It also works to the client’s benefit, said Patrick Fingles, the company’s chief executive. “We want to change the buying experience and simplify the estimating process,” he said. “We are doing to home contracting what Carvana has done to car sales.”
The Columbia, Md.-based company has 60 employees and nearly 7,000 licensed users at 1,000 companies in the United States and Canada. Fingles said Leap has been profitable since its 2016 launch and expects it will gross about $10 million this year. It just moved into a 15,000-square-foot office designed to accommodate a doubling of its workforce.
Leap is the second company that Fingles, 43, has built: Nu Look Home Design, a Maryland home improvement company formed in 2003, has more than 150 employees, including its builder workforce. It recorded $30 million in sales last year across five states — Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania — and D.C.
Steve Stencil, 36, was a star salesman at Nu Look when he invented Leap in his spare time in 2012. “I took up computer programming as a hobby,” he said. “I would read books, do online courses and watch YouTube videos. I started working on an app that would make my life easier as a sales rep at Nu Look. Eventually, Nu Look adopted the app companywide. After awhile, we spun it off into its own business. The rest is history.”
Leap users, most of whom are in the home repair business, pay $78 a month, on average, to use the app.
If a contractor has 20 Leap users, he or she must pay a license fee for each. Leap’s user fee varies based on a company’s size. A bigger firm with hundreds of employees may pay less per subscriber. Leap also licensed a version of its app to Owens Corning, a multibillion- dollar manufacturer of fiberglass and roofing products based in Toledo. Owens Corning calls its app ProSell.
Leap enables the sales reps to digitally deliver brochures, photos, estimates, proposals, contracts — even financing options — to the homeowner without appearing in person.
Using aerial photographs, cellphone or satellite technology, Leap users can order real-time 3-D renderings without having to climb onto the roof or pull out a tape measure.
“Homeowners are able to visualize the project before the hammer hits the first nail,” Fingles said. “Homeowners can sign all work orders with the swipe of a finger on the contractor’s iPad, so documents can be sent directly to homeowners’ email.”
But Fingles said many contractors and salespeople also meet the customer at the kitchen table, “where most household decisions are made.”
Fingles was a 24-year-old father of two, separated from his wife, making $45,000 a year as a package delivery courier in 2001 when he decided to try selling vinyl replacement windows.
“It was a straight commission job, without benefits or security, but I needed the work,” he said.
His first year, he sold more than $1 million worth of windows, earned $150,000 for himself, and won a trophy for being the company’s best salesperson.
“I outsold everyone by a landslide,” Fingles said. “It changed my life.”
He said he loved the job but decided to strike out on his own after two years.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘Man, I could have a million-dollar company.’ ”
So he and a childhood buddy, Tom Bury, began Nu Look in 2003 with an initial stake of $2,500 each. The two grossed $2 million working from a shared desk in a utility room at Bury’s Catonsville, Md., home.
By 2008, Nu Look was grossing $8 million a year by utilizing the door-to-door approach that Fingles had perfected.
“We had no money for ads or radio commercials, so we went out and burned up the sidewalks,” he said.
The 2008 financial crisis forced Fingles to switch Nu Look’s business model from window replacement to roofing sales. It helped, but revenue was down by half, to $4 million annually. Sales improved as the economy recovered, allowing the company to expand into Northern Virginia and then New Jersey.
It was in 2012 that Nu Look’s restless sales star began noodling around on the computer. “I wanted to simplify the job of selling,” said Stencil, who had been on his own since high school and had started and operated a towing company that tanked after the financial crisis.
But he still wanted to be an entrepreneur. “It’s more about being your own boss,” he said.
Stencil came up with a digital platform that he and Fingles called EstiMate that was adopted by Nu Look to streamline the repair process and cut the paperwork. Soon, they were getting calls from other contractors interested in the platform.
“In July of 2016, we decide to take EstiMate and start a new company that will sell into the home services sector,” Fingles said.
They named the new company Leap as an expression of the transition of running a home improvement company in the digital age.
Leap has three owners: Fingles, Bury and Stencil.
Leap had a fast start from its launch in a closet-size office in 2017 in an office building just outside Baltimore.
Fingles brought in a sales director and a marketing director. He sent salespeople to blanket trade shows throughout the country. They partnered with other, noncompetitive industry software companies to find customers. Leap also teamed up with industry manufacturers on email advertising campaigns.
By October 2017, six months after its start, Leap had 1,000 users. It hit $1 million in revenue a few months later.
The subscriber-based business model can create recurring revenue, which is “appealing because everything you did the previous month or year, you take into the next month or year,” Fingles said. “That’s a breath of fresh air after home improvement sales, when you start each year with zero and have to build from there.”
Fingles said the company plans to take on a financial partner to bring in investors and boost growth, but that “all three co-founders intend to keep control of the business.”
Based on industry metrics, the company could be worth anywhere from $50 million to $100 million. That would make the three principals multimillionaires.