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PREFIX IS JUST ANOTHER HOME WARRANTY COMPANY


by Andrew Chalk


In early February I was at a Zoom investor presentation and one of the presenting startups was Prefix, Inc. The CEO, James Bilodeau, described a company that did customer home maintenance on a contractual basis. The homeowner paid $60/month and got two biennial Home Maintenance visits by a Prefix employee. Routine maintenance work could be performed by a Prefix employee known as the Home Manager at a $55/hour rate paid in addition to the $60/month membership. More specialized tasks such as plumbing or electrical work would be done by specialists, licensed as necessary, at market rates depending on the job. 


It sounded like something homeowners needed, certainly me. Our 25-year old condo. had a long list of pandemic-delayed minor maintenance jobs and several major jobs as well. However, as the presentation proceeded, there was a nagging question in my mind. As a long-time homeowner I had experience of home maintenance companies who require contractual payments in return for providing a homeowner’s needs. My experience had been so negative that I no longer use them and Prefix sounded like a variation on the same thing.


Bilodeau assured me, and other questioners, that Prefix was different. The home manager concept, employees hired with a preference for military backgrounds, the proactive checks, etc. It was enough that I signed up. 


The following is an account of my experience with Prefix, how it started brightly but then turned into a succession of mistakes and failures, how the CEO was totally unresponsive, and Prefix eventually turned out to be JAHWC (just another home warranty company). It is information for anyone considering signing up with Prefix.


HOME ENROLLMENT VISIT

First up was my ‘Home Enrollment Visit’. My home manager would visit and size up what my home had, names and models of HVAC units, appliances, filter sizes, etc. My home manager turned out to be a cheerful, friendly, capable guy with a long history in maintenance with a hotel chain. As well as going through his checklist, he discovered that I kept a spare filter next to the internal a/c units. Since the ground floor unit filter was past due for a change we put the new sp;are one in. 


Out of that visit came a list of maintenance tasks that he would price up at $55/hour plus parts for me to approve. Also his report would be an input into my first Preventive Maintenance visit. Two days later I received an estimate for all the maintenance jobs that the Home Manager would perform. It was reasonable and I scheduled the two visits it would take. The Home Manager did the work a few days later to a high standard. So far, Prefix had been great.


Then the wheels fell off. 

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE VISIT

The Preventive Maintenance visit didn’t seem very thorough. In particular, the most expensive system in a residence is the HVAC, and the Prefix employee (who was not the Home Manager) did not do anything to the outside unit other than look for build up around the compressor. I was distracted by a phone call and only discovered at the end of the visit that he had changed the very same filter that I and the Home manager had changed four days earlier. Furthermore, the system had not been run in the interim due to the mild Spring weather. He would have seen that the filter was brand new. What was he doing? Was his mind on the job? Was he on a drug habit, walking around in a fug, going through the motions without thinking WHY? 


I sent an email to Prefix customer support and CCed Bilodeau, To their credit, they dealt with this one. They provided me with a replacement filter for inventory and did not charge me for the one that had been replaced. I also asked to not have this rep. again but did not receive a response on that. Presumably, he is still at large changing filters that don’t need to be changed and being otherwise inattentive on the job.     


A TEST OF PREFIX’S ABILITY TO RESPOND TO THE UNEXPECTED

Next I had something urgent that was totally unexpected. We had a new gas stove delivered, only to find that it would not fit the gap in the counter due to the old stove (the same nominal width) having a lip on one side that meant the granite did not need to be cut flush with the counter. The result was that we needed a quarter inch cut off the granite counter. In the interim, the new stove was hooked up and sat in the center of the kitchen. 


I put Prefix to a test of their responsiveness, contacting them explaining this was urgent. They got back to me the next day with a quote of $650 and a timetable of two days for the contractor to get to it. 


I went on Google, found a contractor in the neighborhood who gave me a $160 quote on the phone, and could come at 10am the next morning. I took his offer and he did the job on time and made it look easy. I passed the name of Econ Granite on to Prefix, in case any other customers need granite work. At this point I routinely CCed Bilodeau on my correspondence.


A LARGER PROJECT

Next up were our 25-year old sash windows. They did not open easily or close securely. It was a “medium-sized” job to replace them and I asked Prefix for a quote. 


Crickets.


When I followed up they said that they had contacted a contractor in Plano who was supposed to contact me. On the second attempt I got an appointment time for the contractor. I rearranged my day to be in at the time. One hour before it a woman from the contractor called and left a voice message saying that she had the measurements so didn’t need to come down from Plano to Dallas. I was amazed. 

- She had not seen the site;

- She had not seen the modifications at two other units in our complex;

- She had not any understanding of the HOA's consistency requirements;

- She had not heard what we want; 

- She hasn't met the HOA rep. (I had to schedule, then cancel, her);

 

Why didn’t she just say that she was too lazy to make the trip?


I asked Prefix ‘where they got such third-rate contractors’. To my surprise, they said that they had never used this contractor before! This was totally at odds with James Bilodeua’s welcome email when I signed up:


The good news is if we come across a repair requiring a third-party contractor, we will recommend someone from our pre-vetted network and manage the entire process for you.


I canceled this request to them, found two contractors who both came by and made a bid. The job is in progress. I also told Prefix to defer all other jobs. 


It was clear by now that Prefix "Contractor Management" were just order takers. They had not been trained how to manage, so anything that needed management failed and anything that succeeded did not need management.


PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT

Twice, when it came to contractors, Prefix had failed. They appeared to be using Google to find contractors, something I can do myself and don’t need to pay someone $60/month for. At no time did James Bilodeau respond, despite being CC'd on my responses.


I had one last maintenance job for the Home Manager, then I would cancel the service. 


Something intervened. At an investment pitch I attended, unknown in advance to me, Prefix pitched again. As James Bilodeau went through the litany I left a cautionary message for potential investors in the Zoom chat. To paraphrase “I am sorry to rain on your parade but, based on an earlier presentation of this pitch, I signed up for Prefix as a user. The experience has been very mixed.” Then I signed it with my email address, partly so that potential investors could follow up, but mainly to make it clear that I stood behind my chat comment.


I had no idea of the explosive effect this would have on Bilodeau. Two days later, before I had time to execute my cancellation, he had a minion send me an angry email canceling my membership and refunding my March premium. 


No problem.


The aspirational startup seeking to disrupt an industry, change the world, etc. had been replaced by the cynicism of people who are overwhelmed by events and out of their depth. Customers are ATMs who must pay their premiums, and shut up. Any problems they report are problems with them, not with the company. Facts are to be ignored, as expedient. Ignore problems, and they will go away.


As someone who has founded five companies, I would have handled these problems quite differently.


In this situation, the Board of Directors of Prefix, Inc. should consider their personnel situation. It is clearly not right at the moment and I would not invest, nor be a customer in the current organization.  


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