The Journey of CountertopSmart: From Inception to CodeLaunch and Beyond
By Audra London May 14, 2019
It’s been quite a journey for CodeLaunch VI winner, CountertopSmart, and the ride isn’t over yet! Come with us on a journey as we look back at CountertopSmart’s inception, their entry into CodeLaunch (which was decided in a matter of hours), and what has transpired since winning CodeLaunch VI.
The Inception of CountertopSmart
Based in Austin, Texas, CountertopSmart was developed by CEO, Zach House. House owned a kitchen and bath showroom and was seeing a common problem up to 4 times a week when it came to customers needing smaller quantities of stone for countertops and other projects.
When stone is purchased, it is purchased in full slabs of 60 square feet. For someone working on a bathroom remodel or a smaller project like a bar top or guest bath, they don’t need that big of a slab. That would mean they are paying for approximately 5-6 times as much in materials as they’d end up using. There goes the budget.
Because of this, consumers often turn to big box home improvement retailers who are able to sell the stone by the square foot instead of the large slab. Unfortunately, those retail outlets offer only a fraction of a percentage of the selection of all available stone options.
That’s where CountertopSmart comes in and changes the market.
CountertopSmart is an online marketplace that allows homeowners and construction trade professionals access to a little-known, secondary market of countertop remnants, which are the remaining unused portions of full stone slabs. These remnants are not second-hand stone or defective products.
For every one piece of a remnant a fabricator sells, they create five new remnant pieces. All these remnants begin overcrowding fabricators’ yards. Fabricators then end up paying thousands of dollars to have remnants hauled off to dumpsters. What many fabricators don’t realize is that these remnants are pure profit. They’ve already been paid for as the full slab piece, so being able to sell the remnants could potentially add an additional 20-40% to the bottom line.
The Craigslist of Countertops
Unbeknownst to the consumers, every city is “swimming in an ocean of countertop remnants,” according to House. The companies that own these countertop remnants typically don’t have the platform or marketing reach to sell them. “CountertopSmart is essentially a marketplace that connects sellers of stone remnants to customers,” says House. “Think of us like eBay or Craigslist -- but for countertops.”
Consumers use CountertopSmart to buy stone in smaller quantities better suited for their individual projects, typically saving between 60%-80% thanks to a connection to more stone options outside of the generic inventories often offered at big box stores.
The website allows customers to search the stone inventory of sellers in their local marketplace according to targeted options such as stone species, color or dimension. Once they find their stone of choice, they place a completely free, no-risk "hold" on their selected stone remnant with the fabricator directly, which will take the remnant off the site for seven days while the customer arranges a time with the seller to view it in person. For customers who don’t have a countertop fabricator on speed-dial, they can be assured that every seller on CountertopSmart is a professional, site-vetted countertop fabricator who can do the legwork for them. All of the sellers on the site are bound by competitive, pre-negotiated installation rates so buyers know they will be getting a great deal.
CountertopSmart truly benefits both the fabricators (sellers) and the consumers. The fabricators can sell the remnants and add substantial revenue to their business, and the consumers are able to find the stone they want at a substantial savings.
Deciding to Enter CodeLaunch
The decision to enter CodeLaunch was a last minute one … literally. The team at CountertopSmart was looking online for pitch competitions to enter and they discovered CodeLaunch. The only problem was that they found it about 4-5 hours before the deadline to submit their application. They quickly dropped everything they were doing and applied. The rest, they say, is history!
The decision to apply was an easy one, says House. “At a point in a company’s young development, any type of recognition is good and something to build on, both from a business and momentum standpoint.” CodeLaunch gave them the recognition they were seeking, the momentum to move forward, and more.
CountertopSmart’s CodeLaunch Experience
The 2018 CodeLaunch event was the first time that two companies won the grand prize, one of them being CountertopSmart. The winners received $33,500 in seed funding and services and were the focus of a three-day hackathon by an expert team of architects, designers, and coders (more on that a bit later on!)
House sums up his CodeLaunch experience by saying, “We loved it!” He continues on that it was a top-notch production and he can see how it’s getting bigger and better and will continue to grow year after year.
He was impressed by a number of factors regarding the overall competition:
- How large it was.
- It was professionally run and organized from start to finish.
- The excellent job and thought in choosing the competing organizations.
