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Hidden Gems: Meet Sara Noyes and Matt Kennedy of Unbuilt

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sara Noyes and Matt Kennedy.

Hi Sara and Matt, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
A few years ago, I found myself facing a problem familiar to anyone in the Design and Construction Business. Clients had changed their minds about expensive, high-end materials that had already been purchased, were on the job site and couldn’t be returned. Neither the contractor nor the homeowner had the time or energy to find a new buyer for the material-which was taking up space on the job site-and no one wanted to store it. I grew increasingly frustrated that there wasn’t an efficient way to connect buyers and sellers around unused construction materials, and paying someone to haul this beautiful stuff away seemed insane.

Construction generates a lot of unused materials, even without unexpected plan changes. In fact, an estimated 3% of the $1.3 Trillion in materials ordered for construction projects end up unused in the final structure. Throwing away these brand new goods and materials always felt like an incredible waste of money, carbon emissions and landfill space. So before I made a call to a junk hauler, I reached out to a few people. Surprisingly quickly, I found an eager friend with expensive tastes and a tight budget for an upcoming remodel. She loved the flooring, a deal was struck, and the seeds of Unbuilt were planted.

I reached out to a long-time friend, Matt Kennedy, an entrepreneur and former Product Design Executive at Apple and Netflix. We met in the 90’s at Colorado College and have stayed close while building families and careers in Los Angeles. I was familiar with Matt’s passion for Environmentalism and his experience with a previous venture in the online resale space. Matt had told me about the business: “the greenest product by far is one that already exists.”

We collaborated on a vision for a new company and set out to create Unbuilt. We now have an international audience of buyers and a rapidly growing base of sellers in Southern California.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Consignment-based resale stores are very common, online and on-street, in categories like fashion, art, sporting goods and furniture. However, the model has not been adapted to Building Goods mostly because of the complexity of this market. Items vary greatly in size and weight, may be sold in individual units, sets or by the square foot and may require samples, installation guidance, or special shipping. The inventory is often only available for a short window of time and may be stored on active job sites. Adapting the traditional resale model to this dynamic new frontier means a lot of client education and systems challenges. Luckily we’re living in somewhat of a Golden Age of information technology. We’ve been able to self-build some really powerful custom tools that are enabling us to overcome some of these challenges.

Also, launching a start-up during the bizarre year that was 2020 has definitely been ‘different.’ We can’t say it was all bad. Being able to zoom around LA to pick up products has been great. Getting to know partners and customers through a mask and working only remotely with our first hires has been less fun.

As you know, we’re big fans of Unbuilt. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Our work is mostly reflected in our online store. We now have a few hundred products online. Each has a slightly different origin story and we think it makes shopping our site fun. Behind the curtain, we’re scheduling, picking up, onboarding, tracking and managing the products we sell using a bunch of processes and tools that we’ve built and are very proud of.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
If you’re starting a business in a new category, be ready for a long road and a lot of challenges to your original assumptions about how things will work. Unless you have highly-valuable intellectual property, odds are that investors will want to see an operating business before funding, so you might as well get started building something, even if just basic. The difference between zero and one dollar in revenue might sound trivial, but it is huge in terms of progress, learning and getting real about what you’re doing.

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© Laura Kleinhenz/ Docuvitae

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