Startup Corner: Lending a Virtual Hand to Homeowners Who Need a Fix

Nick Ornitz, Contributor
Shannon Kay, Contributor

A technology-enabled service platform, Dwelling, is delivering free remote maintenance guidance for homeowners stuck at home during the current crisis.

Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur. 

Nick Ornitz (MBA ’21): For me, my first stint of “entrepreneurship” involved selling homemade bracelets in elementary school and later selling (and eating) dutch stroopwafel cookies for a family startup, American Pressed Bakery, in high school. Later as an engineering student at Cornell University, I was first introduced to the construction industry when I interned for Gilbane Building Company in New York. After graduation, I spent a few years at McKinsey where I focused on commercial topics for building solution businesses ranging from HVAC [Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] to paint manufacturers. Through that experience, I came to see the challenges that both homeowners and service professionals face. Being surrounded by the entrepreneurial environment at HBS, I have been inspired to take action and leverage my past experience to solve a problem that faces society at large. 

Shannon Kay (MS/MBA ’21): I grew up outside of Charlotte, NC and attended Clemson University where I majored in Industrial Engineering and fell in love with college football. Go Tigers! I spent a few years in Washington, DC as a technology consultant for Deloitte before moving to Boston to work on supply chain analytics at Wayfair. I loved the transition from a large- to mid-sized company and came to business school in part to explore entrepreneurship. I, too, always loved building things from a young age. My first “company” as a young child was selling homemade duct tape flip flops.

What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

Ask any homeowner what their biggest home-induced headaches have been, and the answer will overwhelmingly be a sigh and a story involving anything from a leaky faucet to a flooded basement with some miscommunication with a contractor. It is no secret that homeowners have been frustrated with unexpected maintenance costs for years. Similarly, contractors will regale you with stories about how homeowners just don’t speak their language and how hard it is to find good leads. Dwelling aims to streamline the dual-sided home maintenance marketplace connecting homeowners with the services they need and equipping contractors with all the information they need to finish the job on the first visit. In our research, we found that more than 18% of new homeowners felt buyer’s remorse due to maintenance costs being more than expected and more than 42% of millennials are embarrassed by their lack of maintenance knowledge. You are not the only one if you relate to this!

Ultimately, for homeowners the pain points boil down to (1) uncertainty over quality and price when finding a contractor due to information asymmetry and (2) a lack of time for finding, scheduling, and managing home maintenance. On the other side of the market, service professionals (1) suffer from the administrative burden of finding and scheduling jobs and (2) are dissatisfied with existing aggregators because they charge high fees for low-quality leads. In fact, more than 69% of reviews below three stars from service professionals cite increasingly expensive and low-quality lead-based fee structures as the primary reason for discontent.

 In context of the current pandemic, homeowners now face the added challenge of not being able to have contractors visit their home, and contractors are struggling to safely maintain income. 

What is your solution?

Dwelling is a technology-enabled service platform that delivers automated and reliable home care through (1) remote maintenance diagnosis, and (2) a dedicated home manager. Remote diagnosis helps the homeowner solve simple repairs without a contractor, and when a professional is needed, diagnosis helps to mitigate the number of visits that contractors must make. All remote diagnosis takes is a couple photos (or a video) as well as brief description and our network of experienced service professionals will provide the DIY steps to resolve an issue. For more complex issues that cannot be solved remotely, the dedicated home manager coordinates maintenance jobs end-to-end, addressing homeowner information asymmetry and helping with logistical tasks. 

Given the current environment, we are offering free remote diagnosis as many homeowners cannot or do not want contractors entering their home. We hope this can help homeowners in need while also providing gig-economy sources of income to contractors. 

What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?

Nick: I witnessed the need for a product like Dwelling in my own family growing up. My family was supported by a handyman, Angelo, who would take care of all home needs or find the right person for the job, much like Dwelling provides. Angelo became more than just a handyman. He became the go-to person for any home maintenance request and a mainstay in the household. I distinctly remember Angelo always saying “Sugar Honey Ice Tea” rather than “shit” around the house when I was a kid. Unfortunately, when Angelo retired, my mom endured the stress of finding various contractors for different home needs. 

Shannon: My dad works in textiles. During the 2008 recession, big furniture companies stopped buying as much fabric, and he had no other outlet through which to sell. Today, he continues to sell not only to big furniture companies but also direct-to-consumer through and on two-sided marketplaces like Wayfair, diversifying his business and minimizing his future downside risk. Through this, I came to see the value that marketplaces can provide for small business owners and independents. 

As we are surrounded by friends and family who are faced with the challenges of home maintenance, we hope to provide an “Angelo” to every homeowner struggling with home maintenance and a better marketplace opportunity for contractors looking for a way to earn a living. 

Who is the team behind your startup?

The founding team includes us as the co-founders, as well as Erik Ornitz [MBA ’18] in an advisory role. Erik provides years of entrepreneurial experience from his time as a two-time founder, a venture capital investor, and now Director of New Ventures at Tripadvisor. 

 We also have Alina Clough and Brandon Audette who have been helping with website and product design. This summer we are excited to be working with Trevor Faulk as an operations intern. Providing valuable expertise, we have partnered with a small network of service professionals in Massachusetts. For advice, the team has had help from an incredible set of entrepreneurial advisors, Harvard faculty and other mentors through Harvard Rock Center and iLab.

How did you get started?

Nick had originally looked into starting up a related but slightly different idea in the past; at HBS, he picked up this idea by conducting numerous customer interviews ranging from homeowners to brokers to service professionals. Our philosophy from the start has been to truly understand the challenges both sides of the market face by hearing directly from the different stakeholders. As our market research expanded, we began to form Dwelling with a focus on alleviating challenges of home maintenance. Formally, we began working together in earnest in our second semester after getting to work together on class projects during the Fall. 

What’s next?

We are rolling out Free Remote Diagnosis to all homeowners that could benefit from this during the current crisis. We are also beginning to grow our team and to operationalize the business with additional homeowners throughout the Spring and Summer of 2020.

If you or someone you know could benefit from remote home diagnosis and would be willing to help us as a beta customer, please sign up on the Dwelling’s website at

Nick Ornitz (MBA ’21) came to HBS after spending three years at McKinsey working with an array of building solution companies. He grew up in Connecticut and studied Chemical Engineering at Cornell. Whether it is a block tower that reached his childhood bedroom ceiling or his work on Dwelling, Nick has always had a passion for building. 

Shannon Kay (MS/MBA ’21) came to HBS after several years in technology consulting and analytics roles at Deloitte and Wayfair, respectively. Shannon grew up outside of Charlotte, NC and remains an avid Clemson football fan after obtaining her BS in Industrial Engineering there. She has a passion for technology, often experimenting through home projects to hone her technical skill set.