How Wreno is filling critical labor shortages

Two Wrenners in the field, inspecting a single-family home. (Courtesy of Wreno)

Charlotte Schell joined Zillow during the summer of her Stanford MBA excited to build products for Zillow Offers. Her professional background in real estate and technology, coupled with a dad in construction and a tradesman husband, was a perfect fit for the role. 

But as her planned manager took a new role within the company, Charlotte’s summer role faced an unexpected twist. Fortunately, Mark Barton, a Program Manager within Zillow Offers, was able to provide Charlotte a home for the summer. Collaborating together, they quickly identified a problem they knew they had to solve – perhaps even outside of Zillow’s offices.

At Zillow, there had always been a large backlog of homes ready for market, and Mark’s background in institutional renovations knew this wasn’t a problem specific to the company. Homeowners and the real estate industry have long been at the mercy of labor shortages among inspection and repair workers, and few existing solutions could do much other than patchwork. 

Charlotte and Mark set out to build a platform that not only aggregated the shrinking supply of laborers, but also created an entirely new supply. Zillow Offers’ eventual shutdown was unfortunate, but served to become the right catalyst for the two new co-founders to pursue their new business – Wreno – without distraction. 

In a lightly edited transcript, you’ll hear directly from Charlotte and Mark on the Wreno journey thus far and what they’re excited for in the years to come.

How did you think about finding product-market fit initially?

CS: Given the marketplace model, we looked at both supply and demand. From our experience, we knew that there was demand, but needed to validate whether we could generate supply. We ran a 72-hour campaign using just a simple landing page to see if workers would be willing to join (signup for a waitlist) at our estimated price point. Within 48 hours, we saw over 1,000 signups and immediately signed a few revenue-generating pilot contracts with that supply. During these initial pilots, our primary goal was learning, so we took on any and all work orders to understand the types of jobs that customers value most.

MB: For many tradespeople, we know that we’re solving a real pain point. The kind of work we offer is quite difficult to access with existing options. Young people considering the trades often feel trapped, as they either apprentice for a general contractor or go to trade school, both lengthy commitments that could pigeonhole them easily. We believe that working on Wreno is a higher-paying opportunity to complete easy-access tasks that are in-demand, from repairing small sections of drywall to completing home underwriting inspections.

Why did you decide to shift into evaluation services in addition to maintenance? 

CS: In addition to a labor shortage, there is a skill “mismatch” in home inspections where small vendors have difficulties working with existing technology and requirements of our customers. This leads to subpar coverage and data collection that are most costly for our institutional customers – REITs, iBuyers, and PropTech companies. Wreno is building better ML and computer vision-enabled technology for the evaluation process while simultaneously upskilling Wrenners to provide these services. This will ultimately lead to a higher quantity and quality of data about the inside conditions of homes across the industry.

What does the training process for Wrenners look like? 

MB: Wrenners start on the mobile app to build foundational knowledge. We’ve curated external and original content in one-place for them to learn about repair or evaluation in a couple of hours and then take a short quiz. This foundational knowledge enables them to start getting hands-on. First, they can go to a ‘shop class’ workshop where they’ll build skills with one of our instructors. For a true field experience, they can participate in our ride-along program with a Trade Partner or Lead Wrenner. Ultimately, our KPI is ‘speed-to-field’: ensuring that Wrenners are deployed quickly without compromising their ability to offer quality services.

What are you excited about for Wreno in the next 5 years?

CS & MB: We want to transform the blue-collar industry and make blue-collar work a viable path for the next generation. This not only means providing great pay and benefits, but also transforming the image of pursuing work on platforms like Wreno into a viable career path for talented young men and women joining the workforce. 

Many existing labor marketplaces are actually not friendly to workers – for instance, gouging lead fees for projects even when customers cancel. At Wreno, we want to prioritize the experience that all Wrenners and Trade Partners have on our platform. We’re already excited to see the jobs we’re creating, including extra paychecks and hourly wage improvements for many Wrenners. We’re driving volume to Trade Partners, most of whom are local small businesses. The work that our Wrenners and Trade Partners do in the field allow us to provide the data and insights to help our customers make better decisions about homes. More importantly, we provide and help build the workforce to action on those insights and decisions. This is just the start of our journey and this is undoubtedly the right problem to be tackling now.

In the shorter-term, our goal for 2023 is to be known as the end-to-end home evaluation and maintenance service platform for iBuyers, REITs, and Prop Tech companies. We’ll be the first platform that collects data around conditions inside of a home at-scale. Our full suite of technologies also allow real estate companies to more efficiently recruit, onboard, train, and deploy their own internal home evaluation professionals and vendors at scale. This means that we may have Wrenners and Trade Partners on our platform, but we’re allowing others (our customers) to grow their own labor supply by using our technology if they choose to!


Written by former Content Associate Kevin Wu in Spring 2022. Reach him at kevin.wu@dormroomfund.com. More updates on our TwitterMedium, and newsletter. Founders, apply for an investment from us. 🚀

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