Introduction to Shovels

Tue 08 November 2022

Ryan Buckley sent this newsletter about the launch of Shovels

Hello friends, advisors, and (a few) relatives!

After a bit of a hiatus, I'm really excited to launch a new company along with an incredible team.

This process has been a journey. Thanks again to those of you who suffered through my many explanations of half-baked ideas and more than a few false starts. This time is different!

I'm pleased to introduce Shovels, a new way to discover and evaluate building contractors.

The problem

There's an agency problem in the trades. In my economics classes we called it "information asymmetry," a term popularized by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz who proved that this asymmetry leads to inefficient markets.

However, you don't need an economics degree to know that hiring a home contractor is fraught with risk. Just talk to anyone who's done it. More often than not, and far more frequently than any other hiring decision I can think of, it's a bad experience.

The problem is contractors have far more knowledge of their skill level and fit for the job than the people who hire and finance them.

What we do

Shovels does a few things to address the problem:

  • We scrape all permits and associate them with contractors
  • We include all permit inspections and their results
  • We do this across multiple jurisdictions
  • Then we crunch the numbers

The result is a very compelling new way to look at contractor skill level and job fit. We're calculating new metrics like inspection pass rate and construction speed.

These metrics are predictive of project outcomes: we know what good and bad contractors look like.

Why now?

I hear over and over again how the entire construction industry is slow to adopt new technology. The field is littered with startups who failed to get contractors to adopt a new app.

Fortunately, we're not trying to be in the field. Instead, we're in the offices of the people who decide who to hire and fund and we gather data from the municipalities that issue and inspect building permits. This part of the construction industry is moving online and we're able to take advantage of it.

What we built

The prototype is live! It only has Contra Costa County data (about five years worth) but it's enough to see who the major builders are and it shows their key metrics.

Try it out:

What we're building next

We want to pull in seven of the nine Bay Area counties this month. That effort will really showcase the power of Shovels.

Most contractors work in multiple counties and this data isn't centralized anywhere. It takes some heavy technical lifting to grab it all, but we have the expertise to do it. Once this historical data is pulled, we'll continue to update the open permits and grab new permits daily.

The climate angle

I've been telling everyone that my next thing will be climate-related. That's still true.

In fact, our first paying customer is a climate tech company :)

It's very likely our first several paying customers will be green building contractors, financiers, consultants, and data aggregators. We'll be able to track the proliferation of green buildings and see who's doing the work.

More on all that is here:

Who we are

Last but certainly not least, I want to share a couple of things about us.

I am co-founder and CEO. I just stepped away as CEO of MightySignal after Airnow acquired us last year. We did a ton of data scraping and analysis there and my own (great, fortunately) experience with a major home remodel inspired Shovels.

Luka Kacil is my co-founder and CTO. He is supremely talented and someone I look forward to being in the trenches with. We met through MightySignal when we acquired his company, AppMonsta, back in 2019. He built and managed the tech stack to scrape all of the Google Play and Apple App stores daily.

We also have a small team of part-time folks doing hands-on work in data analysis and marketing support.