Any homeowner dreaming of a brighter kitchen, a bigger bathroom, or a gut renovation on a lovely piece of land has a single challenge: to find and partner with a contractor capable of doing the job right, for a fair price. To help navigate that often intimidating conundrum, Jean Brownhill founded Sweeten — a product of her long experience with the world of architecture and construction. Sweeten was the product of her own effort to perform a gut renovation on a wood-frame house in Brooklyn’s Bedstuy neighborhood. “We’re a two-sided marketplace that helps homeowners and small business owners connect with the best general contractors,” Brownhill says. “We offer expert advice, financial protection, and platform tools, all the way to completion of your project.” It’s all engineered to streamline an expensive, often messy process. “When I started the company back in 2011, the mission was the same then as it is now — and that is to help people renovate fearlessly.”
In this Milkshake, Jean explains the ins and outs of how Sweeten operates, shares her favorite unexpected source for home furnishings (you’ll need this app), and offers advice for women entrepreneurs looking for venture capital. “Venture capital is a very new industry — it really only started in the ’70s,” he says. “Many, many companies were built without venture capital — so number one, ask yourself, do you really need venture capital to grow this business?” For Sweeten, the answer was yes. “Technology’s expensive. Tech developers and engineers and product folks are expensive,“ she says. “We needed to be able to scale our team.” Brownhill credits tapping into her authentic sense of self for her success raising money — and that’s how she recommends other entrepreneurs proceed. “I know it can be hard when you’re sitting in front of investors — maybe folks that you feel are very intimidating or — you know, they’re all dressed the same,” she says. “The only way that you’re going to get people to invest in you is if they trust you. And to trust you, they need to know you. And so you need to show up authentically.”
Diana Ostrom, who has written for Wallpaper, Interior Design, ID, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, is also the author of Faraway Places, a newsletter about travel.
Milkshake, DMTV (Design Milk TV)’s first regular series, shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators and industry professionals to select interview questions at random from their favorite bowl or vessel. During their candid discussions, you’ll not only gain a peek into their personal homeware collections, but also valuable insights into their work, life and passions.