Noticing a lack of transparency that benefited consumers, Raf Howery created a platform that brings homeowners and industry professionals together to make the home renovation process easier – with a little help from a platinum card.
The home remodeling process makes for fun TV shows, but in real life, construction can come with many painful woes.
The bombardment of questions just to begin development can be overwhelming. From project costs to payment options and who best to do the job, there’s a lot to consider.
So, seasoned home-flipper, former software engineer and lover of architecture Raf Howery culminated his skills into a streamlined experience for consumers: Kukun.
Founder and CEO of Kukun, Howery felt the need to tackle the biggest issues in the home remodeling and maintenance business: a lack of transparency and the fragmentation of the entire journey. “I needed to see one job delivered from beginning to end, and to do it right without the interference of politics and many stakeholders,” he says.
Headquartered in Menlo Park, California, Kukun is the only home renovation marketplace for both homeowners and industry professionals. As a home remodeling data and analytics platform, homeowners can obtain accurate project estimates for any ZIP code, then connect with the right contractors to do the job.
Kukun, which also operates as an app, has been helping homeowners since 2014 and Howery’s success thus far has included a couple of useful credit cards.
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Can you describe the start of your business?
As it is for many other entrepreneurs, the start was exciting and confusing. Beginnings of all things are uncertain, but the thrill and the big mission makes you starry-eyed to the point where you don’t even notice how risky or hard it is going to be.
There weren’t too many surprises during the beginning of my business, but there were in the middle of the journey. That has been the most nerve-wracking stage.
The consumer business is expensive, and my resourcefulness and creativity were not enough to make a success out of it at low enough cost. And then, there was the issue of time. Everything takes much longer than you think or plan for!
So credit cards helped along the way?
Yes. I used a credit card – The Platinum Card® from American Express – during the launch of Kukun. I always have it with me. It gives me a lot of flexibility and I have a lot of respect for American Express. It saved me, because it helped me pay for technology, hardware and research for over two years.
For example, I had a team of developers and bought them laptops with the card. I had to pay salaries at one point using my credit card, too. That bought me 30 days, free of interest. I thought this was a smart way to delay payroll at no cost to me.
With a little bit of discipline, I was able to pay the bill in full. But there were maybe two months where I couldn’t pay right away so I extended it over a couple of months. The key is to have money in the bank, which I almost always did.
Aside from the American Express card, I have a Citi Rewards+SM Card – that’s my personal account that I’ve had for a couple of years. I don’t mix personal with business, though. It’s very important to keep those charges separate.
I also used my savings for the start of my business. I was able to manage my debt because I was lucky to have had a successful career that allowed me to make and save money. I also ended up getting a few angel investors to invest through convertible notes.
What are your future plans for the business?
Going big! We are on our way and very excited.
We have the funds and new, talented individuals have joined the team at Kukun to make major things happen. We’re already national, but we are continuing to grow.
I’m learning to hire methodically, because there is a lot of overhead with human resources and mistakes are costly. To make sure we’re on track, I have a board of advisers who come from the related industries. They are former CEOs and are definitely helping us scale.
What have you learned along the way – and do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
I made a lot of errors in the beginning when it came to choosing partners and advisers. Now, it is water under the bridge – and I came out with my company afloat. It’s important to have a good board, which should consist of people who’ve been there when you haven’t.
Regarding borrowing money, you have to watch the return on your loan and be aware of whether you are borrowing to create value or to survive. If you don’t, you can get carried away spending to maintain the status quo – which can be very dangerous.
I’m self-conscious of debt so it took me some time to be comfortable. But you can’t be risk adverse and grow a business. You’ll never grow that way.
Always weigh the risks. Ask yourself if you can handle the consequences of your actions. What will happen if you don’t borrow money to get it done? Will you get swallowed by the competition? The fact is, if you don’t take the risk now, you’ll end up taking it later in life.
Always assign an actual value to every dollar you spend and then verify that the service or people you are spending it on are worth the cost. Do it three times before you decide.