During the frustrating process of building their own homes, former Navy SEALs Garrett Moore and Kyle Tompane came to the conclusion that there was room for improvement and innovation for the processes in the residential construction industry. Moore says it was apparent that technology would likely be a key tool to help solve many of the issues and pain points in the industry.
After traveling the world and observing how other countries build, Moore and Tompane developed their core theses about the construction industry: it is on an “existential decline.” With construction labor in short supply and the overall housing industry underbuilt by approximately 5.5 million units, Moore says housing is not just a short-term issue. Due to limited labor, Moore and Tompane concluded industrialized automation is the future of construction and the potential solution to current industry shortcomings.
The two founded their company Agorus in 2018, developing a software that enables customizable, off-site manufacturing of homes, apartments, and ADUs through a vertically integrated process from digitization to installation. To date, the San Diego–based company has raised more than $10 million in capital from investors and completed more than 100 projects.
“We use the software to build custom structures out of 2D panels,” says Moore, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from Stanford University before enlisting in the Navy. “Panelization is not new, but by maximizing the customization, you now have the ability to build essentially anything off-site in one of our factories using our software and hardware because we’ve smashed all the complexity [of the construction process] into a way where you can manufacture on an assembly line like an automobile.”
The Agorus software can take a digitally rendered design, identify the materials needed for construction, and transfer that information to the factory floor to allow for the construction of complex custom structures in an off-site facility.
“The building blocks of construction are pretty standard, but the way in which you customize and arrange those different subcomponents allows for a tremendous amount of variation,” Moore, the company CEO, says. “These nuances vary so much, but for a computer, it’s a no brainer.”
Currently, the firm’s technology enables builders and developers to construct homes in a three-phase, in-house process of digitization, construction, and installation. Moore says the vertical integration of the company solves some of the issues that arise from the fragmented construction industry, where as many as 35 separate trades and subcontractors are involved in the construction of a single project.
“[Without] vertical integration, there are a lot of discrepancies in jobsite waste, both in time and materials. That just invites complexities and problems,” Moore says. “With vertical integration, there’s a digital file that’s a single source of truth [and] there are no discrepancies.”
In addition to the company’s vertical integration, Moore says the Agorus process panelizes not just walls, but also floor systems for cassettes and roofs. The company’s software is also designed not just for framing, but “for the full solution” by getting to the rough inspection process as quickly as possible for builders and developers, according to Moore.
Moore says Agorus aims to meet builders and developers “where they are” from a material perspective rather than “ask the industry to bend to what we think they need.” While many in the industry are hesitant about off-site construction because of the belief that prefabrication companies dictate home designs, Moore says Agorus operates differently. The company allows builders and developers to have complete control of a home’s design, only making recommendations on value engineering.
“Our belief is that the mainstream market needs an option between stick-built and modular,” Moore says. “The customization and design freedom of stick-built, but the efficiencies that you can gain from modular. When you [have] fully sheathed open panels, it provides the sweet spot hybrid where you’re tackling the rough trades, but you’re still giving all the flexibility and freedom to worry about paint colors, floors, and cabinets on-site.”
Moore says eventually the company plans to expand out of California and operate on a national level. While off-site construction has typically encountered problems on a national scale due to the wide variance of code and design across the country, Moore says software “is the perfect way to organize that chaos and break it down into standardization.”
“We are really focused right now on prepping our infrastructure, our people, and our processes for a national scale. We’ve never lost conviction that there’s demand for construction in a down economy,” Moore says. “We’re looking for early stage partners that want to be at the leading edge so by the time next year rolls around, we are ready to start scaling up and make a national footprint.”
Moore identified the Phoenix/Tucson metro in Arizona, San Antonio/Dallas/Austin in Texas, Florida, and the Carolinas and Tennessee as dense markets that are top potential areas for expansion for Agorus in the future. However, Moore does not envision a future where a single prefab company is able to monopolize the construction industry.
“This is not a winner-takes all market. [Our] competitor isn’t other venture-backed prefab startups, [our] competitor is the status quo,” Moore says. “[Our] competitor is the way that we’ve been doing for the last 120 years. I view [industrialized construction] as the next evolution of construction technology that empowers our tradespeople to do a lot more, a lot safer, with a lot less effort.”