Normally, homeowners call the nearest plumber to fix a leaky faucet.
But during a pandemic where homeowners want to avoid having people over as much as possible, Nick Ornitz ’16 founded Dwelling, a start-up that offers virtual home maintenance assistance.
Ornitz founded Dwelling this past March with Shannon Kay, a classmate of his at Harvard Business School.
The two came up with the idea of what Ornitz calls “telemedicine for the home” earlier in the year, and accelerated the release of the service when the pandemic made in-person maintenance visits difficult.
Dwelling is currently offered both on mobile and desktop platforms. First, homeowners take a photo or video of the problem and add a short description. Dwelling then routes the issue to a network of service professionals who provide a same-day detailed solution which can include an explanation about the root of the issue and potential safety risks associated with fixing the issue, or links to how-to videos.
A wide range of issues can be fixed with the virtual help such as leaky drains or malfunctioning appliances. In one case, a homeowner’s hot water was not working and rather than call a property manager for an in-person visit, he shared photos with Dwelling.
“A service professional recommended resetting the system as sometimes the controller can miscommunicate. While a simple fix, resetting the system had the hot working working again within minutes,” Ornitz said.
Some requests by homeowners have required in-person professional help such as large-scale home improvements or issues dangerous for homeowners to fix such as electrical malfunctions, according to Kay. In those cases, homeowners are advised to contact professionals.
As the pandemic exacerbated many homeowners’ needs for help, Ornitz and Kay elected to offer the service for free to customers from April to June.
Ornitz and Kay then decided to continue to offer the service for free to any user for two weeks after they sign up. “Given the uncertainty homeowners faced and continue to face, we hope that by providing the service initially for free, homeowners can get help for their most urgent needs,” Ornitz said.
Customers appreciated being able to solve their home maintenance issues on their own time, according to Ornitz. Homeowners can refer to the guidance the service professionals offered as many times as they would like. The start-up also provides links to any supplies they might have to purchase..
However, Ornitz explained that launching the start-up came with its struggles.
“One of the bigger challenges is that there can be a lot that goes wrong in the home and often homeowners aren’t sure where to go and so the big bump in the road at the start was figuring out what homeowners truly want,” Ornitz said.
Ornitz, who studied chemical and biomolecular engineering, said that the problem-solving skills he learned at Cornell played a role in molding Dwelling.
“The main thing [that helped me] was the problem solving skill set I learned in engineering and other majors as well. I learned how to dissect and think about different kinds of problems and then solve them,” Ornitz said.