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Startup uses Google Earth for roof estimates



JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Viirt CEO Josh Davis and Chief Performance officer Mandy Gray aim to make finding a roofer as easy as Yelping an eaterie or hailing an Uber.

Internet, meet roofing. The company’s called Viirt and it aims to take the middleman out of getting your roof replaced.

Swiping your finger across an iPad is different from handling the roughness of a roof shingle, so how can each type of person benefit each other?

For a start, by making things easy. As a homeowner needing an estimate, you can go online to Viirt’s site and find the satellite image of your home on Google Maps. Using the pointing tool, developed by Viirt, draw the outline of your roof. Add in a numerical factor for pitch (1 shallow, 2 medium, 3 steep) and the program spits out an estimate for a new (shingle) roof installed by a reputable local firm.

But like a lot of businesses that aim to take a bite out of some previously-untapped billion-dollar market, it’ll take boots on the ground to win customers.

Viirt was started by Ridgefield, Wash. native, Josh Davis, who has laid shingles as well as run a video production company. He sees the roofing trade as a communication business. The customer experience could be improved by better communication.

“There are guys who say they know what they are doing, but they don’t take care of the landscaping, they aren’t considerate of the homeowners, they don’t clean up, they don’t communicate when they leave a job,” says Davis. He was in Portland recently with his Chief Performance Officer, Mandy Gray, from their home base in Omaha Neb. “When it’s messy and confused, that’s a bad customer experience.”

Once a homeowner has outlined the roof and gotten an estimate, Viirt sends a roofing subcontractor around to the actual brick and mortar house to measure the roof again. Davis says that while the satellite is more accurate than a guy leaning over with a tape measure, the human can also take into account obstructions such as satellite dishes ($75 to remove and replace them) or ventilation equipment.

He says they are testing small, quadcopter drones now and hope to have one that uses LiDAR, or laser scanning, buy the end of the year.

JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Viirt lets users look up any home on Google Maps, trace the outline of the roof, adds its pitch or angle of slope, and get a quick estimate for a new set of shingles. A real, local roofer then comes out and tweaks the estimate. Viirt’s model is to match homeowner with subcontractor and take 10 percent of the total job cost. Davis explains that under the old roofing model, contractors employ large teams of salespeople to reach the homeowner, and then send a subcontractor to do the work.

Davis is convinced that if the subcontractors — the ones who actually nail down the shingles — can own their own reputation, the homeowner will be able to choose without the help of expensive middlemen. He says homeowners save 20 to 30 percenton the costs of a roof job.

“No more having high pressure salesmen sitting in your living room,” he says.

But what happens when something goes wrong? Viirt has to guarantee its prices.

“Last week we were seven bundles short on a job,” he says referring to shingles. “It cost us a couple of hundred dollars. We took responsibility for that mistake and we fixed it.”

Once signed up and underway, a homeowner can rate the job done, every day, on a dashboard on a computer, phone or tablet. The score would be a new way of establishing the team’s reputation.

But the other part is getting roofers to use the technology. A foreman or person in charge would need to check their version of the dashboard, answering messages from the homeowner and supplier, and generally keeping up.

Viirt has six full-time employees and uses three contract software developers. Their job has been to integrate Viirt with Google Maps, for which access Google charges $10,000 a year. They also use Application Programming Interfaces from other systems, such as Slack.com, and Twilio. Davis points out that Twilio is used by Uber. It’s a messaging platform that records every call and text, and basically keeps a paper trail that is supposed to keep everyone honest and informed.

“We hold the money and process the payment between homeowner and contractor,” adds Davis. This could be a big win, because homeowners hate it when contractors use some of their money to start on a different job, then disappear to do it.

They also use Lob, a direct mail service, for bulk mailing postcards, since people still like to hold something in their hands. Viirt can buy a mailing list of people with homes built 15 to 25 years ago, and automatically send a paper postcard inviting an estimate. Over 15,000 have gone out so far.

They must build a base of roofers who want to use the system. Davis reaches out to the top suppliers of shingles (he says there are only seven in the country) for the names of reliable installers.

In the Portland area, they currently use Amado Gomez who lives around Southeast 148th and Main and handles those Vancouver jobs. Gomez retired from roofing, started a restaurant with his wife who now runs it, and returned to roofing to teach his son Rigo the trade. Reached by phone, Rigo, 19, told the Tribune, “It’s going good, we have a lot of work,” interpreting for his father. Viirt “makes it better, it brings stable jobs for us and it pays good.” But he added they don’t interact much by computer, it’s all phone — as in voice.

Viirt’s Mandy Gray has a masters in instructional design. She designs the online learning system and playbooks to teach them how to use Viirt and maintain their reputation.

Both Gray and Davis see big changes coming down the road in the wholesale supplier world. Especially with AmazonSupply, which is trying to muscle in on the market for goods used in the building trade.

Now that’s cutting out the middleman.

Contract Publishing

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