The Fund Founder Spotlight Interview: Alex Onsager of Character
The Fund is a founder community and early stage fund, by founders for founders.
Welcome to The Founder Spotlight where we highlight the incredible people behind the companies we’ve backed at The Fund. This week the spotlight is on Alex Onsager, co-founder and CEO of Character, the modern home improvement brand for the next generation of home dwellers, designed to make DIY seamless, simple, and fun.
When you buy a home, it usually goes hand-in-hand with home improvements and that’s exactly what happened to Alex Onsager at the beginning of the pandemic. He started doing projects around his new house: painting rooms, replacing light fixtures, hanging picture frames, etc. and while it was exciting, it was also very frustrating. He was making multiple trips to Home Depot for supplies, getting stuck, and relying on YouTube videos to find the answers. He comes from a family of DIY’ers and also worked as a management consultant in the home improvement industry. One of the observations he made was that recently the industry has really focused on the professional market, rather than consumers. His own experience got him excited about what a home improvement brand targeting consumers (and consumers only) would look like. Alex and co-founder Suzanna Schumacher are reimagining the hardware store experience, providing the tools, supplies, and support to make DIY seamless, accessible and fun! It’s very rewarding to finish a project in your home, while also adding Character!
What's Character’s “Northstar”?
Millennials are now the largest generation of homebuyers in the United States. They've been amped up about DIY, watching HGTV, seeing it on Instagram and TikTok, but often lack some of the skills to do the projects they desire. We're designing a home improvement experience from top to bottom with them in mind. We envision Character as a modern hardware store expanding every direction along that theme. We will offer more projects, expand our range of supplies, and come up with better tools and tool storage solutions. We’ll also be creating more how-to guides and enhancing our expert support service so customers can get not only the tools and supplies for projects, but also the help they need.
How does his Character inspire “customer love”?
Our customers love Character. We’re really focused on building a welcoming, accessible and fun brand in an industry that can feel like a place where you don't belong. There are plenty of outdated stereotypes about who is and isn't handy. Home improvement can feel like this exclusive club where you have to have certain skills in order to describe yourself as handy or to even be able to attempt these projects. We provide everything customers need to complete a project from end-to-end including the supplies, tools, guides, and access to an expert support team who can answer any questions you may have. Everything we're doing is with the customer experience in mind.
Tell us about a recent milestone.
After more than a year of development, we launched at the end of March to our waitlist and were super excited about the response we saw. The store is now open to everyone and it’s been really rewarding to be helping our first customers with their projects.
What have been some of the greatest challenges founding Character?
When you go to our website you see an assortment of project kits and we spent a lot of time testing and talking to customers about the projects they wanted to do. Refining exactly what Character would be helping the first customers with was another challenge. With supply chain challenges, it's a difficult time to start any consumer product brand. The home improvement market and the tools market are mature categories growing 20% year-over-year, the last two years. Tools are in high demand. The factories who make high-quality tools were booked up months and months in advance. Just getting our products made and produced certainly was a challenge, but we were able to work through that.
Any favorite startup focused books?
I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen. The Innovator's Dilemma essentially endeavors to explain why giant companies with lots of resources struggle to continue to innovate. It’s very encouraging for startups who are fundamentally out there to try and beat companies who have better resources and make the next great innovation in an industry. His other book, Competing Against Luck, is also another good one about how companies can better innovate for their customers.
What DIY/ home improvement project are you most proud of?
I replaced all the lights in my home, which is definitely up there. I also restored a fair amount of my furniture (we just launched a kit for furniture refinishing this week) and at some point I want to redo my kitchen. I get jazzed up about taking something that's old and a bit rundown and making it new.