Editor’s note: Our series Enterprising Spirit documents how businesses and workers are managing the economy’s slow return to life after its sudden shutdown in March – and adapting to new challenges ahead.
When Todd Sullivan created an innovative startup that allows people to design their custom dream home through an online platform, he didn’t expect a pandemic to halt business operations.
In November, Sullivan and his business partner, Steve Strohm, launched NewHomes.House, which matches homebuyers with land, certified builders, construction lenders, modifiable house plans and an online storefront for product selections.
Sales were brisk for NewHomes.House at the beginning of the year. It generated more than $107,000 in two months, which was “really exceptional for a startup,” Sullivan said.
The startup was on the brink of receiving $2 million from a West Coast venture capital firm to expand its platform, but when COVID-19 took hold in March, the investor rescinded the offer.
“It was pretty devastating,” Sullivan said, adding that many venture capital firms nationwide have stopped investing in startups amid the coronavirus pandemic. “For the past two months, there were no options. We couldn’t even meet with clients. I can’t tell you how dark and bleak it was.”
The statewide stay-at-home order – which forced closure of nonessential businesses and temporarily halted residential construction projects – was a double whammy for Sullivan, who also owns custom homebuilding company Sullivan Homes.
But Sullivan, who put everything into his businesses, wasn’t going to let them fold.
Sullivan logged on to Pitchbook, a venture capital and private equity database at the Spokane Public Library, to obtain investor information. He made hundreds of calls daily to venture capital firms nationwide to potentially generate funding for NewHomes.House.
“I just fought as hard as I could,” he said.
Sullivan obtained Paycheck Protection Program loans for NewHomes.House and Sullivan Homes, allowing him to sustain operations and retain employees at both businesses.
Sullivan Homes – initially allowed to complete projects only to prevent unsafe conditions and emergency repairs under the stay-at-home order – is thriving again, following Inslee’s decision to allow construction jobs to resume if social distancing measures are in place at job sites.
The future also looks especially promising for NewHomes.House, which gained interest from a “well-known” national investor. Funding terms could be finalized later this month, Sullivan said.
The infusion of funding would allow the company to expand nationwide and roll out an app for users to create 3D house plans with pricing specific to their region.
Sullivan encourages business owners to resist buckling under the pressure of COVID-19.
“Even when you think it’s over, never give up,” he said. “It’s only over when you say it’s done.”
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