When she was a student at the University of Minnesota, Asha Sharma launched a center for at-risk teenagers in Brooklyn Park. After she graduated with a marketing degree, she headed to Seattle to work at Microsoft. But the Racine, Wis., native hungered for the opportunity to work on something from the ground up. So in 2013, she joined forces with Matt Ehrlichman, the founder and CEO of Porch, which has an app and website that aims to make it easier for consumers to find a contractor to work on a home improvement project. At that time, Porch was run out of Ehrlichman's basement. Since then, the fast-moving start-up has relocated twice and raised more than $100 million in funding. Porch now has more than 400 employees and a national partner in Lowe's. Sharma was named the firm's chief operating officer earlier this year.
Q: What did you do at Microsoft before you joined Porch?
A: I did a mix of product marketing PR roles. In my last role there I was working on how to change the way people entertain with the Xbox. I got to see inside a lot of different homes. It was a really awesome opportunity. But I just didn't feel inspired. And going into a lot of different homes — some celebrity and influencer homes and some average people's homes — it really touched on something which was that I want to change the way people live in their homes, not change the way they entertain. That's an exciting goal and vision for somebody else but I wanted to help solve real pain because the way you take care of your home is quite broken. I tried to convince a colleague of mine to leave with me and to do something in this space and she told me, 'Asha, you're going to leave and do something with my friend, Matt.'
Q: So it was the problem Porch was trying to solve that drew you to it?
A: Yes, I think it's one of the last Internet frontiers that have yet to be conquered. And when I look back, I think I will be very proud to be able to contribute to that problem. So those are important things. Second — and not necessarily second in order — is the people. I believed and still do every single day if not more in Matt. I think that it's the people and the experiences you have that define what you get to do. And that certainly has been true for me.
Q: So tell me a little bit more about Porch. What exactly is it trying to solve and what makes it unique?
A: So at the core, people want to get projects done on their home and they want to know they can get that done at a fair price from professionals they can trust. I think that is a very hard problem to solve. We started solving it by saying 'Hey, let's help surface the right professionals because we assume people want to comparison shop.' Then we got better and said, 'Hey, we know who has worked on homes like yours and with your friends' so we can get a little more personal. And now we are really trying to say 'Hey, these are the people who are going to do the best job on your home because of their track record, because we are vetting them, we are verifying them.' So we are moving that way.
Q: How are you vetting them?
A: We screen for online social reviews. We have an exclusive partnership with the Better Business Bureau. We're doing background checks. We get the full project history because we believe past performance is a really good indicator of future success. And then past homeowners can leave verified reviews on our site to give us additional information about how they actually performed.
Q: And you can see pictures of their work?
A: Yes, so we have professionals uploading over a million projects every single month to the platform. They know that our algorithm is based not only on how good you are but matching you up with the right homeowner based on who you've done work with in the past.
Q: It seems like there's been more activity in this space such as Amazon Home Services. Why do you think that is?
A: The market is driven by economics of an opportunity and the demand in itself. There's $500 billion being spent, but people still aren't truly universally happy. That's what we're on the march for — to have the right and the privilege to have that relationship with the homeowner to be the place for you to improve your home, maintain your home, manage your home.
Q: So the A-list, that Brooklyn Park center for at-risk youth you helped start, is no longer around. What happened?
A: It was an awesome program. But as you move on, it's super important to make sure you have the right leadership in place and the right things set up. I just didn't know at the time how to do that well and it's something I've learned from. … It gave me a lot of perspective. I've always had this optimism that you should be able to create something that lasts even beyond your time. I didn't do a good enough job with that for several reasons. But I'm very proud of the effort we put in place and for all of the people we helped. … It was a hard experience, but it was a good experience.