The story of how a leading-edge renovation company–which matches general contractors with renovators–came to life
On The Today Show’s “Meet the Boss” series, Savannah Guthrie interviews Sweeten founder and CEO, Jean Brownhill, on founding the renovation platform that matches general contractors with prospective renovators (and offers some advice to entrepreneurs, too.) This originally aired March 12, 2018.
Savannah Guthrie: (00:00)
All this week we’re going to share some inspiring stories of accomplished women we admire, who dream big. We’re hoping it might inspire some of you out there, might have a good idea. First up today, a CEO who went from barely scraping by to crushing it. Jean Brownhill builds a home renovation referral company from the ground up in her own backyard and turned it into a multimillion-dollar business.
Jean Brownhill: (00:21)
Here we are.
Savannah Guthrie: (00:22)
Jean Brownhill: (00:23)
Sweeten is like home sweet home. That feeling of having a space in the world that we feel comfortable, safe and it’s home.
Savannah Guthrie: (00:33)
In a big picture sense, your business is helping people make their homes a little sweeter.
Jean Brownhill: (00:38)
Savannah Guthrie: (00:39)
Jean Brownhill is the founder and CEO of Sweeten, a company that matches homeowners with contractors for their renovation.
Savannah Guthrie: (00:47)
A lot of people look around their space they live in. They think I would like it to look better, but they’re totally overwhelmed by the process.
Jean Brownhill (00:55)
Savannah Guthrie: (00:55)
Is that where you come in?
Jean Brownhill: (00:56)
Exactly. We have done thousands of renovations at this point.
Savannah Guthrie: (01:01)
In 2007, Jean, a trained architect, began renovations on her own first home. You probably thought, I’m made for this. I’m an architect.
Jean Brownhill: (01:10)
Yes. I was like this…I got this. Well, come to find out I didn’t. I ended up hiring the wrong general contractor.
Savannah Guthrie: (01:16)
Even you did that?
Jean Brownhill: (01:17)
Even I did it. I just thought, there’s got to be a better way and I have an idea how to do it.
Savannah Guthrie: (01:23)
When the light bulb went off.
Jean Brownhill: (01:24)
It was a classic entrepreneurial moment where I was like…I know how to solve this.
Savannah Guthrie: (01:30)
On Sweeten’s website, homeowners complete a form about their renovation. They’re matched with three contractors. They can choose who is right for their renovation project.
Jean Brownhill: (01:40)
We then follow your project from that starting point all the way to completion. We make sure that our guys are doing a great job. You get to actually give them a rating. The great thing about it is we can do it all for free for the homeowner. The general contractors pay us a small fee.
Savannah Guthrie: (01:57)
Some people call you “The Contractor Whisperer.” What does that mean, the contractor whisperer?
Jean Brownhill: (02:02)
I love that name. I am an unlikely champion for general contractors. Let’s be honest, I’m naturally inclined to want to defend people who have been painted with a negative and broad brushstroke, and general contractors have.
Savannah Guthrie: (02:19)
Jean grew up in New London, Connecticut. From the earliest age learns that no job is too small.
Jean Brownhill: (02:25)
I was that kid who, was scooping ice cream, delivering newspapers. I had babysitting jobs. I always loved to draw, I loved to build stuff. My guidance counselor said, “Oh, you should be an architect.” I have no idea what that meant. No one in my family had ever used an architect.
Savannah Guthrie: (02:41)
Her determination and drive come from her family.
Jean Brownhill: (02:44)
My dad’s mom, grew up in the South, African-American woman who was a domestic worker. Who could never have the time or the luxury to have any education. She couldn’t read or write. Her whole life I watched sign her name with an X. Every moment where I feel like, “Oh, I’m tired, this is like too much.” I’m like, “Oh, come on.” You’ll see they’re putting the bathroom back here…
Savannah Guthrie: (03:09)
Jean’s hard work has paid off. Sweeten currently has $900 million in construction projects. What’s your advice to people who have an idea or dream of owning their own business or have that entrepreneurial moment? What would you tell them?
Jean Brownhill: (03:25)
I have two pieces of advice. Don’t quit and keep smiling. I’m a person who believes, “The more that you feel blessed, the more blessings you get.”
Savannah Guthrie: (03:35)
What do you think makes a good boss?
Jean Brownhill: (03:37)
One of the things I’ve definitely learned the most out of this whole experience is that, you can only be yourself. I can just be the best that I can be. I’m just encouraging people to be the best them. That’s the best thing that I can do as a boss is encourage people to do that.
Savannah Guthrie: (03:57)
Pretty cool, right?
Al Roker: (03:58)
She’s so smart.
Hoda Kotb: (03:59)
She found a need…
Savannah Guthrie: (04:01)
Hoda Kotb: (04:02)
…She filled it, that was genius.
Savannah Guthrie: (04:03)
She did it, she was really perfectly suited to do it and it’s taken time. At first, she kept her job. She, at night would work on her business. Then it got to the point where she could do it full-time. Sweeten is now available in New York and Philadelphia, but has plans to expand to eight more cities by 2020.
Hoda Kotb: (04:19)
Good for her.
Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.
Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.