Dan Laufer vowed never to start a startup again after selling apartment rental platform RentLingo in 2021, but Laufer couldn’t ignore the potential to solve the problems he saw as Nextdoor’s head of product and marketing.

“Nextdoor’s biggest use is people finding suppliers, especially HVAC,” Laufer told TechCrunch. “There are these gaps on the consumer side, satisfaction with the experience, it doesn’t feel modern. The other big trend I’m seeing is the silver tsunami. All these baby boomers have these assets but don’t necessarily have an exit plan.”

The result was PipeDreams, a startup that acquires small HVAC and plumbing companies and expands them with its software that helps with scheduling and marketing. Laufer told TechCrunch that PipeDreams allows business owners to retire if they wish without losing their employees, name or brand, or simply become part of a larger company with more resources.

PipeDreams just raised $25.5 million in Series A funding, led by Canvas Ventures and Plural Platform, with additional funding from DoorDash founder Tony Xu and former OpenTable CEO Thomas Layton. PipeDreams has acquired nine companies to date and currently operates in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tucson and Denver, with plans to expand.

“The beauty of this industry is that it’s huge, there are over 100,000 businesses in the plumbing and HVAC business,” Laufer said of the U.S. market. “We’re going to keep their brand. A lot of people’s names are on the truck, it’s very personal.”

PipeDreams’ strategy is an inflection point in the private equity roll-up model, in which private equity firms buy small companies in niche markets (private schools, dental, health care) and combine them into a larger business with the intent of selling the larger of companies to earn petty profits for investors.

PipeDreams also uses debt to acquire businesses directly, but is not subject to the strict life cycle timeline of generating returns or exiting, as is expected in private equity investments of 4-6 years. The company has $15 million in available debt financing for acquiring businesses and will use the equity raised to improve its software. Laufer said he expects future rounds to involve raising more debt than equity.

Aggregation strategies are uncommon for venture-backed startups, with the closest comparisons being Amazon aggregation startups like Perch and Thrasio, which have struggled financially recently. But unlike these aggregators, the underlying businesses that PipeDream acquires are not at the mercy of companies like Amazon, which can change the rules at will, and the companies it acquires have stronger relationships with customers than the Amazon brand.

That said, PipeDreams will likely run into some of the same growth hurdles that Amazon aggregators face, such as whether new entrants can grab more business, or whether local plumbers step up their SEO or digital marketing strategies.

Laufer said directly owning HVAC companies is what sets PipeDreams apart from other competitors like Angie and Thumbtack that focus on connecting consumers with professionals. He said that like many competitors, the marketplace model is not sticky because consumers can seek out professionals directly after finding them through the marketplace. For PipeDreams, since they integrate their technology into each provider’s website, every time someone books with that professional, they are part of the process.

PipeDreams is also working to address the skills shortage in the HVAC and plumbing industry, as Gen Z is less interested in learning the trade than previous generations. The company launched an apprenticeship program in the fourth quarter to get people trained on the job. So far, it has five students and plans to expand.

While the company still has a long way to go to flesh out its HVAC-focused business, Laufer expects they will expand into other categories including electricians in the future as well.

“We bought [a company] The owner hosted a celebratory dinner a few weeks ago and described it as, “My business is going into college,” Laufer said. “‘I’ve grown it up and it’s about to move on to the next chapter.’ I like that description. That’s what we do.”

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