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Online Platform Connects Homeowners and Contractors

Ron Blackburn and Craig Dennis took all of their favorite pieces of social media and combined them to create OurDesign, an online platform launching later this month to connect the construction industry.

The website launches March 16, but the company has already created profiles for over 600 members of the Building Industry Association (BIA) San Diego, who they partnered with as members to populate the website.

On the front end of the site, homeowners connect with general contractors; on the backend, general contractors connect with subcontractors, suppliers and more. The company uses similar concepts from LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Dropbox.

Eighty percent of the BIA is not necessarily builders, so OurDesign reaches suppliers, real estate agents, bankers and others in the industry that are looking to connect with general contractors.

“Whoever you are in the industry, whatever you do, if you’re a concrete finisher or an admin assistant, you get a free profile to showcase what you do, who you’ve worked for, how long you’ve been doing it,” said Blackburn, OurDesign Inc.’s chief executive officer.

The site connects people by location through IP address. Now that the economy is getting busier, it can connect subcontractors and suppliers with the right contractor. Creating a profile is free; companies pay a $350 flat fee each year.

Homeowners with profiles can collect pictures and pin them to a board, follow contractors, look at their neighbor’s (or nearby) profiles, use messaging and other collaboration tools to question contractors, show their network their ideas and write testimonials about their work with building companies. The platform also provides Dropbox-like storage so that general contractors and subcontractors can share plans and bids over the site.

A mobile application allows for contractors and homeowners to chat and give and receive updates from the site in real-time.

A Level Playing Field

The founders created the site to move away from bidding wars and price gouging in the industry and to rebuild trust and collaboration between companies and homeowners based on specific needs and specialties. They wanted to level the playing field and make the industry fairer for companies without large marketing budgets.

“That’s why OurDesign is not YourDesign, it’s not MyDesign, it’s ours,” said Dennis, the president of the company. “It’s all inclusive with the homeowners, their closest friends, mom, dad — the general contractor could come in and say, ‘I see what you’re doing but if we do it this way, we open up a whole room.’ The homeowner goes, ‘I never even thought of that.’ It’s collaborative. It’s everybody’s design.”

The company has raised $250,000 in seed money. Its largest investor provided 50 percent of that funding: Architect Mike Woodley of Woodley Architectural Group. The rest is from a venture technology company, smaller residential builders, friends and family, including Robert Drinco of Drinco Custom Builders and Innovative Wallcoverings.

OurDesign will partner with San Diego’s homeowners associations to get the word out about the site. They will use Ogilvy Public Relations for its marketing.

Venture technology company Opus Logica Inc. developed the OurDesign website and application. They invested in OurDesign’s technology, reducing fees and taking equity in the company itself.

Experienced Help

This is the Opus’ first time working in the construction industry, but not its first time building socially connected communities.

“We’re really trying to create this spot where anyone can get on and make themselves available,” said Kris Washburn, chief marketing officer and founder of Opus Logica. “It’s great to get on and you can say, ‘I’m a brick layer and if you’re looking at getting bricks installed, contact me.’ They get connected to others in the industry. That’s unique and I think Ron’s identified a great opportunity and it’s one of the many things that we’re doing that will be fun to see as it grows.”

Blackburn has 38 years in the construction industry. He runs his own company, R&R Custom Builders. Dennis spent 40 years running his family’s vineyard, then moved into apartment management. He retired when he moved to San Diego. They met surfing, waiting for a wave to come in.

Then and there, they created their first startup together, a puncture-resistant insole company called Rhino-Tuff Insoles that would protect a worker’s feet from nails. The insole is approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and they sell it worldwide.

After that, they began building speculative homes for sale. Four years ago, after a series of projects, they created OurDesign. Once the company launches later this month, the founders hope to expand its reach to more companies in Southern California and beyond to building markets with the most demand.

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