How Sweeten Founder Jean Brownhill Upended a $340B Industry

Jean Brownhill built an award-winning company that matches home and small business owners with the best general contractors for their projects. Here's what she learned along the away.

In one sentence, what does your company do?
Sweeten is a renovation matchmaker: we connect homeowners and business owners with vetted general contractors, providing support until project completion.

What are you solving for?
Remodeling is a $340B industry, but it’s notoriously inefficient and opaque. Homeowners don’t trust general contractors (GCs) and GCs don’t trust homeowners, and you need the right team matched to your project parameters, meaning scope, location, budget, and timeline. Sweeten acts as a “decoder ring” so the two sides begin from a place of trust and confidence.

Why should people care about your company and what you’re doing?
Sweeten is a free service for renovators, so they have peace of mind in what can be an expensive and emotional process. We pair talented contractors with the types of projects they can excel at, so they can build their business on our backs. The combination of trust, transparency, and technology helps people create a space they love—and makes a daunting process simpler and more stress-free.

What’s one big mistake you made when you first started your company— and one big thing you got right?
I wish I would have listened to my gut instinct more in the beginning; there were investors who I could tell were never going to invest in Sweeten, no matter how many more meetings I had with them. There were also employees and consultants that I hired that I knew on the spot were the wrong fit. The one thing I did right was not to quit.

What is the greatest misconception other people have about your industry?
Most people have a very misplaced distrust of general contractors-they believe that GC’s want renovation projects to go on indefinitely, which is absolutely not the case. They want the job to be done in the time allotted just like you do… every day over that time is costing them money and making your job less profitable, not more.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give other women looking to start their own business in your space?
I’m in two male-dominated industries, tech and construction; any woman wanting to start a business in this space should get her head checked(!); if she still wants to do it, I suggest growing a very thick skin.

What’s your favorite productivity tool?
The notification setting on my phone. I also turn off everything. Distractions are the biggest inhibitor to productivity.

What can you not stop thinking about right now?
Cake, but that is now and always.

What is the work you still need to do personally?
I’m in the market for a house in the country.

Who’s a woman that other people haven’t heard of but should know about?
Laura Sparks, the new President of Cooper Union, which is where I got my degree in architecture. She’s the first female president of that institution.

What book do you think every female founder should read?
Personal History by Katharine Graham.

The one thing I did right, was not to quit.

Jean Brownhill

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said/done in a professional setting, a scene that plays out over and over again in your head even if it happened years ago?”
I usually obsess about something for an about a month after, and then get over it and not think about it again.

Describe an instance when you “failed forward,” e.g. made a mistake or failed but the experience became a teachable moment?
Every hiring mistake I’ve ever made has been invaluable in terms of learning.

How will you know when you’ve made it?
I already have! You know that meme that was popular a while ago, “I Am My Ancestors Wildest Dreams”? I really feel that way.

What’s one thing that makes your life easier?
My friends.

How do you disconnect?
Books, both paper and audio.

What is your happy place?
Being surrounded by plants, plants, and more plants.

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