Quick Pitch Friday: Shawn Peterson, Underbuilt

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo


We're experimenting with a new feature for our site: quick pitches from very early, local startups who haven't had much (or any) funding. Today's is with Shawn Peterson, founder of Los Angeles-based Underbuilt (, an online site providing information on properties for the building and remodeling market. Are you the founder of a very early stage startup--not yet angel or venture backed--and want to talk about your startup? Email us at and tell us why we should listen to your own quick pitch.

What is Underbuilt?

Shawn Peterson: Underbuilt is a simplified building codes report. The first thing we wanted to do, was to deliver accurate and fast building codes, information on height restrictions, floor areas, the size of a house, and setbacks, in a simplified report for everybody.

Why would anyone need a building report like this?

Shawn Peterson: Anyone that owns a home, and wants to remodel it or do some home shopping is in need of this report. People right now are buying houses without knowing what they could do with it later. People are getting thirty year loans, and making those purchases without knowing what could be added to a house later on.

How did you get into this?

Shawn Peterson: I am a residential designer, and so I have been designing houses in the hills of West LA for about 10 years now. In doing so, you usually have to go to the governing city 's website, and they put their building codes in 200 and 300 page PDFs. You have to try and find out what zone you are in, find out in that zone what restrictions are, and from those restrictions go figure out what's actually there. It's very inconvenient for a designer to go to a house and try to answer all of a client's questions. You might have twenty pages of research for a meeting. That's why I created a cheat sheet in-house at my own architectural firm and took those with me. I had the idea that everyone needs this information, and why call an architect when you can type in an address into a website and get the information you need in an easy to use report.

What's the business model here?

Shawn Peterson: We've just touched on the general aspects of what we do, which is maximum house size and max height and setback. However, when you get to a property on the hillside, you're required by the city to do calculations with a certified surveyors to do something called slope band analysis. That survey costs $3,000 to $5,000 to start. That's where we really take the convenience and turns that into savings. By using digital elevation modeling, which is accurate to 99 percent of what a surveyor's results would be, we can instantly provide a hillside slope analysis, with no waiting, and which doesn't cost thousands of dollars. We do that for $50.

How are you funded and backed?

Shawn Peterson: We're not funded, and are currently seeking funding. We have a working business model, and have had 1300 reports downloaded last year. What we're worried about is competition popping up.We need financial backing to expand fast and brand fast, that way no one elsee can pop up and come into our space.

Good luck!


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