Blokable community rendering: Iterative components.
Blokable community rendering: Iterative components.

When the answer is going to be a flat-out “no,” over and over, sometimes it’s best not to ask in the first place.

In Aaron Holm’s relatively brief career trajectory, which has ranged from entrepreneurial start-ups to Amazon’s retail brick-and-mortar pilots, he’s gravitated with consistent success to the “starting from zero” way of approaching solutions. Otherwise, he senses, there are too numerous and too circular reasons a bold new idea “would never work.”

So, instead of spending time delving into how knowledgeable people successfully navigate American localities’ Byzantine complex of codes and finance, Holm, now co-founder and co-CEO of housing disruptor Blokable with Nelson del Rio, began with a blank slate:

Aaron Holm's diagram of housing industry complexity, which rarely leads to a positive customer experience.
Aaron Holm's diagram of housing industry complexity, which rarely leads to a positive customer experience.

"I didn't go out and talk to a bunch of builders to learn how they approached design, development, engineering, finance, construction, etc.," says Holm. "I didn't talk to one builder. I didn't want to learn what they know."

To talk to Holm in person, you'd hear that he doesn't say those things with arrogance, rashness, disrespect, or denial of realities.

He deliberately chose not to gather the legacy knowledge because his training and his disposition compelled him to believe he needed to start completely fresh.

"We needed to describe a problem, and approach it as a user case, and build the design, engineering, procurement, financial models, distribution and shipping, and assembly processes around that simple problem," Holm says.

The “simple” problem is two-fold. On one hand, customer experience is often profoundly negative, when it comes to housing choices and transactions. On the other, the complexity and cross-purposes in most business, design, engineering, and construction models—combined with local politics—makes making houses and communities too expensive for too many people.

Blokable's disruptive notion—one that has attracted a nearly $5 million investment from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, as well as $11 million from other investors, is that a business and operations model can solve for those two chronic challenges, but it won’t happen with tweaks and modifications to current systems, processes, and models.

Holm says, in a candid, exclusive, one-one-one conversation with BUILDER, that the housing community is in the very initial stages of a new way of thinking about housing that makes standardization, and ultimately, “productization” essential to the value stream. This new process would not only increase access to quality, affordable housing at scale, but it would be a launching pad for new products to emerge.

Check out Holm--up close and unplugged--chatting with Hanley Wood director of thought leadership content Jen Castenson about how housing developers and local municipalities can together look at land use and see solutions rather than escalating long-term battles.

His modular housing company uses manufacturing technology to help solve for the greatest problem of our time: not enough housing when and where it’s needed the most. New, more affordable housing product can be made available as an outcome of a higher scale, standardized manufacturing process for housing.

Holm’s de nova approach to making homes and communities more attainable is to strip out complexity, radically simplify, and give the customer a single point of contact who oversees and delivers design, manufacturing, site work and installation and support.

And, not only will it improve the business from a profit perspective, the customer experience will also improve, Holm says. Convenience and capability derive from an overly complicated system or process being "productized," with elegant, more simplified, and remapped workflows, distribution channels, and mass production that lead to lower prices. In the evolutionary process of productizing something, customization has to come out, because of inefficiencies and wastefulness.

With del Rio's leadership, Blokable has introduced the notion of housing and community development as a service model versus a conventional consumer durable. New process. New value stream. New business model, capable of disrupting companies that are successful now, but entrenched in outdated practices that could ultimately lead to their failure.