Pro.com screenshot

Is a lead that results in a paid job worth your paying the lead provider 10% of that remodeling project's cost? A new online service called Pro.com thinks so.

The startup, boasting $3.5 million in startup funds, went public last week following a six-month trial in its home town of Seattle. It differs from the gaggle of other online services in that it plans to generate revenue by directing business to just a few dozen remodelers and home improvement specialists in each market and then collect a commission worth about 10% of each project for which the pro got paid.

Pro.com aims to draw in potential customers through a labor pricing estimate--what Pro.com calls a "Prestimate"--that can vary based on as many as 100 factors. For instance, its Prestimate for installing a ceiling fan will account for local labor rates, minimum visit costs, and whether the fan already has wiring in the walls. The estimate doesn't include the price of materials.

"These aren't bids; they're intentionally pre-estimates," Matt Williams, the former Amazon executive who created Pro.com, said during an May 16 interview with REMODELING. "The idea is to put the power in the hand of the consumer to help them figure out what the cost might be and use that to have an open dialogue with a pro as to what it actually should cost."

Williams said the pricing engine "is built on the experiences of pros across tens of thousands of completed jobs." Pro.com's database also includes information on roughly 2 million pros nationwide, and upon request it will give a visitor a report listing two or three pros. But its real aim is to build a group of pros in each market that it has pre-qualified and certified, including checks of licenses, insurance, bonding, and background for all crew members as well as the principals. Pro.com customers can use the online service to book work directly with those certified pros, as well as review their work afterward. In the Seattle market, the contractors have won themselves a satisfaction rating over 90%, Williams said. Now Pro.com has similar pilot projects under way in other markets, but Williams wouldn't identify them or say how long it would take to expand the program nationally.

Pro.com screenshot

"For a home project, there's nobody I've seen that can give you an estimate for a home project, connect you up with a totally vetted pros, and give you a scheduled time in which that pro will meet you, [all] in under two to three minutes," Williams said. "This hasn't been an easy industry to get transparency."

Pro.com has raised $3.5 million in seed funding from six venture capital firms. Williams spent a dozen years at Amazon.