SAN FRANCISCO – A company founder focused on helping Americans nurture the growth and evolution of their biggest asset – their homes – has been named USA TODAY’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
Matt Ehrlichman, 35, CEO of Seattle-based Porch.com, won the honor after a team of USA TODAY editors sorted through 10 finalists that ranged from a Virginia software engineer focused on improving the user experience in dealing with the Affordable Care Act to an Indiana brewer whose distinctive ales have mushroomed in popularity and attracted a cult following.
“I’m surprised and humbled, and all credit really goes to our team,” says Ehrlichman, whose company rocketed from 30 to 300 employees this year.
Porch’s footprint mushroomed in 2014 when retail giant Lowe’s incorporated the company’s software into all 1,700 of its locations. At its core, Porch connects homeowners with vetted contractors. But beyond that, the site serves as a platform for homeowners to “tell the story of their houses,” says Ehrlichman, much the way LinkedIn spells out the details of a career.
To date, nearly 3 million contractors have showcased some 120 million home remodeling projects on Porch, totaling $1.5 trillion spent. Just this week, Porch launched an app that Ehrlichman describes as the “Uber of home maintenance.” Much like the popular ride sharing service let’s you see where your driver is en route, Porch connects you with vetted local handymen who show up on-demand.
“Whether it’s to clean your gutters or fix an electrical problem, we’re busy building a network of certified professionals with whom we’ve pre-negotiated pricing so there’s no surprise on that front either,” he says. “We hope it’s a game-changer for anyone who has ever been frustrated by home repair work.”
Choosing Ehrlichman over nine other dynamic company founders was a difficult task, “given the amazingly diverse group of people in the mix, each of whom were solving problems in unique ways,” says David Callaway, USA TODAY’s editor in chief. “Ultimately, we selected Porch because they took an existing dilemma and created a custom solution that leveraged a social network in an innovative way.”
Callaway adds that USA TODAY launched its inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year Award because “the backbone of those bringing the U.S. economy out of recession are small businesses and entrepreneurs, and USA TODAY is a place dedicated to hosting the national conversation on this important topic.”
Key criteria in the contest included exhibiting significant growth this year and solving a consumer problem.
Ehrlichman wasn’t planning to found Porch – he was supposed to be taking a year off. After a couple of successful software ventures, the Seattle-raised Stanford University graduate had promised his wife they would spend some time building their dream house.
But the sheer frustrations that overtook the house project eventually led Ehrlichman to gather up a dozen friends in his basement. The group’s mission was to find a tech-centric way to instill the house-building or -repairing process with more transparency and reliability.
Ehrlichman says he frequently speaks with would-be entrepreneurs, and has some elemental advice that he often repeats like a mantra. “First of all, it really is all about your team,” Ehrlichman says. “I didn’t really understand that early on. But you really need to be selective and specific about who you hire and make sure they match your culture. Our motto is, ‘No jerks, no ego, no bureaucracy.’”
Ehrlichman’s second tip is to create a work culture with that core founding staff that sets a template that is etched in stone.
Lastly, he says the whole small business house will come crashing down if the founder and his crew are not filled with genuine passion for their product.
“It seems so simple, but you do often see people who are eager to create a cool new app or widget but they’re not fully committed to why,” he says. “If you’re not personally convinced what you’re building simply must exist, then you won’t really be able to convince many people to come join you in your quest.
“Be laser-focused on what makes you and your company unique and how it can help others, and I don’t see any way you won’t succeed.”