Proptech Companies Specializing in Outdoor Work Shine in the Summer
Startups are trying to make money by making seasonal exterior building jobs less burdensome for owners
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy,” goes the old song, but summer can also offer unique challenges and opportunities for property owners. To continue the musical analogy, a few proptech startups are using technology to help owners with their exterior building work in hopes of curing their “Summertime Blues.”
Painting building exteriors is one service that real estate owners often look to have done in the late spring and summer, said Nick Hegeman, CEO of Paintjet, a Nashville, Tenn.-based commercial painting company that uses robotics to increase efficiency.
“There’s definitely more demand in the summer, but it’s also geographic,” said Hegeman. “We are a national company so we see a combination of a traditionally busy summer, but because we operate all over the country, basically below the snow belt, things are happening year round.
“So we schedule to offset any [hiring] ramp-up, [plus] we’re just continuing to grow so fast that it’s not the traditional ‘hire a bunch of people for the summer and then lay everyone off as work goes away when it gets colder.’ ”
The “cobots” — or robotic extensions for human workers — help, too, said Hegeman. Instead of having crews paint everything by hand, PaintJet employs a robotic attachment that works with industry standard manlifts such as cherry pickers and other aerial lift platforms to increase a painter’s production from 550 square feet per hour to more than 7,000 square feet per hour, he said.
“We are painting large commercial buildings with the push of a button,” Hegeman said, “using human cobots to empower commercial painting contractors to drastically improve their productivity and quality, and enabling them to actually keep up with the demand for painting.”
Founded in 2021, PaintJet has grown rapidly, with “just over a quarter million” dollars in revenue last year and is on pace for “$1.7 million this year,” Hegeman said.
Despite continuing labor shortages, Hegeman points to his company as being able to multiply available workers’ productivity, especially during the summer when manpower issues are exacerbated by vacationing employees.
“It really speaks to exactly why we exist,” said Hegeman. “Our ability for a painting crew to increase their capacity by over 10 times really helps mitigate a lot of those issues.”
Two other outdoor tasks more common in the summer are lawn mowing and watering. Proptech’s there, too.
Founded in 2013, the Austin-based Lawnstarter’s app provides homeowners access to thousands of local lawn-service professionals throughout the U.S. To date the company has raised $17.7 million in funding from a dozen general technology venture capital companies, including Binary Capital, Bull Creek Capital, Edison Partners and Lerer Hippeau.
Similarly, Denver-based Rachio, founded in 2012, offers homeowners an app-focused, tech-enabled watering product that pairs with existing sprinkler systems to reduce water waste. VCs have invested $20.5 million in the startup through seven funding rounds.
Lawnstarter and Rachio did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
While most seasonal proptech companies see an increase in demand for their services in the summer, not all are wedded to the season.
Ergeon, a tech-enabled general contracting startup founded in 2018 and operating in California, Georgia and Texas, combines technology and a globally located workforce to build and maintain fences faster and less expensively, said Jenny He, CEO and founder.
“The summer isn’t necessarily our business time and sometimes we actually see more work in the spring and fall,” said He. “There is a little bit of a slowdown in the winter, but less due to weather, more due to the holidays.”
The company eschews traditional on-site fence construction and maintenance quotes through its technology platform, she said. Instead, Ergeon uses measurements via satellite, parametric computer-aided design modeling and real-time pricing to allow customers to make decisions remotely. Clients can also get 3D visuals.
“So we provide 3D visuals, even for a project that’s just a couple of thousand, because it’s all automatically generated,” said He. “You get that high-end experience that normally you do for a big project where you hire a landscape architect or a GC. We provide that to you, no matter the project size.”
The result automates the entire process. Anyone anywhere in the world who had the right training and data tools provided to them by Ergeon could know everything about all local regulations, specs and other necessary information, according to He.
Ergeon serves residential homeowners as well as businesses that have differing times of the year in which they like to conduct construction and repairs.
“Let’s say you are a restaurant or retail,” He said. “Often people actually like to do [outdoor] work either in the offseason, during the winter when it is not so busy for the outdoor space, or they like to get it ready just before the summer. Some of the other businesses we work with, let’s say they are a daycare facility or a school-type of businesses, they’re often optimizing differently. They prefer to get the work done during the summer, because that’s when you know kids are out of school, etc. So it depends a little bit on the nature of the work.”
Somewhat counterintuitively, parks and playgrounds sometimes prefer the summer for fencing construction and maintenance, she added.
Like everything else, COVID affected the demand for Ergeon’s services, especially restaurants faced with the need for outdoor dining space.
“We do see a bit more demand when people try to do a major upgrade,” said He. “They are actually often trying to do it just before the summer so that they can enjoy it during the summer. During the pandemic, we saw a lot of demand [from restaurants wanting to] build little parklets so that there is more outdoor dining space. I know there’s going to be a lot in demand for that, especially during the summer months.”
Some requests for maintenance work increase in the summer, as well, she added.
“They’re recognizing, ‘Hey, we have a fence already, but it’s looking a little bit heavy,’ so it’s a good time to do a quick power wash and make it look a lot more attractive to customers for the summer.”
Philip Russo can be reached at email@example.com.