I’ve lost a few customers from not giving them the right solution. However, we quickly readjusted and did several interviews to validate our assumptions and backtracked on our initial ones.What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?Charbel: I think it's kind of cliché, but I’d say that the most important thing is to talk to everyone, literally everyone. We've been speaking with actual potential customers. We've been speaking with contractors. We've been speaking with contractors in the industry that would not be our customer. Even if they would do different kinds of projects, we would still speak to them to learn about their problems and see if there are any parallels. We also spoke to people who run companies in this industry and could be our competitors. We did it to learn from their mistakes. In short, the biggest thing is really just talking to everyone.
Pictured left to right, Charbel Bourjas, Barry Zhang, Aadit KumarHow has The Garage helped you with your startup?Charbel: I'll have to talk about the sense of community. The Garage does Family Dinners where we get to meet everyone. It’s great for the actual people who work a lot at The Garage (the Residents). We hang out together all the time and we've become very good friends thanks to The Garage and our common passion for entrepreneurship. In my opinion, it has been one of the best resources. Even when we're working late nights at The Garage, we're with friends. We can make the workload a little bit less daunting because we have each other. It is an incredible support system and a solid base for us and our ideas. You can just talk it out. When you're around like-minded people, even if you're not working on the same ideas, it's easy to understand one another and offer support and feedback. Also - The Garage’s network is extremely helpful. I have been able to connect with industry leaders by connections through The Garage and hop on calls with them.Where do you see the future?Charbel: I love to build products and solutions. If we are able to gain traction on Renovate, I think it’s something we could scale and continue to work on full time after school. What do you hope to get out of Summer Wildfire accelerator?Charbel: I think one of the biggest things that I hope to get is the mentorship, that is, working intensely with Billy, Melissa and the of the different Wildfire staff. I also hope to get to meet all the people who are coming in, work with them and learn from them. I spoke to several previous participants of the Wildfire program and they say that it's a daunting 10 weeks. There is a huge amount of work. I’ve also heard that during Wildfire, you grow a lot as a person and I'm looking forward to it. I think it'll be good personal development. I’ve been told that you grow with the other teams. So, I'm really excited to meet all of them and get to grow with them.Is there a final thought you want to share?Charbel: l've been in EPIC, Northwestern’s entrepreneurship club, since freshman year. I've also been in the greater NU entrepreneurship ecosystem for a while, but I'm excited to finally work on my own thing and grow it in Wildfire.You can stay up to date with everything Renovate is up to on Twitter @getrenovate.This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.