Fixing to Remodel the System

A talk with KUKUN founder/CEO Raf Howery, who aims to make remodeling a home — to live in or to sell — a simpler, seamless experience

Raf Howery saw a need. A need to make the home remodeling process — from planning fixes to finding a contractor, to obtaining a loan — less complicated, mystifying and frustrating for homeowners and home buyers.

And so, some four years ago, Kukun was born, making use of technology to create a digital platform that the company bills as “your one-stop shop for all your home remodeling needs.” It aims to create a simplified and seamless experience for customers by connecting them with the various industries involved in the remodeling process — the four main industries, says Howery, being real estate, construction, lending and retail.

“It starts, really, with a simple problem: The home remodeling industry is extremely frustrating for everyone,” said KUKUN founder and CEO Howery, who has  spent his entire professional career focused on technology while serving in senior roles at CapGemini and Ernst & Young. On a personal level, home improvement has long been his passion, and he and his wife have purchased and remodeled a number of investment properties over the years. “Nobody seems to want to solve it, everybody kind of  touches the periphery of that. … And it always shocked me how there is not really a simple solution for people to follow. The lack of transparency is incredible.

“And I look at the car buying experience — that was solved 20 years ago. You used to haggle your life at the dealership — right now you know what to pay for it, you pay, and you move on. So, I wanted to kind of take that sort of disciplined thinking and say, ‘What can I do here?’”

A home, after all, is a person’s most important asset — “probably your most emotional investment,” Howery said. That’s the origin of the start-up’s name: “KUKUN” is a homonym for “cocoon.” It’s your nest. And, to his way of mind, it shouldn’t be a painful and confusing process setting out to improve your cocoon, either to more comfortably live there yourself or to sell.

The platform is meant to be an open space for people to access information and make contacts with professionals in those related industries, and the tools are in use for free — a Google kind of approach, Howery put it, for people seeking answers to such basic questions as what the out-of-pocket cost would be to buy X property and make Y renovations to it.

“I think I’m always a big believer that there’s an untapped renovation potential because people just don’t know, they’re scared,” he said. “If you solve that problem, they will take on that, they’ll make that decision and they’ll take on that project.”

The aim is to make what’s an inevitable process much less painful, much less something to be dreaded. A number of homebuyers tell realtors they don’t want to bother with renovations, Howery said — and that’s not realistic. “The reality is there’s no avoidance of that. You want to live in a happening place, it’s gonna be an old home and you’re gonna have to spend the time and money on it.”

Kukun has gotten good feedback from homeowners, realtors and more. Such large lending institutions as Chase Bank and SoFi use it, with “a number of pending relationships” in the works, says Howery. Contractors have referred customers to it, telling them to use the tools to estimate to see whether the planned renovations are within their budget, then call the contractor if it’s a go. That’s helpful for contractors, Howery said: In a tight labor market, contractors don’t want to waste their time with someone who’s only thinking about renovations.

“The reality is, customers will come in at different parts of their journey, and they’re gonna be needing something. Whether they need a loan, they’re gonna need a contractor, they’re gonna need to buy retail — we are gonna be in the best position to identify and serve that customer’s needs better because we know where they are in the journey by the mere fact of what they’re using and how they’re using our tools,” Howery said. It’s about an understanding of the data and analytics in play, and using the data, and that expertise, to match customers with the best service possible, to find all the resources they need in one place. Ultimately, it’s about becoming something akin to the Expedia of home remodeling.

Howery says KUKUN is close to the beginning of its trajectory, just starting to take off: “We are touching a market that’s relatively open and wide, and the potential is huge.” He believes KUKUN has something to offer for all four of those major industries connected to renovation, as well as the homeowner, though the focus currently is on the real estate and lending elements, the beginning of the process. (“If you don’t have a house, you don’t have a renovation.”) All the while, the company’s amassing assets and data, aggregating the data so KUKUN personnel can better understand consumer needs and desires.

“I always say we have the pantry now — we’re just cooking,” Howery said. “We’re just starting to cook.”