- The sheer caliber of the competition.
House definitely feels they got the affirmation they needed about CountertopSmart after presenting the concept and discussing it with other competitors/panelists, and that it would bring a real value to a “fragmented industry.”
How CodeLaunch Helped the Brand – the “Hackathon”
During CodeLaunch, CountertopSmart had multiple opportunities to speak with panelists after their presentation and get some good advice. In addition, they got that much-needed validation that that they were presenting a product that provided a real solution and was easy to understand by the judges and audience alike.
Part of their grand prize was a three-day hackathon with Improving — one of the top custom software services companies in the region. The goal of the hackathon, which is performed by the company’s expert architects, designers, and coders, is to give the recipient a huge push forward in developing their business.
During these 72-hours, they created Version 1 of their “Remnant Upload” app, which is a crucial part of the CountertopSmart experience. This app will allow CountertopSmart to go directly to fabricator stone yards and with their own phones, take pictures of the stone available, tag it and upload it into the seller portal. The seller can then set the selling price and publish it to the marketplace for the buyers.
The development of this app greatly improves the efficiency in uploading inventory to the site and makes the once tedious process of adding inventory infinitely easier. “We got all the heavy lifting of creating this app done in a three-day hackathon,” says House. “With just a few more tweaks left to go, it’s saved us loads of development time and heartache.”
This app is also an important component to their website, which launched in June 2018. They needed to have a strong searchable inventory of stone available to consumers. The app allows CountertopSmart to add inventory quickly, anytime and from anywhere. The moment inventory is entered into the database, it can be readily available to consumers. No more backlog of photos and data that are waiting to be uploaded when they are back in the office.
In just a short time since winning CodeLaunch, CountertopSmart has achieved quite a few milestones.
- They are generating strong revenue through the site.
- CountertopSmart has expanded into a new marketplace, San Antonio, Texas.
- This is an exciting one … CountertopSmart was recently accepted into Techstars Class 155 as part of the 2019 Techstars Austin program. Techstars provides Accelerator portfolio companies with access to financial, human and intellectual capital to fuel the success of their business. Upon acceptance to a Techstars Accelerator, every company is offered a $100,000 convertible note. CountertopSmart should close on the pre-seed convertible note at the end of May.
What’s Next for CountertopSmart?
If the past year is any example, the future looks bright for CountertopSmart. The company plans on continuing to build their presence within the Austin market. The increased growth and addition of more fabricators to their database will only build on to the product and prove what a single market is capable of.
House really wants to continue to hone the processes of both the website and the app and get the company to a point where it can be efficiently scaled. “We have our work cut out for us and need to be laser focused,” says House. “We need to get our metrics tight and consistent. That will let us know what we need to raise in the next seed round so we can ramp up our expansion and look outside of Texas.”
Prize-Winning Advice for CodeLaunch Applicants
As a CodeLaunch grand prize winner, CountertopSmart obviously knows what it takes to make it all the way to the end of CodeLaunch and come out on top. We asked Zach House for some advice for those who are still considering applying for CodeLaunch VII. Here’s what he shared:
“Show that your product has a real market fit. If you’re not solving a problem and presenting a solution that can easily be described in about 5 minutes to an audience, then you need to take a step back and hone your message. Keep it simple and keep it concise.
For those who are in the early stage of their product or concept, sell the image, sell the dream. Even early on, it still has to solve a real problem.
For more information about CountertopSmart, please visit: https://www.countertopsmart.com.
CodeLaunch is an annual seed accelerator competition between individuals and groups who have software technology startup ideas. The event was founded by Code Authority, a software development company in Frisco, TX in 2012. Since its inception, CodeLaunch has accelerated numerous startup companies and has curated over 1,000 applications from all across the United States and Worldwide. The purpose of the competition is to accelerate the best startups with mission-critical seed services while providing valuable networking opportunities and exposure to like-minded individuals. CodeLaunch VII will take place Wednesday, July 31, 2019 at the Comerica Center in Frisco, TX. In addition to the entrepreneur competition, CodeLaunch features a Startup Expo trade show that is beneficial for other startups who can meet up, network, and connect with interested supporters and investors.
Click here to learn more about CodeLaunch VII or visit the official CodeLaunch site and complete the application form. Applications are due May 31, 2019.