Last year, Jonas Heineman was overseeing a team of commercial project managers as they installed hundreds of electric vehicle charging stations. Heineman’s wife was also pregnant with their first child.
Given his busy days and evenings filled with planning for the couple’s growing family, the last thing that Heineman wanted was to spend his “off” hours managing yet another another construction project at his own Bay Area home. Even as he and his wife discussed renovating two older bathrooms, he knew himself well enough to know that “I’m not going to design things. I didn’t want to go and source materials.”
Then he stumbled across coverage of a San Francisco startup called Made Renovation that promised bathroom remodels “made easy.” Wanting exactly the kind of hand-holding it promised, he couldn’t believe his luck. Yet his enthusiasm would soon be squelched.
Founded in 2019, Made Renovation assures customers that it can transform their outdated bathrooms into showstoppers within months at an affordable price point. How? By inviting them to choose from a variety of templates, then pairing them with in-house project managers who help with required permits, assign contractors, order the required materials, and offer updates and assistance virtually until every renovation is complete.
It’s a compelling pitch, one that enabled Made Renovation to raise at least $31 million across two rounds of funding between 2020 and 2021 from investors Felicis, Founders Fund, Insight Partners, and actress-entrepreneur Jessica Alba among some others who liked its tech-driven approach. A minimalist and highly popular aesthetic helps, too. Made Renovation’s sleek website offers virtual tours of a dozen bathrooms, all with gleaming tiles, modern fixtures and magazine-worthy vanities.
For its efforts, the company has attracted both customers and some glowing press. In 2021, in Made Renovation’s second year of operations, Architectural Digest wrote that the outfit was “primed to be the largest bathroom remodeler” and touted its digital tools for “more efficient project management, design renderings, and an improved pricing algorithm.”
Tech can only do so much, however, and Made Renovation’s promises of smoothly remade powder rooms are seemingly colliding with the realities of construction complexities, turning some of its makeovers into anything but hassle-free endeavors. Says Heineman now of his own experience, “It was a joke.”
While promised project management, for example, Heineman says that Made Renovation later disbanded its project management team without alerting him and spun the cost-cutting development as a positive for customers. The company subsequently sent Heineman a downloadable “Self-Management Construction Support Guidebook” that he describes as a “thorough resource” and also beside the point of why he chose Made Renovation in the first place.
Other errors, delays, oversights, and cost overruns also became par for the course, judging by email correspondence seen by TechCrunch. One issue centered on a toilet that was shipped eight months late; Heineman says he was also sent faulty fixtures that he struggled to return, and lost the first general contractor who was sent by Made Renovation because this individual refused to take on the job for the agreed-upon amount of money.
Heineman didn’t blame him; he thinks it’s the fault of Made Renovation. “That’s why they end up with these subpar contractors,” he says. “The only people willing to take these jobs for a cut rate can’t do business development and suck at communicating with customers.”
Heineman isn’t alone in feeling like he was sold on a vision that vanished as soon as he became Made Renovation’s customer. Airbnb employee Deanna Bjorkquist says she, too, was abruptly left to fend for herself when her bathroom project ran into permitting issues, unexpected construction hurdles, and the question of where to warehouse materials. For example, Made Renovation didn’t launch her bathroom remodel until six months after she signed a contract with the company last October, stranding a new toilet in her living room in the interim.
She also says a general contractor assigned to her project refused to demolish her old bathroom, dismantling only the top half and moving forward only after she found and paid a separate drywall company to finish the job.
As with Heineman, a bevy of other problems ensued, says Bjorkquist, including payments made to Made Renovation that were not received by the people renovating her bathroom. She suggests that part of the problem ties to the fact that the contractor who was assigned to her home hired a subcontractor, as happened with Heineman. Further, she says she elected to use financing that was offered, then revoked, then reinstated again by Made Renovation through a third party, a stressful process during which she says she was warned that her credit might be damaged.
Her bathroom (pictured right) was still not complete as of late last month.
In fairness, Made Renovation is taking on an industry where few customers wind up fully satisfied, no matter the players involved. Further, its timing couldn’t be worse. To enable customers to check out its design ideas, it launched its very first storefront in a popular shopping district of San Francisco in February 2020. roughly one month before the pandemic caused most of the U.S. to shut down.
Asked several times to discuss some of his customers’ complaints, CEO Roger Dickey did not to respond. Investors don’t have much to say, either. Felicis Partner Sundeep Peechu told TechCrunch late last month via email, “We are a small seed investor but honestly don’t know much since [I’m] not on the board and don’t get updates.” A query sent to Nikhil Sachdev, a Managing Director at Insight Ventures who led Made Renovation’s $23 million Series A round in 2021, has not been met with a response. Felicis lists Made Renovation on its website; the brand does not appear on the sites of either Insight Partners or Founders Fund.
Made Renovation wasn’t alone in springing up amid the national housing boom that ended last year, when interest rates began to quickly rise. Though most startups to form are marketplace businesses that connect designers and contractors to customers, another company to emerge around the same time as Made Renovation — with similar promises to make bathroom renovations easier and affordable — is Block Renovation. The Brooklyn-based business raised $104 million over a series of quick funding rounds between 2018 and 2021. Block has since expanded into kitchen remodels.
Both have been chasing what is expected to become an $80 billion market by 2027. But Made Renovation seems unlikely to see much of that market share if customer complaints continue to stack up.
On HomeAdvisor, a digital marketplace that connects service professionals with customers, Made Renovation has received half a star of five across seven reviews listed. Made Renovation is “[w]here dreams of great-looking bathroom remodeling and belief in seamless project management go to die,” writes one reviewer. “Absolute nightmare of an experience!” writes another.
Seventeen reviews post at the Better Business Bureau website are as uncharitable. Writes one reviewer: “I wish I read these reviews before we started the project with Made Renovation. It is exactly as it is described in previous reviews. All was going extremely well until we transferred money. After that it went downhill.”