How To Successfully Scale A Business While Keeping A Human Touch

Porch, a fast-growing home improvement startup, knows its advantage lies in its people.

How To Successfully Scale A Business While Keeping A Human Touch
[Photos: courtesy of Porch]

Porch–the fast-growing home-improvement network that connects construction and repair professionals to homeowners–relies on people. The company’s network boasts 3.8 million professionals, and its platform has facilitated 140 million home improvement projects. It’s also forged partnerships with the likes of Lowe’s and the Better Business Bureau.

In the last year, Porch has created nearly $2 billion in new business for its contractors, and today it’s rolling out a preferred level of prescreened professionals whose work the company will “guarantee,” meaning if something goes wrong, Porch will pay (up to $1,000) to make it right.

Since she joined Porch as its head of marketing in 2013, the company’s now COO Asha Sharma has seen its internal growth skyrocket, too. What was a 10-person team two years ago is now a 400-person team and growing.

Porch COO Asha Sharma

As head of strategy, business development, customer experience, and partnerships, Sharma is essentially balancing the satisfaction of as many people that live in Russia. Here’s how Porch keeps people happy while scaling at a breakneck clip:

Be Content With Your Role

Before Porch, Sharma was working in PR for Microsoft’s Xbox division, learning about people’s homes and how they wanted to be entertained. But she realized she didn’t want to figure out how to make a better video-game console. She wanted to change the way people lived in their homes altogether.

She decided to embark on her own home improvement startup and tried to take a Microsoft colleague with her to get it done.

“She said, ‘Asha, I’m not going to start this with you. You’re going to go work for my friend Matt,'” Sharma says.

The “Matt” in question is Matt Ehrlichman, who founded the sports-focused software company Thriva that sold to The Active Network in 2007 for $60 million. And when The Active Network went public and was itself sold two years later for more than a billion dollars, Ehrlichman had money to start up something new.

But in the spring of 2013, when Ehrlichman was trying to convince Sharma to join his tiny team as CMO, the prospect of working at the company wasn’t so attractive. The fledgling Porch was operating out of Ehrlichman’s Seattle basement. Plus Sharma knew that if she took the job, she would no longer be the founder of her own company: She’d be working for someone else to make her idea a success.

But she soon realized a copilot job was just right for her.

Porch holds weekly “Around the Porch” meetings in its Seattle headquarters to keep staff updated.

“I met him, and I believed in him. And we said, Let’s go figure it out,” Sharma says. “I believe that ideas are only as good as the people that are working on them. I, even to this day, am very inspired by Matt. I think what Matt brings to the table is a very bold and ambitious vision that I believe will win.”

Sharma thrived in her duties as head of Porch’s brand, and last December she became Porch’s COO, overseeing the company’s operations, partnerships, and customer experience.

“Matt’s job is the vision. My job is figuring out how to make it happen,” Sharma says. “I think that we make a very good team in that respect, because you need both of those things to make the company work.”

A Porch team member helps a customer inside a Lowe’s store in Seattle.

Set The Tone Early

When Sharma joined Porch, the company had about 10 employees. But in early 2014, Porch drummed up a major partnership with Lowe’s to feature its services inside its 1,700 stores.

The scrappy team was able to move out of Ehrlichman’s basement to a new office space in Seattle. And the Porch team was growing fast, first by the dozens, and now by the hundreds. Last September, Porch reported it had jumped to 200 employees. This year, it has already doubled that number.

“You can see how when you were maybe 40 people to 400, how the dynamics change, but how it crystallizes the culture,” Sharma says. “In a really fast-growing startup, I have had to do a lot of roles in the company. Everybody has a really, really unique perspective. And I’ve appreciated that, by virtue of doing the roles and just meeting so many people in the company and knowing how each part is important to making us the company we want to be.”

And with all that growth, the need for a positive company culture is made all the more important, Sharma says. Each week, the team holds an “Around the Porch” meeting with staff to talk metrics, wins and shout-outs, and answer employee questions.

“There are a ton of hard business problems to solve, but it still comes down to the people. It’s all about the people, the talent who help you solve the problems, who create things you never thought of. And that will ultimately make the vision come to life beyond Matt and me,” Sharma says. “You need a quality network. At the end of the day, you are only as good as the pros that you are sending into people’s homes, and I think that you need to create the product experiences that create the relationships.”

As head of operations, Sharma’s job includes keeping Porch’s nearly 4 million contractors happy.

Everyone Is A Customer

Part of Porch’s success, Sharma says, has been its ability to keep employees, contractors, and partners–a core part of the company’s business–happy. As COO, she’s in charge of forging partnerships that drive forward Porch’s business objectives, while satisfying the needs of partners, too.

“Whenever you’re approaching any unique partnership, there’s a couple things that I look at. One is, What is the joint set of capabilities that you’re bringing to the table? It’s not just about what Porch can do for that company, or what that company can do for Porch. It’s, what is the joint set of capabilities? And you put it on the table, and you look at that. I think the second thing is, you come up with a vision of what that partnership can do together.”

Porch’s app lives inside all mobile devices that Lowe’s employees use inside their 1,700 stores to assist customers with home improvement. And signage in those stores advertises Porch’s services to Lowe’s customers. Some Porch employees are stationed inside Lowe’s stores in cities like Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle. And Porch trains Lowe’s associates in the other stores to use their technology, while providing an arm of service that Lowe’s wouldn’t on its own: vetted contracting work. Porch and Lowe’s work together on perks like “pro appreciation events” for their contractors and promotions for homeowners.

At the outset of the partnership, Sharma says her team worked with Lowe’s to establish a long-term vision for what the partnership would accomplish, as well as a set of best practices that they put on paper right away to keep each other in check. Porch project leads are responsible for specific partnerships for the company and spend time with them monthly, while being available in real time, too. “I personally spend time with Lowe’s every single month,” says Sharma, who personally helped launch Porch in 120 Lowe’s stores.

“The partner is a customer. So when I talk about who our customers are, we often talk about the homeowners; we talk about our professionals. But the partner satisfaction, it’s got to be core to how you operate as a company. So we’ve made a commitment to that.”

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